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What's the meaning of an "Associate Degree" in the USA - Community Colleges

Associate Degree in the USA

In the US, a two year degree is more commonly known as an associate’s degree or an intermediate degree is an undergraduate degree awarded by community colleges or a junior college. A community college or a junior college is an institution providing higher education, granting certificates, diplomas, and associate’s degrees. After graduating from a community college, some students transfer to a four-year liberal arts college or university for two to three years to complete a bachelor’s degree. Around 50% of the credits can be transferred from an associate degree to a bachelor’s program.

To obtain an associate degree, one must earn 60 credit-hours, which, under normal circumstance, take about two years. An associate degree program generally consists of 3 parts:

  • General Education Subjects
  • Core Subjects ( subjects within your major or concentrated area of study)
  • Electives (courses you choose, based on your interests)

2 yr Associate Degree Vs. 4 yr Bachelors Degree

The pathway of pursuing 2 years of associate degree from a community college, then transferring to a regular college/ university to study 2 more years and graduating with a bachelors degree is much more affordable that straightaway going for a 4 year degree. Why?

Because on an average, the cost of studying at community colleges is 1/3rd the cost of studying at 4 year colleges & universities!

Types of Associate Degrees in the US

  • An associate degree in Arts is known as an Associate of Arts or an A.A., while an associate degree in Science is known as an Associate of Science or an A.S.


    You can join/ transfer to a 4 yr Graduate Degree program, after completing A.A. or A.S., whereas, degrees like an Associate of Applied Science degree (A.A.S.) or Associate of Applied Business (A.A.B.) are more vocational or career-oriented in nature.

    Some common Associate Degrees offered in the USA:

    • Associate in Electronics Engineering Technology (AEET)
    • Associate in Engineering Technology (AET)
    • Associate in Physical Therapy (ASPT-APT)
    • Associate of/in Arts (AA)
    • Associate of/in Science (AS)
    • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
    • Associate of Applied Business (AAB)
    • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
    • Associate of Arts and Sciences (AAS)
    • Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT)
    • Associate of Baccalaureate Studies (ABS)
    • Associate of Business Administration (ABA)
    • Associate of Engineering (AE), also Associate of Engineering Science (AES)
    • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA)
    • Associate of Forestry (AF)
    • Associate of General Studies (AGS)
    • Associate of Industrial Technology (AIT)
    • Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS)
    • Associate of Political Science (APS)
    • Associate of Pre-Engineering (APE)
    • Associate of Public Service (APS)
    • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), also Associate of Nursing (AN) and Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
    • Associate of Software Development

Top Community Colleges in the US offering Associate Degrees

One year tuition fee at most community colleges offering AA or AS degrees is between $ 1500 – $ 3000. The states of Chicago, Tennessee and Oregon offer free community college to meritorious students.

Here’s a look at the best community colleges in the USA on the basis of the success rate of their students (whether they graduate with an associate degree and then enroll in university for further studies), cost of education (fee of community colleges) and ROI (return on investment – i.e. starting salary of graduates.)

  1. Fort Scott Community College, Kansas
  2. Coastline Community College, Fountain Valley, California
  3. Rend Lake College, Ina, Illinois
  4. Cochise College, Douglas, Arizona
  5. Mitchell Technical Institute, South Dakota
  6. Labette Community College, Parsons, Kansas
  7. Scottsdale Community College, Arizona
  8. Moorpark College, Moorpark, California
  9. Meridian Community College, Mississippi
  10. Northern Oklahoma College,Tonkawa, Oklahoma
  11. Lee College, Baytown, Texas
  12. North Central Missouri College, Trenton, Missouri
  13. Tallahassee Community College, Tallahassee, Florida
  14. Pratt Community College, Pratt, Kansas

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