Congratulations! You are finally done with high school. Are you ready for college? Before you start applying, make sure you look into all of your options. The traditional choice is usually a four-year degree, but there are many surprising benefits to earning a two-year associate’s degree.
In the United States, around one million students earned an associate's degree in the academic year 2018-19. That number is only increasing as more students realize the benefits of a two-year degree. They are somewhat less well-known than four-year options, but they have a few key benefits and advantages that you may find appealing.
What Is a Two-Year Degree?
A two-year degree, also known as an associate's degree, is an undergraduate academic degree awarded after completing a course of study lasting two years. This type of degree is usually earned at community colleges or junior colleges.
Depending on the program, associate degrees require around 60 credit hours of study. Upon completion, students are awarded a diploma and can receive academic transcripts. You can immediately enter the workforce or choose to transfer to a four-year institution to continue your education and earn a bachelor's degree.
There are more types of associate’s degrees available. Generally, specific degree programs fall under the following categories:
- Associate of Science
- Associate of Arts
- Associate of Applied Science
- Associate of Applied Business
Most students who plan to complete an associate’s degree and then continue on to earn a bachelor's degree or higher will complete programs under the Associate of Science or Arts. This is an especially good option for students who are still unsure of what career they want to go into but don’t want to take a gap year.
For more targeted courses, degrees under the Associate of Applied Science or Applied Business are based on the students' major. Some of the top two-year degrees are the following:
- Business Administration
- Child Development
- Computer Science
- Criminal Justice
- Special Education
- Fire Science
- Graphic Design
- Health Services
- Hospitality Management
- Human Services
- Information Technology
Compared to a four-year degree, a two-year degree requires fewer credit hours and can be completed in half the time, or less if you take dual credit courses during high school. As a result, it is generally much cheaper to earn a two-year degree than a four-year degree.
Advantages of a Two-Year Degree
Most people are generally aware of the benefits of earning a bachelor's degree. High-paying jobs, job opportunities, and a higher chance of getting promoted are reasons people go to school for a four-year degree. It is a more common path and students tend to aim for it without thinking of other options.
But what about the students who do not have the time or money to invest in a four-year degree? Or the students who know what they want to do, maybe even have some experience, and just need the necessary credentials to start working? These are some of the reasons why a two-year degree may be the best choice for you:
A key factor is that a two-year degree costs significantly less than a four-year degree. On the one hand, the average in-state tuition for a four-year public college is $9,000 per year. Out-of-state students in a public four-year college or university can expect to pay $23,000 annually on average. Lastly, for private four-year colleges, the average yearly tuition is $32,000.
Conversely, two-year public colleges cost $3,300 per year on average. Additionally, many two-year colleges offer affordable tuition rates for in-state students. Choosing a two-year college nearby can save you thousands of dollars.
When budgeting for college, you also have to consider your food, lodging, and other associated expenses. Since two-year colleges are typically located near urban areas, you have more options for off-campus housing. This means that you can find a place to live that is closer to your college and save on transportation costs. You may even be able to live at home for free.
In addition, many two-year colleges offer online or hybrid courses. These flexible class options allow you to work around school and schedule your life more freely. You can also avoid some of the costs associated with traditional colleges, such as campus fees and textbook costs.
Earning a two-year degree also means you can complete your education in half the time it takes to get a four-year degree. This is especially beneficial if you want to start working as soon as possible or if you are not sure what you want to major in.
Associate degrees also prepare you for actual jobs. Because they tend to focus on a specific field, you will have the skills and knowledge you need to start working right after graduation. While general education courses are also necessary, they might not be as immediately relevant to your career.
With a bachelor's degree, students have to make a longer commitment, which might not be ideal for everyone. Life can get in the way of completing a four-year degree, such as needing to work full time while in school or juggling family obligations. Eventually, students can opt to drop out. But two-year degrees allow students to get to the endpoint much more quickly.
Associate degrees allow you to decide how much time you can reserve for your studies. And if or when you are ready to move on to a four-year degree, you can use your two-year degree to jumpstart that journey.
More Flexible Schedule
Many two-year colleges offer flexible scheduling options for students. This means you can take classes during the day, at night, or even on weekends. This is perfect for students working full-time or taking care of their families.
For example, some two-year colleges offer hybrid or online courses. These courses allow you to complete your assignments and attend lectures on your own time. You can even listen to lectures and do assignments while you are commuting on a bus or train.
In addition, many two-year colleges have open enrollment policies. This means you can enroll in classes at any time during the year, rather than just at the beginning of the semester like traditional four-year colleges. So whenever you are ready to start taking classes, you do not have to wait until the next semester begins.
When taking an associate degree, you get the chance to work even when you are a student. This is most helpful when you have other responsibilities. You do not have to quit your job just to earn your degree. Unlike a four-year degree, where you have to focus on your studies full time, a two-year degree allows you to balance work and school.
You can also take advantage of externship and internship opportunities to gain experience in your field. Since two-year colleges have relationships with local businesses, you might even be able to easily land a job after graduation.
More Career Opportunities and Higher Earnings
Despite the common misconception, you can do a lot with a two-year degree. Many jobs that used to require a four-year degree now only require a two-year degree!
Moreover, even though a two-year degree generally takes less time and money, you may earn more with an associate degree than with a four-year degree. Don’t limit your options by thinking you need a four-year degree to succeed! The following are some of the highest-paying associate degrees:
- Radiation Therapy
- Nuclear Technology
- Nuclear Medicine
- Dental Hygiene
- Web Development
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Aerospace Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- MRI Technology
- Radiology Technology
- Respiratory Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Mechanical Engineering
- Network Engineering
The most common highest-paying degrees are rooted in science and math. However, there are also many associate degrees in other fields that can lead to high-paying careers. So no matter what your interests are, there is likely an associate degree that can help you pursue your dream career!
More Education Options
Earning a two-year degree can also open up more educational opportunities for you in the future. If you decide that you want to pursue a four-year degree, you can transfer your credits from your two-year college to a four-year college. Or, if you want to further your education and get a master's degree or doctorate, you can use your two-year degree as a stepping stone.
Many associate's degree programs are designed for students who plan on transferring to a 4-year college or university. They are equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor's degree program, usually awarding students with an Associate of Arts or Science.
With your transfer degree, you may already meet many of your general education requirements, such as studies in the following:
- History and government
- Ethnic studies
- English composition
- Natural science
- Social and behavioral science
Hey, Congrats on Your Two-Year Degree!
Yes, a two-year degree may seem like a "lesser" degree, but it is a great way to jumpstart your career. It is the perfect option for students who want to earn a degree without making a long-term commitment or paying thousands of extra dollars. Plus, two-year degrees offer many benefits — more career opportunities, higher earnings potential, and more flexible scheduling options.
Whatever your educational choices, make sure to do your research and pick the path that is right for you. Weigh all of your options, consider your goals, and choose the degree that will help you achieve your dreams. Don't sell yourself short — get out there and earn your two-year degree. We can't wait to say, "Hey, congrats!"