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What is an Associate Degree?

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Not everyone goes straight to college after high school. Some students are done with school. Some do not have the time or money to attend a traditional degree program. Those already working may need proof that they have the necessary skills for promotions and raises in their field. An associate degree allows you to build skills and acquire experience before taking on the rigors of a four-year degree program.

What Is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree generally takes two years, and bridges the gap between what you learned while pursuing a high school diploma and the final two years of coursework toward a bachelor's degree. Members of each field decide which skills you must have to succeed in a given line of work. Those skills will form the backbone of your two-year curriculum.

Why Get an Associate Degree?

It Opens Doors. Your degree tells employers that you will fit into the company culture. Hiring managers have confidence that you'll share a similar background and experience with fellow employees.

It Creates a Ladder for Advancement. Your skills have to match future company needs in middle management. The most successful companies want their line of succession to remain unbroken. They groom potential managers from day one.

Employers Want Proof of Your Skills. Your value to the company must exceed the cost of your wages and benefits. You are an asset the company wishes to hire when you have the right skills, because you require less training.

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It Demonstrates Work Ethic. Employers see that you will not just warm a seat. It says you will not break under pressure or quit during tough times. A degree says you have a general idea of what working in the field entails.

It Shows Initiative. Earning a degree shows your willingness to take responsibility for yourself and that you will be proactive in the job when necessary.

What Jobs Require an Associate Degree?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook lists 23 professions that require just an associate degree for entry-level positions. Of these, computer network support specialists, dental hygienists and diagnostic medical sonographers have the highest projected number of new jobs available between 2016 and 2026. Architectural and civil drafters, cardiovascular technologists, and technicians and civil engineering technicians can also expect high demand for their skills.

Air traffic controllers had the highest median pay. As of 2016, they could expect to receive $75,000 per year or higher. Aerospace engineers, avionics technicians, forest and conservation technicians and geological and petroleum technicians all commanded median salaries between $55,000 and $74,999 per year in 2016.

How Do You Get an Associate Degree?

Decide which type of associate degree to pursue. There are three types: Associate of Arts, or AA; Associate of Sciences, or AS; and Associate of Applied Sciences, or AAS. The first two are for students who wish to transfer their credits to a four-year program. AA and AS courses are equivalent to freshman and sophomore courses at a four-year college. An Associate of Applied Sciences degree will get you into specific technical fields such as customer relationship management, web design and paralegal services. If you want to become a teacher's aide or sales manager, pursue an Associate of Arts degree. Get into an Associate of Sciences program to become a medical transcriptionist or physical therapist.

When you apply to schools with associate degree programs, use caution with search engine results. Do not assume that search engine rank equals program quality. Many schools pay to get into the top five results. Get recommendations from members of professional organizations instead.

Search for grants and scholarships. Apply to every scholarship you find, even if you do not meet the stated qualifications. If the donor requires the school to award the scholarship, you might still receive it. Debt.com rewards aggressive scholarship applicants with $500 if they prove that they applied for everything possible.

Arrange to meet with an academic advisor. Match your course of study to the course offerings for the next two years so you graduate on time. Finally, decide whether to attend online or in person. Attend online classes if your work hours or family responsibilities will interfere with daytime attendance.

Tip

Be wary of schools that encourage you to go into debt. Student loan debt can lower your credit score, keep you from buying a home or car and prevent you from being able to save for retirement. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 11.2 percent of student loans were more than 90 days delinquent or were in default between July and September of 2017. Students who were the first members of their families to attend college were the most likely to be behind on their student loans.

About the Author

Smith has been a student, independent contractor, entrepreneur, car salesperson, beauty consultant, and a water treatment salesperson. All of those career changes had their benefits and drawbacks. Smith believes in experiential learning as key to success in the work world, so don't be afraid to try something new that does not match your official qualifications. Smith urges business owners and job seekers alike to dig deep and discover what motivates you to give your best.

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