Distance learning colleges across the nation offer online associate’s degree programs to students that want to continue their education from the comfort of their homes. What are the advantages to earning an associate’s degree online? And how can you find the right program? Read on.
Benefits of Earning an Associate’s Degree Online
You can earn an online associate’s degree in about two years. Earning an associate’s degree can help you prepare you for many technical jobs such as medical assisting, computer repair, or accounting. Additionally, many associate’s degrees give you credits that can transfer to a university should you decide to continue your studies.
Online associate’s degree programs are generally more flexible than traditional programs. You can learn at your own pace and take courses at any time of day. This is particularly helpful if you have a full-time job or are raising a family.
Who Should Earn an Associate’s Degree Online?
Online degree programs don’t work for everyone. In order to be successful with unstructured coursework, you must have a high level of self-motivation. You should be able to work independently and be comfortable with deadlines. Since most online coursework consists of reading and writing assignments instead of traditional lectures, it is essential that students have proficient reading comprehension and English fluency. (See also: Is Distance Learning Right for Me?)
Before enrolling in an associate’s degree program, make sure that the degree and skills you will acquire will help you get the job you want. Some technical jobs require associate’s degrees. But, others require certificates that can be earned in less time than earning a degree. And some simply require on-the-job training that can be gained without spending thousands of dollars on coursework.
Of course, if you plan to get a bachelor’s degree later on, earning an associate’s degree can be a good way to fill many of your general education requirements.
Accreditation is the most important factor to consider when choosing an online school. Accrediting organizations regularly review colleges to make sure that they meet minimum quality standards. When employers and colleges look at your degree, they will want to make sure that it is approved by one of these organizations.
Any diploma mill can claim to be “accredited.” But, not every school is accredited by an organization that employers and educational institutions will take seriously. When choosing a school, make sure that it is accredited by one of the six regional accreditation boards or by the Distance Education Training Council (DETC).
If your school is accredited by one of the six regional accrediting boards, you will have the best chance of having employers take your degree seriously and of being able to transfer credits to other schools. If your school is accredited by the DETC, many employers will take your degree seriously, but you may have difficulty transferring your credits to other schools.
Alternatively, if you are considering enrolling in career-oriented associate’s degree program, acceptable schools may be accredited by a career-focused accrediting association such as the Accreditation Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology. Make sure that the association is acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Education. (See: How to Check Any School’s Accreditation).
If your degree is accredited by one of these associations, be aware that it may be very difficult to transfer the credits if you decide to change schools or continue your studies at a university.
What Else to Look for in an Online Associate’s Degree Program
In addition to choosing a properly accredited program, make sure that the school you choose has established a record of satisfied graduates and offers you the chance to talk to a counselor about your studies. You may also want to ask about possible internships and employment services. Does the school offer any financial assistance? Can you get credit for working in your field? Be sure that the program you choose will help you meet your career goals. (See also: How to Choose an Online School).
The Four Types of Associate’s Degrees
Not all associate’s degrees are created equal. When selecting an online associate’s degree program, you’ll need to choose one of several different degree types. Here’s what you need to know.
Associate of Arts (AA) – The AA degree is made up of approximately 60 semester (or 90 quarter) college-level credits. The majority of the courses taken in an accredited AA degree program should be able to transfer to a university.
Associate of Science (AS) – Like the AA, the AS degree consists of approximately 60 semester college-level credits. AS requirements prepare students to start careers or transfer to bachelor degree programs that are heavy in science and math. The majority of the courses taken in an accredited AS degree program should be able to transfer to a university.
Associate in Applied Science (AAS) – The AAS degree is designed for students that do not intend to return to school after earning their associate’s degree. The degree is earned to prepare students for employment and also requires about 60 semester credits. Students should be aware that most colleges accept AAS credits on a very limited basis.
Associate in Occupational Studies (AOS) – An AOS is a vocational degree similar to the AAS. The degree generally requires about 60 semester credits, the majority of which are concentrated in the major. AOS degrees are not expected to transfer to bachelor programs at traditional colleges.