If you decide to pursue higher education after graduating from high school, there are many options you can choose from. While some students may already know that they want to continue all the way through medical school or to get their Ph.D., perhaps you feel as though you want to start off slowly and take college courses up to a certain level, before deciding on what's next. Or perhaps the career path you're interested in pursuing only requires an associate degree to land the position. If you're interested in going for your associate's degree, which is a major accomplishment in itself, you'll be required to take a certain number of credit hours in order to receive your degree and participate in graduation.


Students need to complete 60 semester credit hours or 90 quarter credit hours in order to obtain their associate's degree and graduate from community college. This is equal to approximately 20 college courses.

What is an Associate's Degree?

Unlike a bachelor's degree, which a number of students decide to pursue after high school at a four-year institution, an associate degree can be done in less time and provides students with a quick route to a college-level education.

People choose to go for their associate's degree for a number of different reasons, particularly if the job they're interested in obtaining only requires "some" college education courses in order to get hired. Pursuing an associate degree is also a great way to get the feel of college, and see if it's something you're interested in pursuing further. Other times, people choose to get an associate's degree because they are interested in a career change, and they'll need to obtain more credits in the field they want to go into before applying for a job.

Finally, if you didn't have the best grades in high school, pursuing your associate's degree is also a great opportunity to improve your academic standing before applying to a four-year school or at least the four-year school of your choice. If you do well in your associate's program, then you may have a better chance of transferring to a four-year college that you really have your heart set on. An associate's degree at a community college also tends to be much more affordable compared to a bachelor's degree at a four-year college, and for the initial investment, an associate's degree can definitely open more opportunities in the future.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Associate's Degree?

In general, an associate's degree only takes two years if you're attending school full-time. However, in many cases, students that are attending community college are also working a part-time or full-time job on the side, so they may choose to pursue their associate's degree only part-time, which will, of course, take a little bit longer. Sometimes, it can even take up to four years. Additionally, some students who do attend a four-year college may have the option of getting both their associate's and their bachelor's during their time at school. Once they get their associate's, they can usually start working somewhere related to their field, which is a great way to get a foot in the door in the meantime.

How Many Credit Hours for an Associate's?

If you want to know exactly how long it will take you to graduate with an associate's degree, then you'll need to find out how many credit hours for an associate's degree are required by the institution you plan on attending. In order to get an associate'a degree, a student must obtain 60 semester credit hours or 90 quarter credit hours. Seeing as one course is usually around three credits, this requirement is equivalent to approximately 20 college courses. Therefore, if you're currently enrolled in a four-year bachelor's program, and you've already completed these many credit hours, then it's likely you're eligible for your associate'a while you continue with the remainder of your studies.

What Courses are Required for an Associate's?

In general, an associate's degree is earned after taking a certain number of courses in different areas. That being said, depending on what field you're focused on and which degree you're trying to earn (for example, an Associate's in Arts, Associate's in Science, Associate's in Applied Science), your courses may vary a little bit. The objective of an associate's degree is to provide the student with the basic knowledge and technical skills that they can transfer to employment or use to continue on with their education, and typically, these are referred to as "general education" or "gen-ed" courses.

The main focus of your associate's program will be courses in the core areas: communication, social sciences, humanities and natural sciences and mathematics. Some students, such as those who are pursuing an associate's degree in applied sciences, will sometimes take a fewer number of credits in the core areas and more credits in a technical area. If you pursue a bachelor's degree, you'll have to take these gen-eds at some point as well.

Where to Get an Associate Degree

Today, there are many places to enroll in a program to obtain your associate's degree. Community colleges, technical schools, junior colleges, affiliated branches of colleges and universities and even some four-year institutions offer associate degree programs. Of course, you can also get an associate's degree online, as many colleges offer distance learning programs. Or you can do a mix of on-site and distance learning classes.

Associate's degrees are pretty unique to the United States, but they do exist in some other countries, like Canada and Hong Kong. Therefore, if you're interested in going abroad for school, then you'll likely need to pursue a bachelor's degree. Luckily, school tuition is generally much more affordable in other countries than the United States, and you can sometimes get a bachelor's abroad for the same price as an associate's in the U.S.

Requirements to Enroll in an Associate Program

If you want to enroll in an associate's program and community college, there are several qualifications you'll have to meet first. Community colleges will ask for proof of earning your high school diploma or GED, as well as a minimum score on a standardized test like the ACT or SAT. Some colleges also ask for reference letters as well as a college essay with your application. While that may sound like a lot, many community colleges have open admissions, so you can theoretically walk in and apply at any time.

Community College Graduation Requirements

In order to graduate from community college, you need to have obtained enough credits to earn your degree, so you must know the associate's degree requirements. If you graduate, it means that you have taken the required number of credit hours necessary. If you don't complete the required credit hours, then you cannot earn your associate's degree, and you can't graduate from community college.

Of course, in addition to obtaining the required amount of credit hours, you may also need to fulfill other requirements in order to graduate from community college. In most cases, you'll need to make sure you've paid your tuition in full, or that you have at least signed off on all of your loans. Individual community colleges have their own requirements for graduation, meaning that you may have to check some other things off your list besides just getting the credit hours that you need. It's best to consult with your academic advisor about what these graduation requirements are, so you're prepared to walk at commencement.

The Difference Between an Associate's and a Bachelor's

The main difference between an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree is that an associate's degree is what you receive after completing 60 credit hours of college, whereas a bachelor's degree is what you receive after completing 120 credit hours of college. Both can be completed at your own pace, but in general, a bachelor's degree credit hours are higher and take two more years to earn than an associate's degree.

There's no doubt that while you can certainly get a decent job with an associate's degree (an associate's degree may actually be better aligned to your career path), that a bachelor's degree usually leads to higher-paying jobs and more opportunities. Also, some students prefer the experience that comes with attending a four-year school versus the experience that comes with attending a two-year school. Though, sometimes, people like the flexibility that comes with attending a community college. It all depends on what kind of student you're, what type of college experience you want to have, what your career goals are and how much money you're looking to spend on your education overall.

How to Transfer from an Associate's to Bachelor's

Perhaps after attending a two-year school and getting your associate's, you're interested in switching over to a four-year school and getting your bachelor's degree. People do this all the time, and it's a rather common practice. In order to do this, you'll just need to make sure that your 60 credit hours earned in your associate program can be transferred over to the four-year university that you want to attend.

If this is something you have in mind before even getting your associate's, then you should make sure that you take courses in something that's relevant to your prospective bachelor's program. This is because when it's time to declare your major, many four-year colleges will want to see that you already have some background in the field of study you're interested in pursuing. If you don't have the specific course background required, then you may need to take additional classes before applying again, or once you get accepted.

Potential Associate's Degree Jobs

An associate's degree is still an amazing achievement and can certainly help you out job-wise, even if you never continue with your education thereafter. There are many different industries that are eager to hire someone with an associate's degree:

  • Construction management
  • Dental hygienist
  • Air traffic controller
  • Technician
  • Administrative assistant
  • Legal assistant
  • Human services
  • Web Design
  • Paraprofessional/Teacher's aide
  • Accounting and auditing clerk
  • Realtor
  • Sales manager

Though every hiring manager is different, it's likely that your chances of getting one of these jobs after obtaining an associate's degree are much higher than without one. That being said, you'll still likely need to go through a series of training courses before starting the associate degree jobs.

What to Consider Before Enrolling in an Associate's Program

Before enrolling in an associate program (especially if you're considering it over a bachelor's program), there are several things you should consider. First and foremost, pursuing a degree of any kind, including an associate's degree, takes a lot of time an effort. Even if you can take your time getting through the program, you should keep in mind the hard work that goes into obtaining the degree. It doesn't come easily, and if there's even a slight chance you may go on to a bachelor's program afterwards, you must do your best to get the highest grades that you can. Additionally, it's important to remember that an associate's degree, while certainly cheaper than a bachelor's, still costs money. It's necessary to look into all the expenses associated with getting your associate's degree before enrolling at a community college.

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