Top Online Associate Degree Programs

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What is an Online Associate Degree Program?

An online associate degree is a two year post high school degree. Some programs may offer fast tracked schedules. These schedules may have you taking class through the summer allowing you to complete the program in one year. Generally, an associate’s level program is 60 semester credits of study. This is equal to about 20 courses. Many use the credits from an associate degree to equal the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. Others may enter into an associate program to prepare for a specific job.

Associate degrees fall into one of three buckets:

  • (AA) Associate of Arts – this is a transfer degree
  • (AS) Associate of Science – this is a transfer degree
  • (AAS) Associate of Applied Science  – this is an occupational degree

Admission requirements vary. Though most programs need applicants to have a high school diploma or the equal (GED). Some programs may have extra requirements too. This might include things like an essay, resume or SAT scores.

Types of Associate Degrees

AA DegreeAS DegreeAAS Degree
AA, or Associate of Arts degree programs usually cover majors from the humanities. They also include general education courses.AS, or Associate of Science degree programs usually cover STEM majors. They also include general education courses.Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree programs also cover STEM majors. But unlike an AS degree, they have a practical (“applied”) focus. Some colleges also offer Associate of Applied Business (AAB) degrees. Associate of Applied Science programs are not usually degrees that transfer credits.
This may include fine arts, performing arts, literature, and languages.Courses are more focused on areas like computer science or even health care. Students often work to gain both skills and knowledge in a targeted field.
The goal of an AA is to ready students to transfer credits to a 4-year program. As such they may equal the first two years of a Bachelor of Arts (BA).The aim of an AS is to ready students to transfer credits to a 4-year program. As such they may equal the first two years of a Bachelor of Science (BS).These programs intend to ready students to pursue employment.



#1 Liberal Arts Associate Degrees

These programs are designed to allow students to take courses from many disciplines instead of only one. These subjects may include natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, religion and more.
This degree may allow students to fine tune skills that are important to employers. These skills would include, critical thinking skills, communication abilities and creativity.

#2 Nursing

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) may take from 2 to 3 years to complete. They cover areas like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and psychology.

Earning an ADN is one of the education paths to become a registered nurse. Such programs often ready grads to pursue jobs as staff nurses. But many students continue to study in an RN to BSN program or one like it.

#3 Health Science

Online health science degree programs teach how to help patients receive the health care they need. Associates degree courses are usually focused on key concepts in the health field. Some programs may tailor your course of study to focus on one area, such as Pharmacy Tech or Medical Assisting.

#4 Business Administration

An associate degree in business often covers many basic topics. Some relate to running the day to day of a company. Others may be more general and relate to the economy or sales.

Earning an associate degree in business may give you a handle on how to manage people and projects. Many careers do need a bachelor’s degree at least. So, getting a head start may be worth considering.

#5 Criminal Justice

An associate degree in criminal justice aim to lay out the basics of law enforcement. Often taking a broad view of the U.S. justice system, criminal law, and social sciences.

Earning an associate in criminal justice may serve two types of students. Those whose goal is to pursue entry level positions in the industry. Or criminal justice professionals who want to upgrade skills.

Are Online Associate Degrees Cheaper?

The tuition of an online associate degree may or may not be cheaper than attending a campus program. What would make an online degree cheaper would be the other aspects of earning a degree.

One aspect is many online students hold a job while pursuing their degree. Campus programs often feature daytime classes which may be hard for busy adults. There’s also no need to move, travel to class or look for housing near campus.

It is also important to evaluate the cost per credit. Some schools have a fixed cost per credit for both online and campus students. But, others may charge a lower rate for online programs.

You also need to check if where you live in relation to your school matters. Is there a different tuition if you live in state?

As an online student you may not be a resident and may pay out of state tuition. Though many schools extend in state rates to online students too.

Tuition & Fees

When choosing an online college, the biggest cost concern will be tuition and fees. The 2017 costs of a 2 year school as reported by NCES are:

Public In State College Private Not For Profit CollegePrivate For Profit College
Tuition & Fees$3,642
(out of state $7,668)
Books & Supplies$1,482$1,139$1,280

Costs that online students would not need to worry about would include room and board. At a private not for profit college this may save students on average $10,926! At a for profit school that number drops to $14,169. Other cost savings would include commuting costs back and forth. And of course, your time is worth something. Not having to spend the time to travel also has value!

Top Online Associate Degree Schools

School2017 Degrees Awarded2017 Top Major2017 Tuition
#1American Public University System2,235General Studies$6,900
#2Columbia Southern University2,067Fire Science$5,535
#3Excelsior College1,679RNNA
#4Grantham University663Business$6,540
#5Bryant & Stratton College-Online629Medical Insurance Coding$14,618
#6American InterContinental University520Business$11,937
#7Ashford University291Early Childhood Education and Teaching$12,160
#8South University–Savannah Online214Medical  Assistant and Medical Secretary$13,354
#9Pennsylvania State University-World Campus202Business$13,988
#10Florida Institute of Technology-Online128Business$12,204

NCES, Distance Learning Only Colleges.

How to Transfer into A Bachelor’s Degree Program

Many online colleges accept transfer credits. In fact, some accept up to 90 transfer credits which is about 75% of all bachelor’s degree credits. The good news here is an associate degree is typically only 60 credits. So, there is a chance you could get all your credits transferred. There are five things to keep in mind that may smooth the transition.

1. Earn the Appropriate Associate Degree

To recap, if you earned an AA or AS degree from a regionally accredited school, you may be able to transfer all credits. But this usually applies when you stay with the same major.

Some schools offer what they call “bachelor’s degree completion programs”. These pick up where your associate degree left off. Thus, shaving time (and tuition) off your totals.

2. Understand Which Credits Transfer

If you pursue an associate degree in one major then switch for your bachelor’s degree, things may change. In this case, you should understand which credits transfer and which do not.

Often the general education courses do transfer. But your new program is likely to have a slew of required courses that you won’t have completed.

3. Check out Your College’s Articulation Agreement

Many four-year colleges also offer two-year associate degrees. If you plan to stay at the same school, speak with an admission adviser. This person may help you craft a course plan to help you transfer from one program to another.

If you plan to switch schools, find out about articulation agreements. These are agreements between 2 and 4-year schools that set easy paths for transfer.

4. Find out About PLAs

Many colleges offer prior learning assessments (PLAs). These test your knowledge and skills. If you have on the job or other work experience, this may also be useful. PLAs may provide credit which applies to your bachelor’s degree.

5. Research Application Requirements

Applying for a bachelor’s degree may cause distress. Especially if you don’t have the highest grades. Don’t fret. Prepare. Check out colleges that accept low GPA scores , low SAT scores or no GPA requirements at all. Then learn how to navigate and nail the online college admission process!

Is Earning an Accredited Associates Degree Important?

The short answer is yes. This is most important for students who would be looking to transfer their credits to a 4 year school. Usually, 4 year schools will only accept transfer credits from regionally accredited programs.

It may also be important for AAS degrees. Accredited schools and programs often have curricula in line with industry standards. These may enable students to sit for licensing exams. Or work towards post-degree certification.

Can you Get Financial Aid for Online Associate Programs?

Students entering an online associate programs may be eligible for federal financial aid. If the (online) college is an accredited one. Accredited schools meet specific quality standards as set by an accrediting agency.

There are various routes students can use to fund their education. Among them are Scholarships, Grants, Work-Study, Federal Loans and Private Student Loans.

What Are The Highest Paying Jobs With An Associate Degree?

With an associate degree under your belt, there are a wide range of high paying jobs you may qualify for. There are about 99 jobs that call for post high school education. Of these, most need an associate degree or certificate for entry level roles.

Apart from pay, an associate degree may also result in significant career advancement. Entering such fields may help you gain valuable skills and work experience. Both might be very useful when it comes to moving up the ladder.

Lifetime Earnings With An Associate Degree

Having an associate degree may translate into higher lifetime earnings. On average, people with an associate degree earn $862 per week. This is $132 more than the average weekly earnings of someone with a high school diploma. Over the course of a lifetime, that would be a difference of $308,880.

High School DiplomaSome College No DegreeAssociates Degree
Median Weekly Earnings$730$802$862
Median Annual Earnings$37,960$41,704$44,824
Median Lifetime Earnings (based on 45 years worked)$1,708,200$1,876,680$2,017,080

Here are some of the top jobs that typically require an associates degree.

  • OT Assistants
  • Physical Therapy Assistants
  • Respiratory Therapists
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
  • Vet Techs
  • Web Developers
  • Paralegals & Legal Assistants
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Environmental Technicians
  • Preschool Teachers

Web Developer

Web developers use their skills to design and create websites. Part of what they do is creative. This relates to the look of the site and its content. These duties may involve understanding graphic design.

Another part is more technical. These duties relate to the site’s performance and capacity to handle traffic and speed. This requires web developers to know HTML programming.

Average yearly salary: $69,430
Job growth: 13% (Much faster than average)
Entry level degree:  Students may begin with an associates in web design such as an AAS in web development.

Paralegals & Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants support lawyers. They do this by keeping neat files, doing legal research and drafting documents.

Tasks may vary by the type of law they work in. For example, a corporate paralegal may prepare employee contracts. A paralegal working for an injury lawyer may do more trial work.

Average yearly salary: $50,940
Job growth: 12% (Much faster than average)
Entry level degree:  Associates Degree

Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist is the friendly face that cleans your teeth when you go to the dentist! They will also teach patients about good oral hygiene.

An associate’s degree in dental hygiene may take up to 3 years to complete.

Average yearly salary: $74,820
Job growth: 11% (Much faster than average)
Entry level degree: Associates Degree

Environmental Technicians

Environmental technicians explore sources of pollution. This could be in a public place or private business. They may collect soil samples or other materials for analysis.

They also help clients find ways to reduce pollution, cleanup sites and comply with regulations.

Average yearly salary: $46,170
Job growth: 9% (Faster than average)
Entry level degree: Associates Degree

Preschool Teacher

A preschool teacher works in a daycare, preschool or elementary school. They teach children before they reach grade K.

Basic skills they teach include colors, shapes and numbers.

Average yearly salary: $29,780
Job growth: 7% (Faster than average)
Entry level degree: Associates Degree

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EducationDynamics maintains business relationships with the schools it features.

This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.