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If you want to quickly attain an education that will prepare you for a better career, an associate’s degree could be your best bet. Students can complete this degree in a fraction of the time it would take to earn a bachelor’s degree. The tuition at community colleges that offer associate’s degrees is often far more affordable than tuition at a four-year college or university, as well. The time it takes to complete your associate’s degree varies depending on your program of study, whether you’re studying full-time or part-time and other factors.
The Two-Year Degree
An associate’s degree is often referred to as a “two-year” degree. That’s because associate’s degree programs have traditionally required students to complete 60 credits of college courses, an amount of work that can be done in two years if you are studying full-time. Most bachelor’s degree programs require twice that many credits, 120, which is why these degrees are often called “four-year” degrees. Because associate’s degrees require far fewer courses, and often less advanced coursework, they’re often considered easier than bachelor’s degree programs. Some of the most popular degrees at the associate’s level are also among the easiest online associate’s degrees to earn.
Despite the two-year nickname, an associate’s degree doesn’t always take just two years to complete. In fact, schools are increasingly requiring students in associate’s degree programs to earn more than 60 credits in order to graduate, Inside Higher Ed reported. When students have to complete 64, 70 or more credits to attain their degree, tacking on those extra credits can translate to having to spend another semester or full year working toward an associate’s degree. Students who go to school part-time while working or raising a family often take longer to graduate, as well.
Accelerated Associate’s Degrees
If you’re eager to avoid spending extra time on your associate’s degree, accelerated associate’s degree programs might be of interest to you. Through a combination of opportunities such as offering intensive condensed courses and allowing students to gain college credit for life and work experience, these degree programs can allow students to finish their community college education much quicker – sometimes, in as little as 12 months.
Many accelerated associate’s degree programs are online degree programs. Students should be aware that not every school offers accelerated degree options, and even at those schools that do, not every program of study can be completed in an accelerated format.
Longer Associate’s Degree Programs
Some associate’s degree programs take longer than two years because they were never intended as two-year programs to begin with. However, these lengthy associate’s degrees are often worth the wait and the extra work, because they prepare students for well-paid careers without requiring further studies at the bachelor’s level.
One example is an Associate in Applied Science degree in dental hygiene. These degree programs typically do take three years of work to complete, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Students need that extra time to finish coursework in head and neck anatomy, radiography, pathology, periodontics and other laboratory courses as well as meet in-person clinical experience requirements. Fortunately, dental hygienists are well paid for their extra year of school, earning a median wage of $72,910, according to the BLS. In fact, dental hygiene is one degree that students are better off earning at a community college, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Ultimately, how long it takes you to earn an associate’s degree matters less than how well that degree helps you to achieve your personal and professional goals.