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Is an Associate Degree Worth It?

An associate degree can help you decide explore fields, advance in your career and consider whether you want a bachelor's degree, among other benefits.
A blue graphic of a degree rolled up with a ribbon next to an image of a man researching is an associate degree worth it on a laptop

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

If you’re considering advancing your education, you might wonder what degree best matches your plans for the future. You have specific skills, career goals and interests. That means there are a number of factors to consider in thinking about whether an associate degree is right for you.

So, how can you tell if it makes sense to pursue an associate degree?

Let’s start with the basics:

How Many Credits is an Associate Degree?

Infographic with the text Associate degrees generally require 60 credits.Generally, associate degrees require 60 credits of coursework, which translates to 20 college courses. That’s half the academic requirements of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS), which typically consist of 120 credits.

Associate degrees are considered 2-year degrees, though some students move faster or slower depending on what else is going on in their lives and how much time they want to devote to schoolwork. Brittany M. Armstead, an admission counselor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said the number of transfer credits you have can also play a role in how quickly you complete an associate degree. 

SNHU, for instance, accepts up to 45 previously earned credits toward an associate degree program. If you're able to transfer the maximum amount in, you could have up to 75% of your program finished by the time you start classes. 

Here are a few quick steps to take:

  • Complete the free 5-minute online application. There’s no obligation after filling it out.
  • Get your transcripts requested — for free. Chat with an admission counselor, and we'll request your transcripts on your behalf.
  • Receive your free evaluation. Soon after all your transcripts are in, you'll get your official evaluation. It will show you what was transferred in — and what classes you need to complete.

You may also be able to translate some relevant work and life experiences into course credits.

For the average U.S. worker, there’s a clear benefit to getting an associate degree. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with an associate degree had median weekly earnings of $1,005 in 2022, compared with $853 for people with just a high school diploma.* People who have an associate degree vs. a high school diploma were also less likely to face unemployment, BLS reports.*

They're also more likely to be employed than those without higher education, BLS data shows.*

What Can I Do With an Associate Degree?

Brittany M Armstead an admission counselor at SNHU

Whether you're still exploring your career options or have a game plan in place, you can take an associate degree in many directions.

In her work as an admission counselor, Armstead acts as a guide for people interested in going back to school. From early conversations about their goals to helping them register for their first classes, she is a resource throughout the application and enrollment processes.

Armstead said there are many reasons why you might be interested in earning an associate degree, including to:

  • Advance in your current career
  • Consider whether college is for you, before you commit to a bachelor's program
  • Earn a degree faster than you can in a bachelor's program
  • Explore a field that interests you
  • Gain foundational knowledge for a new career

If you didn’t do quite as well in high school as you could have, an associate degree program is also a great college starting point. Courses within a two-year program can fill gaps in your education and give you a chance to raise your GPA before applying to a competitive bachelor’s program.

For anyone who wants to continue their education beyond high school but aren’t sure what path they ultimately want to follow, an associate degree is an opportunity to experiment.

If you’re in this group, you may best benefit from an:

These are types of associate degrees that set a solid base for future education and career opportunities while allowing you to explore what interests you. They also have a general education base, which allows you to take classes in a variety of subjects and positions you to transfer into a bachelor's degree program, should you wish to continue your education.

Not all colleges and universities are transfer-friendly, though, so it's important to do your research if transferring into a bachelor's program is your goal.

"Typically, general education credits will transfer — especially if they decide to change their major to something different from what their associate degree is in," Armstead said. "If they would like to stay with SNHU for their bachelor's degree, then they should have no problem transferring their credits."

This process can be particularly beneficial if you want to pursue your education in a cost-effective way. An associate degree is about half the cost of a bachelor's degree, and, if you're transferring in other credits, it's even less. If you later choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you may already be halfway there.

At the same time, if you end up stopping or pausing your educational career after finishing the 2-year degree, it will provide benefits that you wouldn’t get if you entered a bachelor’s program and then took a break halfway through earning your degree: You'll have your college diploma.

Is an associate degree worth it? (We think so!) #shorts

Do Employers Care About Associate Degrees?

Grace Dugan, a military career advisor at SNHUIn the second group of students well-suited for an associate degree are those who have already begun their career and know what they need to advance — or who just have a very clear vision of their future.

“An associate degree can be a faster, cheaper and more specific kind of education than a bachelor’s degree,” said Grace Dugan, a military career advisor at SNHU. “An associate degree can have very specific utility, so it is important to make sure it is an appropriate credential for the kind of job you want.”

According to BLS, there are plenty of fields that list some college or an associate degree as the typical entry-level educational requirement. Some specific jobs include:

  • Bookkeepers
  • Computer network support specialists
  • Desktop publishers
  • Health information technologists
  • Human resources assistants

And if you have already begun your career, Dugan said an associate degree can signal to your employer that you're committed to the field and ready to advance.

Plus, with the availability of online associate degree programs, you have the opportunity to focus on your career and your education at the same time.

Jamelle Pigott, a 2023 associate's in business administration graduate from SNHUJamelle Pigott '23 earned her associate degree in business administration online while serving active-duty in the U.S. Army. She was able to apply what she was learning in real-time.

She found one of her finance classes particularly relevant to her logistics focus. "We do a lot of contracting, and I was like, 'oh wow, I just learned this the other day,'" Pigott said. "So (the class) definitely helped during work."

After finishing her associate degree, Pigott decided to continue her business and logistics studies, advancing directly into SNHU's online bachelor's in operations management with a concentration in logistics and transportation.

If you're wondering whether online degrees are accepted by employers and other schools — a question Armstead gets a lot — her answer is simple. "Yes. Our online degrees are accredited by NECHE," Armstead said.

NECHE stands for the New England Commission of Higher Education. No matter if you're determined to go to school in-person or online, it's important to ask about a school's accreditation.

You might also inquire about how the school supports its students. Pigott came to SNHU after hearing about its military-friendly reputation, and she said she felt supported by her academic advisor, Monique Cairns, who is also a military veteran.

"She'll call me and check up on me just to make sure I'm mentally and physically okay," Pigott said. "She'll make sure I'm meeting my deadlines and (ask) if I'm prepared for any upcoming terms ... It definitely helped because the military isn't easy, especially with the schedule, but it helped me continue going with the support that I got here, the tools and the resources SNHU provides."

Find Your Program

What’s the Best 2-Year Degree?

Just as with any kind of degree, the benefit of earning an associate degree depends on what you choose to study. In many cases, an associate degree can do double duty, demonstrating skills to an employer while also offering a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree.

Of course, college isn’t just about increasing your earning potential. It’s also about satisfying your curiosity, becoming a well-rounded person and developing expertise in an area you care about.

Whatever your chosen field is, there are steps you can take before, during and after earning an associate degree that can help you reach your goals.

Before Enrolling

Do your research. It’s easy to find the requirements for jobs in your industry on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site or job-listing sites. These websites can give you a better sense of what the requirements and responsibilities are.

During Your Time in College

Get experience. Some associate degree programs require you to complete an internship or other experiential learning opportunities, but, even if they don’t, they are a great way to gain experience and build your network. If you're already working in your field of study, this hands-on type of learning is a great way to build on skills. For example: “If you work at an IT Help Desk, gaining an associate degree in IT could help you obtain a credential that could offer you some internal job growth,” said Dugan.

After Earning Your Degree

Build your brand. It's important to show your learned skills, like teamwork, creativity and written and verbal skills. Depending on your field, an associate degree may help you meet the minimum requirement for many jobs, but actually landing a job takes more than that.

With an associate degree in hand, you may also want to consider advancing to the next college degree level.

So, is an associate degree worth it? 

"Going back to school is a considerable time and money commitment," Armstead said. "It is also an incredible achievement ... when (you) see it all the way through to graduation. No matter your reason for going back to school, there's one thing no one can take from you, and that is your education."

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU associate degree that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Alexa Gustavsen ’21 is a content facilitator and writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Based in New Hampshire, she completed her bachelor's in creative writing and English on campus at NH. Currently, she is pursuing her master's in marketing online at the university. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.