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Types of Associate Degrees

An associate degree is a college degree that generally requires 60 credits and usually falls into one of two categories: an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science. An associate degree can boost your earning potential and help you pursue a more advanced degree.
A student studying for their associate degree

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.

Whether you’re seeking a new career or are going back to school after years in the workforce, understanding the types of associate degrees available is an important first step on your path to higher education.

Meleena Eaton and the text Meleena Eaton.“For some students, they are right out of high school, while others ae coming back to school after years in the workforce,” said Meleena Eaton, an associate dean of business at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “The shared commonality is that all students who enroll in an associate’s program do so because they see it as a benefit to their career path.”

Keep reading to learn more from SNHU educational leaders about the types of associate degrees available and the benefits of earning a 2-year degree.

How Many Years is an Associate Degree?

You might be surprised how quickly you can earn an associate degree. On average, associate degree programs can be completed in just two years, requiring 60 semester credits of study or about 20 college courses.

What is an Associate Degree?

The majority of associate degree programs fall into two categories – Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) – and can give you a strong foundation of knowledge in your area of study and improve your long-term employment and earning potential.

Associate degree holders earn 16.7% more than workers with only a high school degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).* Unemployment rates are 7.1% for individuals with an associate degree, compared to 9.0% for those with a high school diploma, according to BLS data.*

There are associate degree programs across many fields of study, so it's important to explore your degree options and the careers they can prepare you for before enrolling.

What is an AA Degree?

An Associate of Arts degree can help you develop the soft skills employers seek, including communication, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Tara Stabile and the text Tara Stabile.“Earning an AA degree can open the door to many professional opportunities and is also a great way to continue to prepare for transfer into a (bachelor's) program,” said Tara Stabile, associate dean of general education.

Core AA degree courses explore a wide range of disciplines and meet many of the general education requirements of most bachelor's degree programs. Many associate degree credits can also transfer directly to a bachelor's degree program, fast-tracking your ability to earn a four-year degree in almost any field of study.

AA in Liberal Arts

An associate degree in liberal arts is a good choice for anyone who wants to earn a college degree but is still determining their ideal career or educational path.

Priscilla Hobbs-Penn and the text Priscilla Hobbs-Penn.“A liberal arts associate degree would give students the opportunity to try out a few different flavors ... ," before choosing a major, said Priscilla Hobbs-Penn, an associate dean of general education.

A liberal arts education will let you explore everything from writing and public speaking to humanities and social sciences. By earning an associate of arts, jobs may be available in customer service, administration, retail and more.

Some of the careers that are possible with a liberal arts associate degree include:

  • Customer Service Representative: With a job as a customer service representative, you could work to support customer needs face-to-face, over the phone or online. Full-time customer service representatives earned a median salary of $35,830 in 2020, according to BLS.*
  • Administrative Assistant: As an administrative assistant you could help manage the day-to-day work of an office. Administrative assistants earned a median salary of $40,990 in 2020, according to BLS data.*

AA in Digital Photography

An associate degree in digital photography offers an introduction to the technical skills of digital camera operation, lighting and post-production editing, and can prepare you for entry-level work as a professional photographer.

If you're interested in advancing your photography career, an associate degree can lay a strong foundation for a four-year degree that can advance your professional development skills like branding and social media.

Some of the careers that are possible with a digital photography associate degree include:

  • Portrait Photographer: As a portrait photographer, you could start your own photography business or work for a photography company, capturing everything from family photos to professional headshots.
  • Aerial Photographer: As an aerial photographer, you can utilize drones and other technology to capture images of land, real estate, new construction projects and even special events.

What is an AS Degree?

An Associate of Science degree is a 2-year degree typically focused on business, technology or social and practical sciences. By earning an associate of science, jobs may be available across a variety of industries, including marketing, business administration and information technology.

AS in Nursing

With an associate degree in nursing, you’ll gain the skills you need to get started in the in-demand nursing field and get a jumpstart toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to advance your career.

One of the careers that is possible with a nursing associate degree is as a registered nurse. RNs observe and assess patients’ symptoms, plan patient care and manage medical equipment, testing and medication. Registered nurse jobs are projected to grow by 9% between 2020-2030, with RNs earning a median salary of $75,330 in 2020, according to BLS data.*

AS in Business

Earning a 2-year degree is a great way to start or advance a business career, whether you’re interested in an:

“I think the biggest benefit is that it allows students to begin working in their field quicker, and getting the real-world experience that in marketing is so valuable,” said Eaton.

With an associate degree in business, jobs in marketing, sales or administration could be available, including:

  • Marketing Assistant: With a job as a marketing assistant, you could help support the efforts of a marketing department, including social media, advertising and content marketing.
  • Sales Manager: As a sales manager you could oversee a department or organization's sales representatives. Sales managers earned a median annual wage of $132,290 in 2020, with employment opportunities projected to grow 7% between 2020-2030, according to BLS data.*

AS in Information Technology

An associate degree in information technology (IT) is another great way to jumpstart a rewarding career with many opportunities for growth, especially as a tight labor market with low unemployment have made it harder for employers to find skilled IT workers.

Mark LePage and the text Mark LePage."These circumstances are providing opportunity for those with an IT associate degree and some experience to be considered for some positions that just a few years ago would have had a hard requirement for a bachelor's degree," said Mark LePage, recently retired senior associate dean of IT.

One of the careers that is possible with an information technology associate degree is work as a computer support specialist. In this role, you could work to maintain computer systems and networks and provide technical support to system users. Jobs for computer support specialists are projected to grow 9% between 2020-2030, earning workers a median salary of $55,510 in 2020, according to BLS.*

Get Started with an Associate Degree

No matter what your career goals, earning an associate degree is a great way to get started with higher education and boost your long-term success in education and the workforce.

“In the current employment market, more students are seeking degrees and credentials on a faster pace to meet the needs of employers," said Hobson.

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.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. 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.