Community colleges are popular among students across the United States. Due to factors such as affordability and ease of getting accepted, close to 40 percent of undergraduate students attend community colleges, according to CBS News. Choosing an online associate’s degree program can offer even more flexibility as well as the opportunity to graduate faster and save even more money.
Despite the reputation that these two-year degree programs have of being “easier” than a bachelor’s degree program, many community college students don’t graduate on time or at all, Inside Higher Ed reported. While associate’s degrees have traditionally required just 60 semester hours of study – half of what’s needed to earn your bachelor’s degree – the number of credits required to graduate has been creeping up in recent years. In fact, many associate’s degree programs now ask students to complete 64, 70 or even more credits. Those increasing demands translate to an extra semester or two, at least, even for full-time students.
The harder your program of study, the more difficult it will be for you to earn your degree on time – or even to graduate at all. You can improve your chances of success by choosing one of the easiest online associate’s degrees to earn. Some of these degree programs are easy in that they offer an unusually flexible curriculum, while others prepare you for a growing and well-paid career with half of the work it would take to earn a bachelor’s degree in the same discipline. Of course, how easy you personally find your coursework will depend on your abilities and learning style, and even the easiest online associate’s degree programs will still require your best efforts if you want to succeed.
1. General Studies
Designed for students who haven’t yet decided what they want to do or what they want to study, general studies degree programs focus mainly on coursework that is, well general. Students complete general education courses in a variety of disciplines, including communication, science, math, social science, humanities, history and literature. In some general studies associate’s degree programs, close to one-third of the credits required to graduate are elective courses, which means that students can basically choose whatever class they would like to take. A general studies degree program helps students cultivate important and versatile abilities such as communication skills, analytical and critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills. This field of study also helps students to learn the foundations of college-level concepts in the physical, life and social sciences and mathematics. However, don’t expect an online associate’s degree in general studies to offer much in the way of career preparation. This program is meant as a transfer degree, one that will allow you to explore your interests at community college so that you can go on to earn a more specific, and hopefully more marketable, degree at a four-year institution.
An associate’s degree in general studies is the one degree you can earn if even just choosing a college major is too difficult for you. General studies degree programs have a broad liberal arts focus, and their emphasis on developing communication and critical thinking skills, rather than any sort of in-depth or technical knowledge of a specific discipline, makes the degree seem easy. Having the option to choose nearly a third of your courses based solely on what sounds appealing to you, rather than what fulfills a requirement or quota, adds to the impression that general studies is an easy major. Keep in mind, though, that unlike more specialized majors, students in a general studies degree program can’t just avoid a subject that they are weak in and focus on a discipline in which they are strongest. These students have to perform at least reasonably well in every subject – math, science, literature, art and more – in order to succeed.
What Makes It Easy: A general focus, plenty of electives, no need to choose a major, a reputation for being less practical or career-focused
The Hardest Part: Needing to develop skills and flesh out knowledge in every discipline
Career Opportunities: Just about anything – but only with further studies
2. Liberal Arts
Only slightly more specific than general studies is the liberal arts major. An online Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts degree prepares students mainly for further studies at a four-year liberal arts school or university. Liberal arts programs require students to attain knowledge in a breadth of different fields of study, rather than an in-depth grasp of any one academic discipline. Students who are enrolled in an online liberal arts associate’s degree program should expect to take courses in communications, humanities, mathematics, science, social science, history, computer literacy and diversity. While a liberal arts degree program often includes many semester hours of elective courses, students may not have as much flexibility to freely choose their elective classes as they would in a general studies degree. Often, they have to pick from classes offered in a limited number of academic disciplines or departments, rather than choosing whatever courses they want to take.
Rather than striving to prepare students for a narrow career path, a liberal arts degree program focuses on learning for the sake of learning. In many ways, what you’re studying in an associate’s degree program in liberal arts is how to learn effectively. Students practice their skills in thinking critically and communicating their thoughts. These skills can be useful when learning on the job or going to a four-year school or eventually graduate school. However, because the degree program has such a broad focus and places so much priority on developing these soft skills, it has earned a reputation as an easy degree program. However, online students who major in liberal arts still have to take at least basic mathematics and science courses, so there’s no getting away from formulas, equations and scientific theories. With the writing-intensive coursework you need to complete, you also can’t shy away from open-ended questions and essay assignments. You may not know as much about any one thing as a student who pursues a more specialized major, but you will learn a great deal more about many different subjects and have a more comprehensive educational foundation to build on in the future.
What Makes It Easy: A general focus, a reputation for being less practical or career-focused, an emphasis on building soft skills
The Hardest Part: Needing to develop skills and flesh out knowledge in every discipline
Career Opportunities: Just about anything – but only with further studies
3. Child Care and Education
Different associate’s degree programs in education focus on caring for children at different ages or grade levels. You might choose to study education at the early childhood level, the elementary school level, the middle school level or the high school level. Most of the classes you will take in an online associate’s degree program in child care are likely to be general education courses. You will need to study the fundamentals of subjects such as mathematics, science, social science, communication, history and humanities. However, typically one-quarter to one-third of the courses these students will take are core courses required for the major. In a program focused on early childhood education, for example, students might take classes that cover the roles of an early childhood professional, the historical foundations of education, infant and toddler development, instructional technology in education, the psychology of exceptionality and a practicum or field experience in early childhood education.
As it is, education is widely considered one of the easiest degrees you can earn, especially when your focus is on the lower grade levels. Even at the bachelor’s degree level, students in more rigorous science or math degree programs are likely to scoff at classes that emphasize learning through play, creative educational activities and decorating a classroom. The fact that education majors leave school with the highest average GPAs only reinforces the idea that education is, as CBS News put it, “the nation’s easiest college major.” When you study child care and education at the associate’s degree level, however, you’re still years away from being prepared to attain your license and begin teaching. Without a teacher certification, this program of study prepares you mainly for low-paying child care careers, such as instructional aide, teacher assistant or child care practitioner. Many child care programs at the associate’s degree level do encourage or require students to complete some sort of practicum or field experience. Still, the simple-sounding courses, low-paying associated career paths and need to earn a bachelor’s degree to become a full-fledged teacher combine to give the perception that an associate’s degree in child care is easy.
What Makes It Easy: Fun courses, creative projects, lack of high-paying career options without further studies
The Hardest Part: Completing field experiences in classrooms and child care centers
Career Opportunities: Teacher assistant or instructional aide
An associate’s degree program in English is usually considered a liberal arts major. Students take their full complement of general education courses in subjects such as basic English composition, science, math, social science, history and humanities. In some English or literature associate’s degree programs, students take few major courses and fill out their curriculum with liberal arts electives, while other English programs have more extensive writing and literature requirements. Some of the classes students in an associate’s degree program in English might take include journalism, Western literature, British literature, 19th century American literature, 20th century American literature, Shakespeare, African-American literature, children’s literature, themes in literature, poetry and creative writing. By the time they graduate with their associate’s degree in English, students will learn how to analyze and evaluate written text, produce their own original pieces of writing and express their opinions and assessments through oral discussion and written critical essays.
Delving into and criticizing the work of the English-speaking world’s most celebrated writers might not seem easy. Neither is developing the skills to thoroughly analyze literature. On the surface, though, it’s understandable that outsiders may consider an English degree to be less than demanding. Students pursuing an online associate’s degree in English devote two years to studying the language they’ve been speaking for years, if not all of their lives. They spend time reading materials that were published for entertainment and enjoyment, rather than textbooks that focus on fundamental principles or facts to memorize. As in many other liberal arts majors, the skills you develop in an English degree program might be useful life skills that help you learn and communicate better, but they aren’t marketable job skills in and of themselves. That’s why you often hear critics scoff at the notion of earning an English degree, and why outsiders tend to consider English an easy major despite the reading- and writing-intensive courses you have to take.
What Makes It Easy: A broad liberal arts curriculum, course materials that are fun to read, a focus on soft skills rather than career preparation, a reputation for being less practical or career-focused
The Hardest Part: Analyzing difficult texts and backing up your criticism or point of view
Career Opportunities: Writer, journalist, teacher or lawyer (with further study)
5. Foreign Language
Many community colleges offer online studies in foreign languages as well as English. American Sign Language (ASL) degree programs are common at the associate’s level. Your school may also offer majors in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Latin, Russian or Spanish. Studying a foreign language online can be tricky, according to U.S. News & World Report. Because you don’t have the benefit of regular face-to-face interaction in a physical classroom, you have fewer opportunities to practice conversing in your new language with your fellow students. However, the best online associate’s degree programs in a foreign language strive to be as interactive as possible. As an online student of a foreign language, you might find yourself utilizing learning materials such as video clips, hands-on exercises, interactive textbook materials and face-to-face lessons via Skype video chats. Some associate’s degree programs emphasize learning the foundations of a foreign language in preparation for further study at the bachelor’s degree level, while others focus more on equipping students with the skills to converse as fluently as possible in the language.
To some students, learning a new language really is easy. These students seem to have a natural ear for understanding languages as well as great memorization skills to help them learn the foreign language equivalents of words and phrases. Even though developing true fluency in a language isn’t as easy, focusing your coursework on the study of one language, rather than digging deeper into intermediate studies of a subject area such as science, mathematics or history, can come across as an easy curriculum. However, many students struggle when studying foreign languages, and few ever really become fluent, even after years of study. The fact that an associate’s degree is often not enough to prepare you for foreign language careers such as translator or interpreter adds to the notion that an associate’s degree in a foreign language is an easy field of study. Still, knowing another language and learning about its culture expands the horizons of your world both personally and professionally.
What Makes It Easy: Learning through memorization, a lack of required science and mathematics courses
The Hardest Part: Developing a thorough enough familiarity with the language to converse and write fluently
Career Opportunities: Interpreter or translator, government intelligence agent, business professional
6. Communication Studies
In an associate’s degree program in communications, you can expect to develop exceptional communication skills of all kinds, from public speaking to media writing. In addition to completing general education courses in subjects such as math, science, social science, history and the humanities, students take a range of courses in communications, journalism and the media. Students complete required coursework in basic composition and public speaking, introduction to mass media and introduction to public relations. Some associate’s degree programs in communications also allow students to choose an academic track or concentration, such as creative writing, communication arts, journalism, public relations and radio, television and film. Though most two-year associate’s degree programs are meant as a stepping stone to earning a bachelor’s degree, students will gain some important skills and knowledge by the time they graduate with their associate’s degree. For example, the conflict resolution skills you develop studying communications can be useful in the business world or in your personal life, and your understanding of media influences and practices provides you with a balanced perspectives that most readers and viewers don’t have.
Since just about every job requires some interpersonal interaction, strong communication skills are important regardless of your college major or your field of employment. However, to students in other disciplines, whose communication skills may be developed just well enough to get by, devoting two entire years of study to improving your writing and speaking skills may seem like taking the easy way out. They don’t realize that you’re studying complex media theories or public relations strategies, rather than taking only general reading and writing courses. A communications degree is versatile enough to help you get started in just about any career field, but it doesn’t particularly prepare you for any one occupation, which adds to the belief that communications degrees are easy and impractical. However, even aspiring doctors, lawyers and business leaders may choose to start off their education in the field of communications so that they will be prepared for the intensive reading and writing work that awaits them later in their college careers.
What Makes It Easy: Focus on versatile skills rather than technical career preparatory knowledge, a reputation for being less practical or career-focused
The Hardest Part: Learning the complexities of media practices and communication strategies, practicing communication skills that are outside your comfort zone
Career Opportunities: Public relations specialist, internal or external communications specialist, journalist or writer
7. General Business
When you study general business at the associate’s degree level, you will take courses in a variety of business topics. Unlike more specialized programs such as accounting, students in a general business degree program will complete a broad curriculum of classes. Coursework in business law, marketing, accounting, management, business communication and microeconomics and macroeconomics are common in online associate’s degree programs in business, according to U.S. News & World Report. General education courses are also typically required, and some online associate’s in business degree programs offer or encourage students to gain hands-on work experience outside the virtual classroom through an internship with a business in their geographical area. By the time business students complete their associate’s degree program, they will understand the inner workings of financial systems, the fundamentals of marketing and sales, the principles of managerial accounting and how to create and present business reports and manage projects and people ethically and effectively.
Degrees in the larger field of business may be some of the most sought-after, but when it comes to general business programs like business administration, they’re also some of the easiest. The broad focus of a general business degree program makes this degree similar to a liberal arts degree. You might need to take elementary statistics and some basic math courses in an associate’s degree program in business administration, but you’re unlikely to encounter the more complex number-crunching needed in advanced accounting and finance courses. Business programs at the associate’s degree level typically require students to take only the small amount of science technology courses needed to meet basic general education requirements. However, this program isn’t as simple as it sounds. Students have to succeed in learning the fundamentals of every aspect of business, rather than focusing only on one in which they already perform well. For students who chose an online education due to their busy schedules with family or work obligations, finding the time to complete an offline internship, which may offer far less flexible hours, can be a challenge.
What Makes It Easy: A broad focus on developing a diverse group of versatile skills, a lack of required science and mathematics courses
The Hardest Part: Gaining hands-on experience as an online student, excelling in different facets of business studies
Career Opportunities: Administrative assistant, office manager, payroll coordinator, executive assistant, operations manager or compliance officer
The humanities are the collection of disciplines that study the human experience. Essentially, fields of study that fall into the classification of humanities address questions such as what it means to be human, according to the Huffington Post. At the associate’s degree level, majoring in the humanities means taking a mix of interdisciplinary courses. You might study art and art history, music, theater, classic literature, linguistics, foreign languages and cultures, history, philosophy and religious studies. Humanities is often a subdivision of a liberal arts department or school, and as such, the program of study typically requires students to complete general education requirements in a wide range of subjects, including science and mathematics. While studying the humanities can help you develop versatile skills and valuable insights that can benefit you in many lines of work, this associate’s degree program is typically best for students who plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
A humanities degree emphasizes the aspects of a liberal arts education that are more human-focused. Liberal arts already has a reputation for being an easy degree path, but humanities doesn’t even have the focus on science and math that makes the program seem more difficult. Another factor that adds to the perception of an associate’s degree in humanities as an easy education is its lack of focus on job preparation. Broadly studying topics like art, literature, and culture may help students cultivate a variety of skills in how they think about ideas and interact with others, but it doesn’t fit into the requirements for most job descriptions. However, some of the coursework within a humanities degree program can be complex. You will need to delve into religious and literary texts and develop a deep understanding of different cultures and time periods as well as how those factors affect human choices and behaviors. Studying the humanities can require a great deal of reading, writing and thinking.
What Makes It Easy: A broad focus, a lack of required science and mathematics courses, a reputation for being less practical or career-focused
The Hardest Part: Developing familiarity with different cultures and perspectives
Career Opportunities: Politician, business professional, historian, writer or editor, teacher or professor, social services manager or lawyer
9. Social Science
Social science is the application of scientific methods and framework to studying human social relationships and societies. As a liberal arts major, social science degree programs often include general education requirements, such as studies in the physical and life sciences, mathematics and humanities. Your degree-specific coursework might include classes such as basic statistics, psychology, sociology, government, economy, anthropology and geography. Studying social science at the associate’s degree level is a fairly broad course of study. If after earning your Associate of Arts degree in social science you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you will most likely choose a narrower discipline, such as sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, history or psychology. You might notice that there’s a great deal of overlap between the social sciences and the humanities. While the subject matter of these two fields of study is often similar, they explore these disciplines from different perspectives. Studying social science means using a more scientific approach to your studies, including designing experiments based on the scientific method to gather empirical evidence that can be used to explain events and occurrences.
Like related studies into the liberal arts and humanities, degree programs in the social sciences may seem easy. However, the social sciences still require a strong understanding of the scientific method and both quantitative and qualitative research methods. There may not be as many complex formulas and equations in the social sciences are there are in physics, biology and chemistry, but the field is still rigorous in its own way. While the broad focus of a social science degree may make the program seem easier than delving more deeply into a single discipline such as sociology or political science, it’s worth noting that students can find it challenging to divide their concentration between numerous different disciplines. Many careers in the social sciences require a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree, so an associate’s degree in social sciences may not be the most marketable education unless you intend to pursue further studies at the bachelor’s level.
What Makes It Easy: A broad focus, a lack quantitative data and technical formulas in research
The Hardest Part: Learning scientific and research methods
Career Opportunities: Social worker, psychology, sociology or lawyer
Psychology is, in essence, the study of human thought and behavior. When you earn an associate’s degree in psychology, your coursework typically includes introductory coursework into the fundamental principles of psychology as well as classes in areas of the discipline such as social psychology, abnormal psychology, human growth and development, psychological counseling and psychology of personality. By the time you complete an associate’s degree program in psychology, you will understand the basics of psychological research methods and ethical considerations involved in psychological research as well as different theories of psychological development. A two-year associate’s degree program is often a liberal arts program and typically requires students to complete general education coursework in science, social science, mathematics, composition, history and the humanities in addition to core classes required for the major. If you’re interested in working in the field of psychology or in applying your knowledge of psychology to a marketable field such as business, you should plan to transfer to a four-year school and advance your education with a bachelor’s degree.
Generally speaking, psychology isn’t considered an easy field of study. In fact, graduates of bachelor’s degrees in psychology have one of the lowest average GPAs of all degree programs, on par with students of biology, chemistry, math and economics. This suggests that the discipline is actually one of the hardest college majors, according to CBS News. However, at the associate’s degree level, psychology is a liberal arts major that includes more studies in general education than in psychology subject matters, which makes studying the subject at this level of education somewhat easier. Additionally, an associate’s degree in psychology does not provide much in the way of career preparation. Even with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, most graduates will go on to find careers outside the field of psychology. To actually work in the field of psychology, you typically need at least a master’s degree, if not a doctorate degree like a Ph.D. or Psy.D.
What Makes It Easy: Broad focus, liberal arts degree program, little in the way of career preparation focus
The Hardest Part: Studying psychological research, learning a variety of psychological theories and perspectives
Career Opportunities: Psychologist, school counselor, marriage and family counselor, substance abuse counselor, sociologist or mental health counselor
Sociology, the study of human society, is a liberal arts major. At the associate’s degree level, completing this two-year program typically leads to an Associate of Arts degree. Students in an associate’s degree program in sociology typically complete a great deal of general education coursework in subjects such as composition, science, mathematics, history, the humanities and computer literacy. They also take core program courses such as introduction to sociology, introduction to social work, introduction to social science research methods, social problems, introduction to marriage and family relationships and social constructions of difference. Students might also have the opportunity to choose from more specialized sociology courses, as well, such as sociology of religion, sociology of crime and sociology of death and dying. Students who complete an associate’s degree program in the field of sociology will develop the skills to begin to understand why people collectively behave in the ways that they do.
Like the social sciences, the humanities and other liberal arts degree programs, sociology has a reputation for being one of the easier subjects of study, especially compared to a degree program in the hard sciences, mathematics or technology. Part of that notion stems from the subject’s perceived lack of scientific rigor. While research and statistics certainly play a role in sociology, social science research methods differ somewhat from the data collection methods used in chemistry and biology. Sociologists need a fundamental understanding of statistics, but they don’t often do the same advanced equations that a physicist or mathematician might do. To outsiders, it may seem that students of sociology are devoting their education to studying something that we all experience every day: society and social interactions. While all students, regardless of academic major, live their lives in the context of society and social norms, most students don’t think critically about how societies work on a regular basis. Finally, many careers related to the field of sociology require a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree.
What Makes It Easy: A broad liberal arts focus, a lack of required science and mathematics courses, a reputation for being less practical or career-focused
The Hardest Part: Developing knowledge of social science research methods, learning to think critically about social constructs, norms and interactions
Career Opportunities: Domestic violence advocate, social services assistant, drug or alcohol counselor, family counselor, human resources specialist, marketer or sociologist
12. Mass Media Studies
In an Associate of Arts degree in mass media studies, you will learn about the history and theory of media communication as well as practical skills like creating text and multimedia content for mass media communication. In addition to taking a broad range of general education courses and basic classes in public speaking and composition, students complete coursework in speech communications, society and mass communications, writing for mass media and mass media design. Generally, students who pursue an associate’s degree in mass media plan to move on to a bachelor’s degree program in a similar subject of study, such as journalism, communications, public relations, advertising or media studies. However, students who choose not to seek a higher level of education have the basic skills to write, design and create content for small media organizations. To advance to higher-level roles or media creation roles in larger media organizations, these students will need either a great deal of work experience or an additional degree.
An associate’s degree program in mass media studies has a slightly narrower focus than a communications or English degree. Rather than devoting their time to studying classic literature or creative writing, students in a mass media degree program are thinking critically about factors such as what print, broadcast and online content is in demand among media organizations and how an audience will interact with that content. This focus makes the degree seem somewhat more marketable than, for example, an English literature degree. However, this educational path is still a type of liberal arts degree program, and it still emphasizes the development of soft skills such as critical thinking, writing and speaking skills. While these abilities are versatile, enhancing your job prospects in just about any career field, the work cultivating these skills often comes across as being far easier than learning advanced technical skills or working on complex scientific and mathematical formulas.
What Makes It Easy: A broad liberal arts focus, a focus on developing soft skills, a lack of required science and mathematics courses
The Hardest Part: Learning to think critically about mass media biases and agendas, developing content creation skills that may be outside your comfort zone
Career Opportunities: Broadcast news analyst, reporter editor, advertising manager, public relations specialist, marketer, writer or advertising sales agent
13. Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is the study of government efforts to prevent, reduce and punish crime. In an associate’s degree program in criminal justice, students study the basic fundamentals of the American criminal justice system. Required courses in an associate’s degree program in criminal justice may include foundations of the justice system, American policing, criminal law, criminology, criminal investigation, criminal procedure, corrections, psychology and ethics and community relations, according to U.S. News & World Report. However, much of a criminal justice student’s coursework at the associate’s degree level will revolve around completing general education requirements in a broad range of subjects, including science, mathematics, history, art and English. It’s not uncommon for students enrolled in online criminal justice degree programs to have to complete a capstone experience such as an independent research project in order to graduate, according to U.S. News & World Report. An associate’s degree can be sufficient to allow you to attain an entry-level job in the field of criminal justice.
Because criminal justice degree programs at the associate’s degree level include a great deal of general education coursework, this degree program can come off as an easy field of study. Even in programs that offer specialized academic tracks or concentrations, students may still spend as much or more time completing general education courses as they do actually taking criminal justice courses. Unlike many of the other degrees on this list, an associate’s degree in criminal justice is marketable and can be all the formal college education you need to begin working in the field. However, that factor almost works to the disadvantage of the degree field. Rather than causing outsiders to value the difficulty of the degree program more, it actually makes them consider the program even easier. Perhaps part of the reason for this reputation as an easy degree is because the jobs that an associate’s degree in criminal justice does prepare students for typically aren’t lucrative. The median salary for graduates of an associate’s degree in criminal justice program is just $37,000 at entry-level roles and $49,000 at midlevel roles, according to U.S. News & World Report.
What Makes It Easy: Broad general education focus, a lack of required science and mathematics courses, a lack of high-paying career options without further studies
The Hardest Part: Learning the inner workings of criminal procedure and punishment
Career Opportunities: Police officer, detective, correctional officer or security guard
14. Paralegal Studies
A paralegal, or legal assistant, is a legal professional who helps attorneys with work such as research, writing legal documents and organizing files. In an associate’s degree program in paralegal studies, you will take classes that teach you practical skills such as performing legal research and drafting legal documents as well as academic courses in different kinds of law, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Your core courses in an associate’s degree in paralegal studies might include introduction to law, legal research and writing, litigation assistant procedures, law office management, family law, bankruptcy law, wills and estates, real estate law, personal injury litigation and trial advocacy. Your degree program may require or encourage you to complete an internship that allows you to gain relevant work experience in an attorney’s office. While students in paralegal studies programs still need to complete some general education courses, they’re likely to spend a great deal more of their studies in program courses than students pursuing a degree in a liberal arts subject would.
What makes a degree program in paralegal studies easy isn’t so much the coursework or even the career opportunities it prepares you to attain. It’s more a matter of being an easy path into the legal industry. Earning an associate’s degree is paralegal studies is an excellent choice if you want to work in law but don’t want to go to law school. Paralegals have to understand the fundamentals of law, and their work is often fast-paced, deadline-driven and at times stressful. However, the curriculum of an associate’s degree program in paralegal studies doesn’t compare to the rigors of a Juris Doctor degree program. Of course, the cost of an associate’s degree in paralegal studies is also far less than that of a law school education. The $49,500 median salary of a paralegal, too, is just a fraction of what a licensed attorney would earn annually ($118,160, according to the BLS).
What Makes It Easy: A quick and affordable path into a career in the legal industry
The Hardest Part: Learning the intricacies of different kinds of law and legal research and writing practices
Career Opportunities: Paralegal, legal secretary, licensing examiner or title searcher
15. Health Science and Health Care Studies
If you’re interested in finding a career path that will allow you to work in the booming health care industry, you might look for an associate’s degree program in health science, health care studies or health care management. These associate’s degree programs typically focus on aspects of the health care industry other than direct patient care, including maintaining patient records and medical billing and coding. Some health science degree programs, on the other hand, are intended for working health care professionals who have a certificate and license but no college degree. The courses you might take in an online associate’s degree program in health care management include medical terminology, medical law and ethics and medical document production, according to U.S. News & World Report. You might also take important courses not focused on health care, such as accounting, management and software applications. Some health science programs will require you to take courses such as anatomy and physiology and to complete some sort of in-person work experience requirement, even if the program isn’t clinical in nature.
In many ways, studying health sciences is similar to earning a degree in paralegal studies – and that’s what makes the program seem easy, even if the coursework might not be so simple. The degree program effectively provides a quick, low-cost entry into the health care industry. It doesn’t require the massive time commitment or tuition cost of going to medical school or earning a master’s degree in nursing to become an advance practice registered nurse – but nor does it bestow the same earning potential or level of prestige on the health science graduate. Graduates of an associate’s degree program in health care management or a related field often earn annual salaries in the low to mid-$30,000 range, according to U.S. News & World Report. Earning potential can be significantly higher if the student goes on to attain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the field as well as years of work experience.
What Makes It Easy: A quick and affordable path into a career in the health care industry
The Hardest Part: Learning medical terminology
Career Opportunities: Medical assistant, medical secretary, medical records and health information technician or medical and health services manager
16. Dental Hygiene
An associate’s degree in dental hygiene is widely considered the appropriate entry-level credential to work in a dentist’s office as a dental hygienist. These health care professionals work directly with patients in capacities such as cleaning and examining teeth and taking dental x-rays. Most dental hygiene programs at the community college level are strongly career-focused and award graduates an Associate in Applied Science degree. It’s important that students choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association, or they may face challenges in attaining a license. Students in a dental hygiene degree program typically take classes such as anatomy and physiology, head and neck anatomy, pathology, radiography, nutrition, periodontics, medical ethics and patient management, according to the BLS. Unlike a traditional two-year associate’s degree, it often takes three years to earn an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, the BLS reported. In addition to their studies in the (virtual) classroom, dental hygiene students have to take laboratory classes, which can sometimes be completed online, and clinical experiences, which must be completed in person.
Does it seem unfair that a degree program that requires an extra year of study – plus laboratory science courses and a clinical field work component – would get a reputation for being an easy subject of study? As associate’s degrees go, a dental hygiene program certainly has its share of challenges. However, like studying health sciences or paralegal studies, studying dental hygiene is a comparably quick and low-cost path into a career field – dentistry – that is often associated with higher earnings and a level of prestige. For only needing three years of school compared to a dentist’s four years of dental school beyond earning a bachelor’s degree, dental hygienists can earn great salaries. The median wage for dental hygienists is $72,910, according to the BLS. Perhaps part of the reason this degree path has a reputation for being easy despite its demanding nature is because people often confuse dental hygienists with dental assistants, a career path that requires about a third of the education needed to be a hygienist and pays about half the salary. While students can earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, it’s often not necessary. In fact, dental hygiene is one field that it’s often better to study at the community college level, according to U.S. News & World Report. If spending just three years in school to attain a job that pays more than twice the median wage for all salaries is easy, at least it’s easy in a good way.
What Makes It Easy: High-paying career opportunities with only an associate’s degree, a quick and affordable path into a career in the dental industry
The Hardest Part: In-person clinical requirements, an extra year of study compared to most associate’s degrees, required laboratory science classes
Career Opportunities: Dental hygienist
17. Radiation Technology
An Associate in Applied Science degree in radiation therapy or radiologic technology is a career-focused degree program. While students in a radiation technology degree program take some general education courses, they spend more of their semester hours taking required program classes that equip them with practical entry-level skills to work directly with patients as radiographers and medical imaging technicians. Coursework in a radiologic technology degree program include medical terminology, radiologic physics, principles of imaging, clinical radiography, radiographic procedures, patient care in radiologic sciences, radiation biology and protection, advanced modalities and bioethics. Students in a radiation technology or radiologic technology degree program might focus their studies on a specialty of medical imaging, such as abdominal sonography or breast sonography, according to the BLS. By the time they complete the program, associate’s degree holders will understand how to safely use radiography equipment such as the machines used to take x-ray images, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and ultrasound or sonogram imaging.
What makes an associate’s degree in radiation technology easy is its ability to get graduates into high-paying health care jobs without the need for further college studies. In fact, U.S. News & World Report listed radiation technology and medical imaging as one degree that’s actually better to earn at a community college instead of a four-year college or university. Bachelor’s degrees in this field are available, but don’t currently lead to a big boost in pay or better job prospects, especially with the rapid job growth currently going on in the field. Radiation technology is one example of an in-demand associate’s degree that can quickly lead to a high-paying career. In fact, diagnostic sonographers earn a median salary of $65,860, while nuclear medicine technologists earn $70,180 and radiation therapists earn $77,560, according to U.S. News & World Report. After just two years of study, graduates from a radiation technology degree program can attain a job for which the median salary is $20,000 to $30,000 higher than the median wage for young adults who hold bachelor’s degrees.
What Makes It Easy: A quick and affordable path into multiple high-paying careers in the health care industry
The Hardest Part: Required science and health care courses, clinical requirements
Career Opportunities: Diagnostic medical sonographer, radiation therapist or nuclear medicine technologist
18. Medical Assisting
As the job title suggests, medical assistants help medical doctors in their work. These health care workers assist physicians on both the administrative side, scheduling appointments and maintaining electronic patient records, and the clinical side, checking and recording vital signs. An associate’s degree program in medical assisting equips students with the skills needed to do this work in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and doctors’ offices. Over two years of schooling, if studying full-time, students take course in pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, clinical procedures, medical coding systems and billing, medical ethics and law and medical office management, according to U.S. News & World Report. Prospective students should be aware that even online medical assisting degree programs can’t be completed fully online, according to U.S. News & World Report. Completing a supervised clinical practicum at a health care facility is an essential part of a medical assisting education.
The coursework of an associate’s degree program in medical assisting may not sound easy, especially when students have to complete mandatory clinical practicum experiences in order to graduate. In fact, most of what makes the degree seem easy is the fact that it doesn’t prepare you for a high-paying career. The faster than average expected 31 percent increase in job opportunities over a decade might seem positive, but the median salary for medical assistants is only $29,000 per year, according to U.S. News & World Report. That’s thousands of dollars below the median salary for all occupations in the United States and a difficult wage to live on in many areas. Of course, since students in an associate’s degree program in medical assisting aren’t putting in the several years of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars of tuition costs for medical school, they can’t expect to earn the large salaries that physicians can eventually look forward to making. However, the low rate of pay can lead to undervaluing medical assistants themselves and the degrees they attained to qualify for the job.
What Makes It Easy: A lack of high-paying career options
The Hardest Part: Required science and health care courses, clinical requirements
Career Opportunities: Medical Assistant
19. Physical and Occupational Therapy Assistant
When a patient suffers an injury or illness that leaves him or her with a disability, that patient may need to undergo physical and occupational therapy to rehabilitate their body and regain functioning and independence. Physical therapy focuses primarily on improving the patient’s mobility, while occupational therapy strives more to help the patient engage in daily activities such as dressing themselves. While the health care professional who oversees rehabilitation is a highly educated physical or occupational therapist, these professionals need help with tasks that are both directly and indirectly related to patient care. Physical and occupational therapy assistants help in direct patient care roles, such as leading the patient through stretches and exercises, while physical and occupational aides handle duties indirectly related to patient care, such as setting up equipment and handling billing paperwork. Associate degree programs in physical therapy typically include coursework in anatomy, physiology, psychology and first aid, according to the BLS. Occupational therapy assistant degree programs require studies in biology, pediatric health and psychology, the BLS reported. Both programs require students to complete in-person fieldwork or clinical work.
Earning your associate’s degree in a physical or occupational therapy assistant program might not seem all that easy. The coursework includes required science courses like biology, anatomy and physiology. Even online students have to complete their fieldwork experiences face-to-face in a supervised clinical setting. A large part of what gives this program a reputation for being easy is that it doesn’t impart the earning potential or prestige of a degree program that would allow you to become a full-fledged physical or occupational therapist. Physical and occupational therapy aids earn wages in the mid- to high- $20,000 range, less than the median wage for all occupations, the BLS reported. On the other hand, physical and occupational therapy assistants – the roles you’re most likely to hold if you have an associate’s degree in these subjects – earn closer to the mid- to high-$50,000 range. This salary may still be a far cry from the low- to mid-$80,000 salary range of physical and occupational therapists, but considering that it takes just two years of study to prepare for the role, it’s not too shabby.
What Makes It Easy: No need for years of further study to get a job, a quick and affordable path into a career in the health care industry
The Hardest Part: Clinical fieldwork requirements, science and health care courses
Career Opportunities: Physical Therapy Assistant or Aide or Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide
20. Technical Studies
An Associate in Applied Science degree in a subject like Technical Studies is technical in nature, but its structure and vague degree title are the reason it rounds out our list of the 20 easiest online associate’s degrees. Students may take technical courses to apply toward their degree. However, the program is often intended for students who already have technical work experience and want to apply that life and professional experience to their college education. Students in a technical studies associate’s degree program still take some general education courses, including basic composition classes, public speaking, English, math, humanities, social sciences and introduction to computers. However, technical or occupational core credits make up a good portion of the credits they need to graduate. Students attain these technical or occupational core credits through methods of what’s called prior learning assessment. These are methods of evaluating a student’s knowledge on a subject and may take the form of a professional portfolio or a standardized test.
The point of a degree program that awards credit for competency is to make it easier to earn your associate’s degree – but that isn’t a bad thing. After all, your job training and professional skills are valuable in the real world of the technology or business industry, so why shouldn’t they be valued at the college level, too? When you already know the material you would need to know to be awarded an associate’s degree, it doesn’t make sense to waste extra time – perhaps a year of it, if not more – sitting in a classroom going over the same old subject matter. Instead, you could be out there in the professional world, putting your knowledge to work or even working toward a bachelor’s degree that will give your career a major boost. An associate’s degree program in technical studies is a great choice for smart students who already have a marketable skillset and who would rather work smarter than harder.
What Makes It Easy: Gaining college credit for work and life experience
The Hardest Part: The need for considerable past work experience in technology or business
Career Opportunities: With further studies, any business or technology career path
Editor’s Note: There are all kinds of factors that can lead to a degree being considered easy. Students should always take into account factors such as the required curriculum of a program, any in-person components to an online program of study and, of course, their own career goals, strengths and weaknesses. It’s also important that, even in the easiest associate’s degree programs, students have realistic expectations about what it will take to earn a college degree online.
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