How Fast can you Earn an Associate’s Degree Online?

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Are you looking to find a job in a growing profession or upskill in your current profession to make more money? Or maybe you are a high school graduate or GED-earner eager to pursue a post-secondary degree. An associate’s degree may be an option worth exploring. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who have an associate’s degree are more likely to find jobs and earn more money than those who don’t hold a degree. 

If you are considering an associate’s degree, you may also be wondering how long it might take to complete it. The typical timeframe is about two years, but there are also options to accelerate that timeframe. First, let’s explore the benefits of earning an associate’s degree.

Benefits of earning an Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree program will provide you with a foundational education needed for an identified trade or professional track, upskilling or professional development opportunities. Many community colleges offer these programs, and they can be found in traditional in-class formats as well as in online virtual formats.

The flexibility of an associate’s degree online is often sought out by busy individuals who have work and family responsibilities that already dominate their time. A traditional post-secondary education is simply not feasible for some people, particularly non-traditional students, making an online option a better fit than a traditional brick-and-mortar experience.

Many associate’s degrees consist of courses that provide a necessary skill set or understanding that is essential. Some institutions of higher education stick to a traditional academic calendar, even with their online course options, with students taking multiple courses lasting the duration of approximately 15 weeks, or a quarter system, which typically runs about 10 weeks. Others offer more expedited options where classes are broken into a shorter time frame, with students taking fewer courses in an accelerated time frame, for instance 5 weeks. This type of program would shave off about 4 months from a standard semester-based approach, leading to completion in about 20 months as opposed to a full two years. 

Sometimes referred to as “a 2-year degree,” the skill sets learned in an associate’s degree program are often the foundation of a bachelor’s degree. So completion of the associate’s degree will likely set the student up for the next milestone: the bachelor’s degree, sometimes referred to as “a 4-year degree.” Choosing which program is best for you is highly dependent on your goals and the industry in which you work, but most associate’s degree programs, including online programs, require completion of general education requirements.

Pursuing an associate’s degree online is advantageous for many people. Here are some of the reasons why:

 

  • Flexibility: Many online associate’s degree programs offer asynchronous courses. This means that all components of the course—lectures, interaction with other students, communication between student and instructor—happen on a student’s own time, not in real time. Assignments and expectations are explained, and the student is responsible for meeting deadlines for participation and submission rather than being required to have a real-time presence. These types of courses include discussion board exercises, recorded lectures and timed or untimed assessments that can be taken over an identified period of time rather than at one specific day and time.

 

Students who are looking for maximum flexibility in an online educational experience will want to look at programs that offer this type of option. This will allow you to choose when you will “do school.” Maybe it’s at home in your pajamas after your 8-hour shift at work, or maybe it is early in the morning before the kids wake up. Maybe you dedicate your lunch hour to school every day, or maybe you are a weekend warrior with Saturdays and Sundays reserved for learning. It’s up to you how you want to approach it.

Other online programs are synchronous, or they may have a synchronous component to them. This means there are real-time components combined with ones you do on your own time. For instance, the class may meet in real-time through a virtual communication tool once per week, typically as part of the course’s learning management system (LMS), or there may be required group activities that take place in a chat room. These types of courses offer less flexibility because you have to be virtually present at a specified time. 

  • Adding value to yourself: In addition to the flexibility an online program can offer to allow a working adult to also attend school, an associate’s degree program can offer you the opportunity in a current job to show your employer you are upskilling. If you have an eye on a promotion, this could set you apart from other candidates, as you are an internal employee already familiar with the business and culture and will soon hold a degree. Also, you may be looking to switch jobs altogether. While you are searching for a good education fit, you are increasing your value as a prospective employee if they know you are on the path to obtain a degree.

Choosing the Right University

Finding a school that offers a curriculum specific to your current work and life is critical to the successful completion of your degree, online or otherwise. Start by looking for these key elements in an institution:

  1. Does the university offer online programs? If so, do they have the program you are looking for? Don’t settle for a program if it doesn’t provide you with the skill set you want or need in order to advance your career or start one.
  2. Does the university build flexibility into their courses? Look into the formats and expectations for the courses that are in the degree plan you are interested in. Is the learning asynchronous, synchronous or a hybrid? 
  3. Approximately how long will it take you to complete the program? Does that timeline align with your end goals? If you are fine with the general 2-year associate’s path, you’ll find many options. If you are looking for an expedited option, narrow your search to look for an institution that offers options like the 5-week courses mentioned above.

Post-secondary programs are worth the effort to advance or begin your career. You should not have to put your current responsibilities on the back burner in order to pursue an education. If you have constraints on your time because you are a working adult or non-traditional student, know that there are options available to earn an associate’s degree online.