What is an Associate Degree?

The answer might be obvious to most; however, it is worth examining what is involved in the typical associate degree.

It is the first degree after post-secondary school, which is available online, on-campus, vocational and technical schools, or at local community college campuses. For those who plan on not furthering their formal education, this is a terminal degree. You can find this degree in most countries with the average time of completion being two years. Our neighbor, Canada, does not have a standardized education system beyond high school. Each province decides its qualifications. British Columbia is the only province that has adapted the American-type associate degree.

This level of education is quicker and less costly than a bachelor’s degree, which requires four years of study. Many students earn an associate degree as a means to enter the employment market with a particular skill and training. For example, a radiation therapist with an Associate in Applied Science in Radiation Therapy would qualify to work in a hospital or cancer clinic. After devoting as few as twenty-one months to your studies, you are eligible to work in this profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, radiation therapists have a median salary of $80,330 (2018).

Not all degrees are conducive to online study. Occupations that require hands-on training, such as dental hygiene, can only be learned through direct instruction. However, these leaves a host of technical and medical vocations well suited for online classes. Individuals interested in entering the justice or legal system may consider an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies. This degree is one example that is compatible with online courses.

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Safety in Numbers?

If there is a significant percentage earning a degree online, then employers must be accepting this format for learning. Approximately 19.9 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the nation in 2019. Of these, 6,651,536 took distance education courses, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The latter figure is from 2017; however, the 2017 enrollment 19.7 million is close to the 2019 number.

Of the more than six million online students, almost half (3.1 million) complete their degree by distance education. Slightly more 2.2 million students of the 3.1 million were at the undergraduate level.

What will employers look for in your online degree?

The majority of employers will consider your online associate degree the equivalent of a residence program. You can dispel any reservations an employer may have or may raise by following the advice of experts in the educational field.

Make sure the online program has the recognition of the U.S. Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the Higher Learning Commission (HCL), the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, and many others. Many of the degrees in the science and technology arena should have accreditation with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). For a degree in any of the health sciences, look for recognition by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Regional accreditation is another important consideration.

A 2017 article in U.S. News stated that the degree is more critical than how what format you used to obtain it. You may be asked in an interview about how the degree applies to the duties of the prospective job. This question is less of an issue if the degree, such as an occupational therapist assistant, has a direct connection with the responsibilities. During an interview, there is no obligation to disclose how you earned the associate degree. Unless you worked while studying, then this would likely be discussed. In this case, you can stress time-management skills and commitment to further your education.

Northeastern University published a detailed report in December 2018 addressing the value of Educational Credentials. It was a composite of information and statistics from a national survey of 750 human resources leaders in the United States. With the proliferation of online courses, 61% of the respondents stated that an online degree is comparable to one earned in-person. Furthermore, 52% believe that students and employees will complete advanced degrees online. Almost two-thirds (64%) of the HR leaders agreed that lifelong learning is paramount to the success of the workforce.

Despite the emphasis on education by the HR managers, they (60%) supported the historical viewpoint that experience may trump one’s college education. On the other hand, more than three-quarters (76%) advocated that a level of education is a valuable commodity.


Yes, an online associate degree is equal to an on-campus learning format. Instead, students should concentrate on the best-accredited degree for their future vocation. Other factors, such as soft skills and extra-curricular accomplishments, are also beneficial. Additionally, speakers’ forums, internships, and volunteer activities can be a testament to your integrity and desire to succeed.

Additional Resources: 

24 Fastest Online Associate’s Degrees 2020

Why Get An Affordable Online Degree?

Is it Harder to Get a Job with an Inexpensive Online Degree?

How Difficult Is It to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree Online?