How Long Does it Take to Earn an Associate's Degree OnlineThere are plenty of people who want to head back to school for an associate degree. They are most likely working at a job they don’t love while dreaming of advancing their careers. This means that when they head back to school, they have to take part-time classes while continuing to work full-time unless they take their courses online. Taking courses online allows students to study and attend college around their schedule, which can include work and family obligations. When a student attends physical classes, an associate degree can take 2 years or more.

College students asking the question “How long is an associate degree program?” may want to know about the various options available. Associate programs generally last from one to two years although some programs in the healthcare professions require clinical residency and licensing. With summer and winter classes, many associate degrees can be completed in one year or less. Nursing and physician assistant degrees often take longer, but the added time is offset by the increased earning potential for the student after graduation.

Types of Degrees Online

A college that offers associate degrees will educate you in a number of fields from business to arts to computers to human resources. An associate degree can be used to enter a 4-year college later where you can earn a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field too. Associate degrees can be obtained for business majors, accounting and journalism professionals. Whether it’s business or liberal arts, the degree obtained online is the same as one received in a traditional classroom as long as the school is accredited.

In the 21st century, virtually all associate degrees are available online. While they may not all be available at every college, a growing number of traditional and for-profit universities offer a full slate of these degrees through their online learning programs. The most common online associate degrees are for professional trades that don’t require four years of education, including nursing, dental assistance, graphic design, website design, paralegal certification and culinary arts. Obtaining an associate degree in one of these disciplines can open up many new career opportunities and substantially increase earning potential.

While not every vocational career requires an associate degree, many of the most popular ones do. For example, some graphic design jobs don’t require college education, but an associate degree can make a resume stand out from the rest. The fact that so many degrees are available online makes it much less stressful to complete a two-year education while continuing to work full-time and take care of a family.

The easiest online associate programs tend to be in subjects that don’t require advanced technical knowledge, such as foreign languages, writing, translation and cosmetology. These programs can usually be completed in under two years, and they create many lucrative new job opportunities for the people who complete them.

How Long Does it Take?

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

In any college course where you’re working towards an associate degree, there are classes that are required for graduation. The classes will give you 3-4 credits per class for a total of at least 60 before you can graduate. In some online classes as well as summer courses in a traditional classroom, you can take an accelerated course that means you’ll be finished in a few weeks instead of a few months. Most semesters last a few months, and students can take a few classes each semester depending on the time of the classes. That isn’t true with online classes.

For online classes, you aren’t required to appear in class at a pre-determined time. Each day, there will be assignments or lectures that can be watched any time. That’s one of the biggest advantages of online classes.

As with other types of college degrees, online associate degrees take longer for subjects that require special training and knowledge. They can be relatively quick in disciplines that don’t have these requirements. One-year online associate degrees tend to be terminal degrees in majors that don’t require core courses for a bachelor’s degree. A growing number of schools offer one-year Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, as well. These programs can save students a significant amount of time by compressing their semesters into four- or six-week segments.

While this approach may sound challenging, colleges make the process easier for students by condensing related groups of subjects down into a minimum number of courses. The online format also helps to streamline these accelerated associate degree programs. With online classes available year-round, students can take advantage of unconstrained enrollment dates and a rolling semester schedule.

Anyone asking themselves “How long is an associate degree program?” can rest assured that online programs are usually much quicker than traditional ones. Universities that offer one-year online associate programs typically offer personalized enrollment for each student, so all the students in a course could begin the semester on a different date. As colleges find new and innovative ways to reduce unnecessary classroom time, students benefit with early graduation and a lower student debt.

Not all online associate programs can support a one-year graduation date, however. Professional, non-academic degrees, such as culinary arts, graphic design and some healthcare degrees may take longer than one year to complete. Moreover, some online associate degrees may take longer than two years to complete. These programs are usually for terminal degrees that don’t transfer to a bachelor’s completion program, or they may require professional certification, licensing or residency at the state level.

What Classes are Required?

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

Some classes are required, and it doesn’t matter what kind of degree you’re trying to obtain. Math, English, and science courses are required for graduation. Each subject requires a certain amount of credit courses per degree. For example, an associate degree will require 3 to 6 credits or 1 to 2 classes for graduation.

Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees require the core course curriculum in English, history, math, natural science and liberal arts. Many colleges offer special two-year online programs with course electives for students planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree after completing an associate program. The choice of electives is generally left to the student’s discretion, but it’s always a good idea to take courses that will count toward an accredited degree at a later date. This is why it’s important to have at least a rough plan for graduation when enrolling in the first year of college.

Most of the top online associate degrees are applied science degrees that prepare students to directly enter the workforce. They can generally be extended into a bachelor’s degree, but they are designed to provide training and qualifications for students seeking jobs after graduation. These associate programs provide hands-on training and experiential learning through courses such as healthcare management, occupational health and safety, accounting, software development, human resources, human services, early childhood education and applied health science. The types of courses offered depend on the degree, and the number of vocational associate degrees available online is always growing.

Test Out of Classes

To cut down on the time before graduation, a student can test out of classes they don’t believe they should have to take. It might be a basic math course, computer science courses or English if the person has experience from their current job. Some students spend a few weeks studying and taking College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, tests to eliminate the need for many courses.

Testing out of classes can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete an online associate degree. Depending on how many credits a student has earned prior to high school graduation, the time it takes to complete an associate degree can be significantly reduced. Students can take advantage of college placement testing and credits offered for courses already taken.

Most universities offer several options for testing out of core courses, which make up the majority of the curriculum of an online associate degree. In addition to placement tests, students can often enroll in college courses while still in high school. These earned credits can shave off entire semesters from an online associate program, turning a one-year degree into a 10-month degree. In most cases, universities will work with students to find the best solution for a reduced course load.

Best Online Associate Degrees

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

With more and more colleges offering a growing number of vocational associate degrees, the list of the best online options keeps getting bigger. In general, students should look for programs that offer professional training and job placement assistance after graduation. Many of these programs are sufficient for employment directly after graduation, making them a great investment for aspiring young professionals.

Some of the top choices of online associate degrees include applied health science, occupational studies, construction management, nursing, health information technology, computer information systems and paralegal studies. What makes these programs stand out is their relevance in the labor market. The best online associate programs tend to be relatively quick and specifically designed for workforce participation.

From applied fire science and criminal justice to business administration and psychology, the top online associate degrees can help job seekers save significant time and money on an education. While many of them naturally lead into bachelor’s completion programs, others are perfectly adequate for career advancement without further education. For example, an Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science could lead to a leadership position in a fire department, and an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies could lead to a lucrative career as a paralegal.

Jobs Available for Associate Degree Holders

As the job market evolves with each new generation, the types of jobs available with an associate degree tend to change. A few generations ago, most jobs were available without a college degree, but these days, a degree is required for most high-paying careers. That’s why online associate degrees are a huge benefit for job seekers looking to enter the workforce quickly. It’s also why colleges and universities are constantly looking for new ways to condense their online associate programs into smaller time frames.

The wide range of jobs available for college graduates with associate degrees includes many high-paying, competitive careers, such as fire department captains, website programmers, registered nurses and physician assistants. Not only are these jobs lucrative, but they are in high demand in today’s economy. As the healthcare industry continues to expand, an increasing number of nurses, health informatics technicians, dental assistants and physician assistants will be needed to care for patients. In most cases, these are careers that lend themselves naturally to a bachelor’s completion program.

Online Bachelor’s Completion Programs

One of the most popular online associate degrees is a registered nursing degree, which also bridges into one of the most popular online bachelor’s completion programs. Virtually all online colleges offer the RN-to-BSN completion program, which can be completed fully online without any residency requirements in most cases. For students with existing college credit earned from an associate degree, a bachelor’s completion program could be finished in under two years. These programs are designed to be convenient and highly focused on a professional vocation.

Transferring an associate degree to a new institution is easy in most cases, but it’s important to ensure that the university is properly accredited before applying. There are hundreds of accredited universities in the U.S. offering online degrees. As long as they are accredited by a regional association, or at least one that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, they can be transferred to any university in the country. Universities outside the country may lack the appropriate accreditation to be eligible for transfer credit, however. University admissions departments typically deal with these situations on a case-by-case basis.

Licensing and Certification

Online associate degrees for professions that require licensing typically include the necessary licensing and residency requirements for the state in which they’re issued. In some cases, this means that an online degree may require some in-person attendance, or even a summer residency in a hospital or clinic, depending on the degree major. Professions that require licensing are regulated by the state government, so the testing and residency requirements for employment vary from state to state.

Some job seekers can benefit by obtaining certification after completing an associate degree program. Professional certificates help job candidates stand out from their competitors, and many positions require some form of specialized certification. Non-degree certificate programs can usually be completed online. Students can enroll in these programs while they are working on an associate degree so that, by the time they graduate, they can receive their degree and certificate at the same time.


The amount of time needed for you to complete an associate degree online will depend on how much time you can devote to your studies as well as how many classes you’d like to take at one time. It could take more or less than the standard 2 years for an associate degree, but that all depends on the time you can devote to it and whether you take CLEP tests to get credits for knowledge you already have.

Earning an associate degree is the perfect way to enter the workforce quickly and make a relatively high salary. The increasing number of accelerated programs offered online is a benefit for job seekers everywhere. This is great news to anyone who is asking “How long is an associate degree program?”

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