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What Can I Do with an Associate Degree?

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Maybe you've looked at an associate's degree program but wondered how exactly it would help advance your career. If you're wondering what can I do with an associate degree, the answer varies, according to one higher education insider.

"An associate degree is going to help students get their foot in the door to get started on what could be a long-term career path," says Dr. Christine Broeker, executive director of eLearning at Seminole State College of Florida. "Or it could help students get right into the workforce."

It all depends on the type of associate degree you select and your career goals. All associate degrees can be completed in approximately two years and some, like an associate degree in nursing, can lead to a job directly after graduation. Others, like an associate of arts in general studies, can serve as the first two years of a bachelor's degree program.

Select the Right Online Associate Degree Program

Broeker has plenty of experience with associate degrees. As the head of Seminole State College's eLearning program, she oversees more than 30 fully online degree programs including 10 associate of science degrees and one associate of arts degree. She says that today's technology has made it possible to study a wide variety of subjects from the comfort of your own home.

"I think there are a lot of different opportunities for online education," she says. "With the way technology keeps increasing, we're able to [do things like] show videos of hands-on activities. It really does open the field up."

Online learning can come in one of three ways:

  • Fully online degrees: These programs are offered 100% online with no requirement for students to come to campus. Typically, students are able to log-in to review materials and complete coursework at any time that is convenient for them. The associate in arts (AA) degree is one of the most common fully online two-year programs.
  • Hybrid degrees: Hybrid programs combine online and on-campus learning. Associate in science (AS) degrees, such those in nursing, may be offered as hybrid programs since these fields have lave labs or clinical requirements that can only be completed in-person.
  • Single online classes: Even students who enroll in an on-campus associate degree program are usually able to take classes online. Students may opt to take a single class online if it's not available on-campus at a time that is convenient for them.

Benefits of an Online Associate Degree

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether you should enroll in an online or on-campus associate degree program. However, here are some of the reasons students are opting to study online.

Flexibility: Without a doubt, flexibility is one of the key features that attracts many people to online learning. If you have a family or a job, your daily schedule may already be packed full and adding class time on campus simply may not be possible. Online associate degrees allow you to study during pockets of time that are convenient for you, whether that be late at night, in the morning or during your lunch break at work.

Cost: In many cases, schools charge the same tuition rate for both online and on-campus programs. However, studying online can still save you money. Online students don't need to pay for gas for their vehicle, parking or meals on the road. In addition, those with children can skip childcare expenses if they are studying at home rather than on-campus.

Opportunity: Not all degree programs are available in all areas. In addition, some students may like to enroll in a faraway college or university but be unable to relocate. Studying online is one way to access degree programs that would otherwise be out of reach.

Ask an Expert: Dr. Christine Broeker, Executive Director of eLearning at Seminole State College

We talked to Dr. Christine Broeker to get the inside scoop on some frequently asked questions.

Q. What are all the different forms of associate degree education?

A. There's the associate of arts which is essentially a two-year general education degree. The purpose of the AA degree would be to move on to the university and complete a bachelor's degree.

Then there's the associate of science degree which is designed to prepare students for the workforce. Many of the students in the AS degree programs are continuing on and completing a bachelor's degree, but it really does prepare you for a job. For example, an AS degree would be nursing.

There's also an associate of applied science. Those are primarily technical degrees which are preparing to put you in the workforce and those are not designed for transfer. There are very few of those these days.

Q. How is online education different than a campus-based program? Is the application process different?

A. The application process is the same; the registration process is the same. The primary difference is with online education the students need to be a little bit structured. They need to [dedicate themselves] to be online and to do the reading and the coursework. For students who are very self-directed, online education is a very wonderful option.

Q. What do you say to people who are concerned an online degree may not have the same credibility as an on-campus degree program?

A. That's a great question. I would [advise students to] look to the accreditation.

Colleges are accredited by a regional accrediting association - in Florida, it's the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The online programs are required to go through the same rigorous accreditation process that on-campus programs do.

Q. What is one subject students might not expect to find as an online associate degree?

A. At Seminole State College, we have an associate of science degree in fire science. That's a two-year degree for students who are firefighters. Part of the reason that particular program is online is because, if you think of the firefighter's schedule, they are on 24-48 hours and don't have the option of coming to classes. We're really excited to have that modality to deliver education to those particular students.

Enrolling in an Online Associate Degree Program

It's a relatively easy process to enroll in an online degree program. Just follow these simple steps.

  1. Request information from schools that offer programs of interest to you (there is a list below to get you started).
  2. Decide which program is the right fit for you.
  3. Complete the application form and submit all requested supporting documentation, such as your high school transcript.
  4. Once accepted, finish your enrollment by selecting the classes you want for your first semester (a college representative can help you).

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