Online Associate Degrees
An associate degree usually takes two years to complete, and can be earned at community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and some colleges that grant bachelor's degrees. Online associate degrees are widely available and, as long as earned at accredited schools, offer the same credentials as on-campus programs do. Whether through on-campus or online colleges, associate degrees can help you to find better-paying and more satisfying work without having to commit many years of study.
Those who earn associate degrees tend to make more money and suffer less unemployment than do non-degree holders, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consider these statistics concerning 2014 median weekly earnings and unemployment by degree:
Associate degrees can be used to begin careers, for example, as an x-ray technician or nurse, or can be transferred to bachelor degree programs to further enhance career opportunities.
If you're wondering what associate degree is best for you, here is a list of the 20 most popular associate degree programs, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This includes the number of associate degrees awarded by postsecondary institutions for the school year 2012-2013, as well as information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) about applicable jobs, growth projections and 2014 salary data.
- Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities
Many employers are interested in your ability to communicate and solve problems, and that's what a liberal arts degree trains you to do. Liberal arts majors often become management trainees, sales associates, designers, teachers and social workers. Preschool teachers with an associate degree can expect to earn a mean annual wage of $32,040, and demand for their services is expected to grow 10 to 19 percent in coming years, the BLS reports.
- Health professions and related programs
Healthcare is on the of the fastest growing fields in the country, and an associate degree can help you land any number of jobs, from dental hygienist to magnetic resonance imaging technologist. Jobs for hygienists are growing 30 percent or more annually, says the BLS, and those jobs pay a mean annual wage of $71,970.
Associate business degree programs are often designed with input from local businesses looking to hire qualified workers. For instance, if you live in a port city, a two-year degree in international business might lead to a job as a commerce clerk. Other associate business degree holders become accounting technicians and human resources assistants. The demand for human resources specialists is growing, according to the BLS, and these jobs pay a mean annual wage of $62,590.
- Homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting
Dozens of schools across the country provide associate degree programs in emergency management, leading to jobs with state, local and federal agencies. The mean annual wage for police officers is $59,560, while for firefighters it is $48,750, the BLS says.
- Computer and information sciences
Associate degree holders often find work as computer network support specialists, who earn a mean annual wage of $66,140, as reported by the BLS. The BLS also predicts there will be 10,000 to 50,000 jobs in this field added by 2022.
- Engineering technologies and engineering-related fields
Graduates can find jobs in a variety of fields, such as civil, electrical, and environmental engineering, as technicians. Environmental engineering technicians make a mean annual wage of $51,030, the BLS says.
- Multi/interdisciplinary studies
Like liberal arts majors, two-year degree holders in this field are sought out by employers looking for workers with strong communication and problem-solving skills. Jobs for paralegals, for example, are growing, and pay a mean annual wage of $51,840, the BLS says.
- Visual and performing arts
Artists can find work teaching or working in state or municipal arts and culture offices. Many who go on to earn advanced degrees get jobs with theater companies or teaching at the high school or college level. Art teachers at the postsecondary level earn a mean annual wage of $75,350, the BLS says.
- Mechanic and repair technologies/technicians
Jobs for auto service technicians are growing at an average pace of 9 percent, the BLS says, and earn a mean annual wage of $39,980.
An associate degree in education qualifies graduates for jobs as paraprofessionals in the classroom or in programs like Head Start. Often, the two-year degree is a stepping stone for a bachelor's degree, which paves the way to teaching jobs. Those are expected to grow by 2 million to 2.5 million in the coming years. Teacher assistants make a mean annual wage of $26,000, the BLS reports.
While historians tend to hold higher degrees, graduates with a two-year degree in history may find work in a variety of fields as writers, research assistants or technicians in museums. The mean annual wage for archivists, curators and museum workers was $44,320, according to the BLS.
- Social sciences
An associate degree in social services opens opportunities in some states to jobs as a social worker aid, or a counselor in a youth program. Many graduates go on to become law enforcement officers. The median annual pay for police officers is $59,560, the BLS reports, although the number of jobs is growing slower than average.
- Legal professions and studies
Two-year degrees in legal studies can lead to jobs in a court or private law office, working as a clerk or a paralegal. The number of jobs for legal assistants and paralegals is growing at an above-average rate, and the BLS reports that the mean annual wage for paralegals was $51,840 in 2014.
- Family and consumer sciences/human sciences
According to the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, a degree in this field opens up jobs in teaching, design, counseling, healthcare and merchandising. Occupational therapy assistants are expected to grow 30 percent or faster in the coming year, the BLS says, bringing in mean annual wages of $57,260.
- Public administration
Graduates of an associate degree program in public administration often find work with government agencies. These can be administrative or management support positions, but they can also lead graduates to careers as firefighters, paramedics and emergency workers. Paramedics earn mean annual wages of $35,110, the BLS reports.
- Agriculture and natural resources
Schools that offer associate degrees in agriculture and natural resources say their graduates find work for landscape companies, nurseries, farms and greenhouse operations. Some become agricultural and food science technicians, who make mean annual wages of $37,330 and face lower-than-average job growth, the BLS says.
- Physical sciences and science technologies
Physical science technicians find interesting jobs in labs and research facilities studying anything from volcanoes to oceans to tiny insects. One particular type of job, chemical technician, is growing at an average rate, and pays $47,390, according to the BLS.
Graduates with an associate degree in psychology often find work with social welfare agencies, correctional facilities, or agencies that work with special-needs populations, like the elderly or mentally handicapped. Community health worker jobs, for example, are expected to grow 20 to 29 percent in the coming years and pay a mean annual wage of $38,180, the BLS says.
- Construction trades
Many jobs in the construction trades don't require a college degree, but an associate degree can give you a leg up over others applying for the same job. Carpenters make mean annual wages of $45,590, according to the BLS.
- Communications technologies
Studies in communications prepare students for a wide range of careers, from computer technician to telecommunications installer. One area, computer network support specialist, is expected to continue growing in the next several years, offering workers median annual salaries of $66,140, the BLS reports.
- Allegany College of Maryland. Teacher Education: http://www.allegany.edu/x223.xml
- Associate degree: Two years to a career or a jump start to a bachelor's degree. Bureau of Labor Statistics. www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2002/winter/art01.pdf
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/home.htm
- Careers at the Associate Level. College of Saint Benedict: https://www.csbsju.edu/psychology/student-resources/associate
- Chemical Technicians. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemical-technicians.htm
- The College List: Homeland Security Programs: https://www.training.fema.gov/hiedu/collegelist/dhscertificate/
- Computer Support Specialists. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm
- Police and Detectives. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
- Network and Computer Systems Analysts. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm
- Museum technicians. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook:http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/curators-museum-technicians-and-conservators.htm
- The National Center for Education Statistics: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d14/tables/dt14_321.30.asp
- "What can I do with my liberal arts degree?" Bureau of Labor Statistics Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, http://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2007/winter/art01.pdf