The Best Online Associate Degrees

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Students pursue online associate degrees for various reasons. Many cite flexibility as one of the main reasons for enrolling in a two-year program rather than a four-year program. Online associate degree programs allow learners to access course materials and participate in class discussions from anywhere. Additionally, many schools offer asynchronous courses, which means degree-seekers can attend class from anywhere at any time.

Associate degree-holders often qualify for entry-level positions. Completing an associate degree means graduates enter the workforce — and start earning — much sooner than students in four-year programs. Accredited online two-year programs also provide a sound foundation for further studies.

Although postsecondary institutions confer fewer associate than bachelor’s degrees (1.1 million versus two million), the advantages of two-year online programs continue to make them viable options for many American students.

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Top 10 Online Associates Degrees

Most Affordable Online Associate Degrees 2020

Students researching the best online colleges for affordable online associate degrees can use this page as a guide.

The schools were evaluated according to several key factors, including accreditation, affordability, accessibility, and available online programs.

  1. Southwestern Community College
    Location

    Sylva, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1964, Southwestern Community College offers degree programs in the arts and sciences, career technologies, and health sciences. The school offers many of its programs online, including nine online associate degrees. Students can pursue online associate degrees in areas such as cybercrime technology, medical office administration, and business administration.

    While program requirements vary, most online associate degrees feature eight-week classes and require around 60-70 credits. Some online programs include on-campus requirements. Applicants must hold a high school or GED diploma and submit SAT or ACT scores.

  2. Frontier Community College
    Location

    Fairfield, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1976, Frontier Community College is part of the Illinois Eastern Community College system. The school offers eight online associate degrees in areas such as certified medical assistant, sport management, and general studies. The school designed some of these programs as standalone degrees and some as transfer degrees to help graduates transition to a bachelor's program.

    The programs typically comprise around 60-71 credits and feature fully online coursework, though some programs may require on-campus visits. Applicants must hold a high school or GED diploma and submit SAT or ACT scores.

  3. Richmond Community College
    Location

    Hamlet, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A member of the Carolina Community College System, Richmond Community College combines curriculum community college programs with workforce development programs. RCC has increased its online program offerings by more than 75% since 2010. The school offers eight fully online associate degrees in areas including healthcare management technology, cybersecurity, and accounting and finance. Students can also access a variety of online courses and hybrid programs.

    At RCC, online courses run throughout the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Most of the online associate degrees require around 60-70 credits. Applicants must hold a high school or GED diploma and submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer students need a minimum 2.0 GPA to receive credit for prior academic work.

  4. James Sprunt Community College
    Location

    Kenansville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1960 as a member of the North Carolina Community College System, James Sprunt Community College offers three online associate degrees: an associate of arts, associate of science, and associate of general education.

    Most online classes run asynchronously, though some programs may require synchronous components. The online associate degrees comprise around 60-65 credits and offer courses in the fall, spring, and summer. The school features an open-door policy that admits all interested students.

  5. Niagara County Community College
    Location

    Sanborn, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1962, Niagara County Community College enrolls more than 5,000 students through over 60 programs, including several online associate degrees. Students can pursue online associate degrees in areas including health studies, psychology, and human services. Programs typically begin in the fall or spring. Many of the programs are designed to help students seamlessly transfer into bachelor's programs.

    The programs comprise around 60-70 credits and take about two years of full-time study to complete. Online classes feature a flexible, asynchronous format. Some programs may require campus visits. Applicants need a high school or a GED diploma. Some applicants must submit SAT or ACT scores.

  6. Copiah-Lincoln Community College
    Location

    Wesson, MS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1928, Copiah-Lincoln Community College enrolls more than 3,000 students each year. Students can choose from over 30 online associate programs in the arts and humanities, social sciences, health sciences, education, and business.

    Online programs run during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Fall and spring classes may feature eight-week or 16-week sessions. In the summer, classes span four or eight weeks. Online courses typically run asynchronously, but some courses may set scheduled meeting times. Applicants need a high school or GED diploma. They may also need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Students can transfer up to 45 credits with a minimum 2.0 GPA toward an associate degree.

  7. Laramie County Community College
    Location

    Cheyenne, WY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1968, Laramie County Community College offers more than 85 associate degrees, including several online associate degrees. Online students can earn associate degrees in areas like small business management, early childhood education, and health information technology management. LCCC offers certification tracks in some disciplines.

    Online associate programs typically comprise 60-70 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Most online courses feature an asynchronous format, though some classes may require scheduled sessions. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED score.

  8. Lenoir Community College
    Location

    Kinston, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1960, Lenoir Community College hosts more than 16,000 students through diverse on-campus and online programs. The school offers 20 online associate degrees in areas like aviation management, emergency management, and network management.

    The programs typically require 60-70 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Classes run through the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED score. They may also need to submit SAT or GED scores or complete a placement examination. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

  9. Stanly Community College
    Location

    Albemarle, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Since 1971, Stanly Community College has helped students gain professional training and credentials. The school offers 10 online associate degree programs in areas like human services technology, criminal justice technology, and early childhood education. Programs start in the fall, spring, and summer.

    The associate degrees typically require 60-70 credits, and students can study part time or full time. Online courses may span four, eight, 12, or 16 weeks. Applicants must hold a high school or GED diploma and complete a placement test. SCC holds transfer agreements with several four-year universities, allowing associate degree graduates to seamlessly transfer to a bachelor's program.

  10. Western Piedmont Community College
    Location

    Morganton, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A member of the North Carolina Community College System since 1864, Western Piedmont Community College enrolls more than 7,000 students, nearly 60% of whom take online classes. The school offers online associate degrees in business administration, information technology, and paralegal technology. All three programs include core, major, and concentration courses.

    Programs start in the fall, spring, and summer, and classes typically span eight weeks. Associate degrees require 65-67 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Applicants need a high school or GED diploma. Transfer applicants may receive credit for courses with a minimum 2.0 GPA.

 
 

What Are the Highest Paying Online Associate Degrees?

Online associate degrees can lead to jobs with higher entry-level salaries than the current national median wage of $38,640. Associate degree-holders in the field of computer science and engineering can earn an early career salary of $40,600, while physician assistants can earn as much as $55,600 per year. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that educational attainment directly impacts salaries. For example, associate degree-holders earn about 18% more than high school graduates with no college education ($836 and $712 in median weekly earnings, respectively).

MajorMedian
Early-Career Salary
Median
Mid-Career Salary
Physician Assistant Studies$55,600$98,300
Radiation Therapy$61,400$93,300
Software Engineering$48,100$90,700
Project Management$48,900$89,300
Computer Science and Engineering$40,600$83,700

Source: PayScale

What Are the Most Popular Associate Degrees to Earn?

Business

An associate degree in business allows students to develop a range of skills that they can apply to jobs in banking, accounting, medical insurance billing, or finance. This degree also helps graduates start or expand their own business.

Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, and Firefighting

Jobs in this sector range from administrative work to on-the-ground positions. An accredited associate program can provide students with the knowledge base and skills to establish a career in either arena, while also laying the foundation for further education, advanced training, and special certification.

Health Professions and Related Programs

The healthcare field needs workers at virtually every professional level, making an associate degree an excellent starting point. Associate degree-holders can begin as caregivers, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), or healthcare administrative assistants.

Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, and Humanities

An associate in liberal arts typically allows students to choose a concentration in a field such as business administration, criminal justice, accounting, or hospitality management. Graduates can usually find entry-level employment in an area related to their concentration.

Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services

There are computer and IT jobs in nearly every professional arena. An associate degree in this field prepares students to tackle jobs in computer programming, hardware configuration, software design, and installation. Graduates can further specialize by working for different types of industry-recognized certifications.

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Are Online Associate Degrees Cheaper?

Pursuing an associate degree online often yields significant savings since learners do not incur lodging, transportation, food, and other on-campus expenses. However, online learning comes with its own list of expenses, some of which you can learn more about below.

Tuition

How much your online associate degree costs largely depends on your chosen school. Public institutions charge less than private for-profit and private nonprofit schools. Sometimes states enter into a reciprocity agreement that allows online out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition when they pursue a degree that is not offered in their home state. Some states simply charge online learners the same tuition as resident enrollees, no matter where they live.

Type of SchoolAverage Tuition and Fees
Public Institutions$3,600
Private Nonprofit$17,800
Private For-Profit$14,200

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Housing and Transportation Costs

As on-campus housing and boarding costs continue to rise, online programs present a cheaper alternative. Not having to pay for additional housing and transportation over a two-year period can result in substantial savings. However, keep in mind that some online programs require students to spend a portion of time on campus. Courses with laboratory components usually require periodic onsite presence.

Additionally, some schools only administer tests in person or require learners to come to campus for orientation or special presentations. Be sure to check whether your desired online associate program features any onsite requirements.

Distance Learning Fees

Some two- and four-year institutions charge online enrollees distance learning fees, which is the same as the technology fee for many schools. However, some schools treat these costs separately. They charge all students a technology fee whether they are enrolled off or on campus and require online students to pay an additional distance learning fee. Some schools collect a flat one-time distance/technology fee at the beginning of each enrollment period, while others charge students a per-credit fee.

Broadband Internet and Computer Expenses

Most schools expect students pursuing an associate degree online to have their own computers and pay for their own internet service. For classes that require special software, students must often cover the expense on their own. Schools offering online programs install firewalls for the protection of their internal systems. However, they hold students accountable for the protection of their personal computers. Some schools require degree-seekers to install antivirus software or pay for some type of online security service.

Can You Get Financial Aid for Online Associate Programs?

Students pursuing an associate degree online can usually apply to the same financial assistance programs as their on-campus counterparts. However, this holds true only if they enroll in an accredited institution. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) channels federal college funds solely through accredited two- and four-year institutions.

Types of Financial Aid Available for Online Associate Students

Scholarships

Scholarship funds usually come from businesses, special-interest groups, college departments, alumni, or community organizations. Scholarship programs typically require applicants to meet some type of criteria, such as exceptional athletic ability or outstanding academic performance. Some scholarship programs cater to applicants from specific ethnic backgrounds or group affiliations.

Grants

Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment. However, most grant monies come from federal programs that are channeled directly through accredited colleges and universities for disbursement to qualified applicants. Grant programs are often based on financial need and reserved for in-state applicants only.

Work-Study

Work-study programs provide another source of funding for both undergraduate and graduate students. Whenever possible, schools place students in work settings that align with their academic field of study, thus simultaneously providing financial aid (in terms of wages) and relevant work experience.

Loans

The ED supports several low-interest student loan programs. Degree-seekers can apply for these loans by completing the FAFSA. Students can often defer loan payments until after graduation. The ED offers loan forgiveness programs for some professionals such as teachers, social workers, and nurses.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Associate Degree Online?

Learners typically take two years to earn an online associate degree. However, this timeline depends on several factors, including students’ educational background and enrollment status. For example, if you completed a one-year nursing diploma and you currently practice as an LPN, you may only need one year to complete an associate degree in nursing.

High School Preparation

You can prepare for your associate program while still in high school. Some associate programs feature minimum GPA requirements, so maintaining good grades in high school can give you an edge over other applicants. Enrolling in AP classes and achieving high marks demonstrates your academic abilities, discipline, and determination. In addition, some schools credit qualified AP classes toward an associate degree. You may end up taking fewer courses, which can save you time and money in the long run.

Year 1

The first year of an associate program usually covers general education courses such as English, composition, mathematics, and history. An associate in science program may include more science courses, while an associate in arts degree often includes language courses.

Academic counselors typically advise students who plan to continue to a four-year bachelor’s program to enroll in more general education courses rather than major-specific classes. On the other hand, students who plan to enter the workforce after completing their associate program may want to enroll in classes directly related to their concentration area. Doing so provides them with ample training and prepares them for immediate employment.

Year 2

During the second year of an associate program, most students enroll in classes directly connected to their major. The second year of study prepares learners for licensure, if required. For example, nursing students in their second year enroll in classes that prepare them to take the National Council for Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Students who plan to enroll in a four-year undergraduate program after graduation often prepare for the transfer during their second year of enrollment in an associate program. Be sure to check the transfer credit policy of the receiving school to ensure that you meet transfer requirements.

Transferring to a Bachelor’s Degree Program

Every school follows a transfer credit policy that supports their academic objectives. Therefore, students transferring from an associate program to a bachelor’s program should understand a prospective school’s transfer policy. Several factors can affect the transfer process, including the location of the receiving school (interstate transfers are sometimes more complex) and whether or not the receiving institution observes a transfer credit limit. Additionally, some four-year schools impose GPA restrictions on transfer credits, accepting only courses for which the applicant received the minimum specified grade.

Most regionally accredited schools only accept transfer credits from a school with the same type of accreditation. While most schools provide information about transferring credits on their website, you can learn more by contacting admission offices directly.

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