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For students ready to commit time and resources, earning an online associate degree can be an enriching process. However, with so many online associate degree programs available, selecting the one that’s best for you can be a challenge.

That’s why Intelligent.com compiled this list of the best online associate degree programs in 2023. Our research team evaluated dozens of online associate degree programs, comparing data points like graduation and retention rates, ranking, cost, and curriculum.

To further help students make an informed decision about pursuing an associate degree, we interviewed Blanca Villagomez, a college admissions advisor and program coordinator at UC-Irvine. Villagomez provides her insight into common concerns, including what students should know about online associate degrees and what to consider when selecting an online associate program. There are also answers to frequently asked questions regarding cost, program duration, and applications.

What You Should Know About Online Associate Degrees

As you start your search for an online associate degree, there are few key things to keep in mind. Some of them are specific to online learning, while others are relevant to traditional brick-and-mortar schools as well as online programs.

Class schedules

Online programs offer classes in two formats – synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous programs have virtual classes that meet at designated times, similar to in-person classes. These types of classes tend to include more interaction between faculty and students and are ideal for those who need the accountability of regular meetings to stay focused.

Asynchronous classes are a more flexible option, as these programs don’t have scheduled class meetings. Instead, students can access lessons and assignments 24/7, so they can complete their schoolwork whenever is most convenient for them. Learning is much more independent in asynchronous programs, with communication between peers and faculty typically limited to email and online discussion forums.

Program delivery formats

As you conduct your research, you may come across programs labeled “hybrid” or “blended.” These programs include both online and in-person instruction. While these programs appeal to students who want some live instruction and interaction, they may not be compatible with all schedules and lifestyle needs. You should also consider whether your program has any experiential learning components, such as clinical rotations, internships, or fieldwork, that require in-person attendance at a specific location. Understanding what type of delivery format best suits your needs will help you narrow your search parameters.

Transfer programs

An associate degree can be the highest level of education you achieve or a stepping stone towards further degrees. Many programs now cater towards students who want to continue on to a bachelor’s degree after earning their associate degree. Schools may offer “2 + 2” or “degree completion programs” designed to facilitate easy transfer between a 2-year community or technical college and a four-year university. If this is something you’re considering, seek out programs that have these types of arrangements and talk to admissions counselors about how to best prepare yourself for completing your associate and bachelor’s degrees.

Accreditation

Whether you’re attending school online or in-person, it’s important to verify the accreditation status of the institution you’re attending. Accreditation means schools meet certain standards for quality and excellence. The type of accreditation a school has also affects things like financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, and the ability to transfer credits to other institutions. For example, regionally accredited schools typically do not accept credits from nationally accredited schools. Therefore, if you’re considering transferring to a regionally-accredited four-year college, it’s important to earn your associate degree from a regionally-accredited school. You can find accreditation information on a school’s website or by searching the Department of Education’s database of accredited schools.

Non-profit and for-profit status

Another way to assess a school’s quality is by researching their status as a non-profit or for-profit institution. For-profit schools are run as businesses, designed to earn a profit for owners and investors, as the name implies. While this doesn’t inherently impact the quality of education they provide, this status means they don’t have to reinvest money into the school and its students. Meanwhile, non-profit schools are required to spend their revenue on the institution, in the form of infrastructure, faculty and staff salaries, student support services, and more. Our list focuses on non-profit schools, but if you’re considering a for-profit institution, be aware that this status may impact cost, financial aid availability, accreditation eligibility, and business practices.

Eligibility and restrictions

Online programs make college much more accessible for millions of students, but there are some restrictions in the U.S. that impact what schools and programs students can attend. Institutions must be authorized by individual states to grant degrees to students living in those states. Without this authorization, students aren’t eligible for enrollment. Over 2300 institutions throughout 49 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), ensuring their distance education programs are authorized to operate and grant degrees in multiple states.

Students who are considering degrees in fields that require licensure should also review their state’s licensure requirements. In some cases, students are required to obtain their degree in the state in which they plan to get licensed.

Our Research

This list features some of the best online associate programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for online students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online associate programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report among others to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

Online Associate Degree Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

The Top 50 Online Associate Degree Programs

Best Associate Degrees 2023
01

Foothill College
01

Copiah-Lincoln Community College
01

Alexandria Technical & Community College
01

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
01

Santa Fe College
01

Western Texas College
01

Fox Valley Technical College
01

Bismarck State College
01

Coastal Pines Technical College
01

Mitchell Technical College
01

Iowa Lakes Community College
01

Georgia Piedmont Technical College
01

Northeast Community College
01

Chippewa Valley Technical College
01

Kennebec Valley Community College
01

Brigham Young University - Idaho
01

Northwest Iowa Community College
01

Northwood Technical College
01

Penn State World Campus
01

Liberty University
01

Columbia College
01

Southern New Hampshire University
01

Immaculata University
01

Indiana Wesleyan University
01

LeTourneau University
01

Florida Tech Online
01

University of St. Thomas
01

Renton Technical College
01

Elizabethtown College
01

Humphreys University
01

UMass Global
01

Trine University
01

Northern Virginia Community College
01

Keiser University
01

Van Loan School at Endicott College
01

Lone Star College
01

Baker College
01

Ohio University
01

Concordia University Wisconsin
01

Minnesota State Community and Technical College
01

Ivy Tech Community College
01

Chaminade University of Honolulu
01

Eastern Gateway Community College
01

Northwest Nazarene University
01

Dakota County Technical College
01

Houston Community College
01

Goodwin College
01

Baltimore City Community College
01

Utah State University
01

Champlain College

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Discover Specific Online Associate Degrees

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Online Associate Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How much does an online associate degree cost?

Associate degrees are some of the most affordable college programs available. However, the price of an online associate degree varies from school to school based on a variety of factors.

Tuition is the primary cost for an associate degree

Most of the cost of an online associate degree comes from tuition. Some online associate degree programs charge per-credit tuition, meaning students pay based on how many courses they take each term. Other schools charge a flat per-term tuition fee, typically based on enrollment in a full-time course load.

Regardless of how tuition is assessed, the exact price varies based on multiple factors:

  • Public versus private school — Many students earn associate degrees at public community colleges, which typically charge lower tuition rates than private colleges. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average annual tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year were $3,900 at public two-year colleges and $18,000 at private two-year colleges.
  • Student residency status — Where your school is located in the state or region can impact your tuition rate. Public colleges typically charge out-of-state students higher tuition, but as online learning has increased access to programs, some schools have started offering in-state tuition to non-resident students.
  • Student military status — Students currently serving in the military, retired from the military, are members of the National Guard, or are married to someone serving in the military often receive discounted tuition rates.

Other costs can contribute to an associate degree program’s price tag

Beyond tuition, there are additional costs that students should keep in mind when figuring out how much they’ll pay for an online associate degree.

  • Technology — Investing in the right hardware, software, and infrastructure is key to succeeding in an online associate degree program. Students should have a reliable laptop or desktop computer with a good-quality camera and microphone. Depending on the particular program you’re enrolling in, you might also need other equipment or specific software. You’ll also want to ensure you have reliable, high-speed internet capable of streaming video and audio.
  • Fees — In addition to tuition, most schools charge fees to cover technical support, online student services, library resources, and more.
  • Textbooks — Whether they’re hard-copy or digital, textbooks and other instructional materials can add to the annual cost of attending college.
  • Travel costs — For certain online associate degree programs, in-person attendance requirements, like internships, apprenticeships, or residencies, may be required. Any associated travel costs, like transportation or lodging, should be included in your budget.

Earning an online associate degree can eliminate some costs

However, there are ways in which earning an associate degree online can be more affordable than taking classes in person.

Remote learning means you don’t have to pay for on-campus room and board and have more control over what you pay for housing and living expenses. It also means you have more flexibility in terms of where you live. Even if the school you’re attending is located in an area with a higher cost of living, you can choose to live in a more affordable area.

Online students can also save money on commuting costs, including gas and car maintenance, parking, and public transportation fees.

There’s also more flexibility with scheduling, especially if students are enrolled in an asynchronous program. This can allow students to maintain a full- or part-time job and earn a steady income while enrolled in their associate degree program.

Throughout your research process, make sure you’re gathering information about program tuition and fees. Schools typically publish this information on their website or in recruitment materials. If you have questions, contact their financial aid office.

How long does it take to earn an online associate degree?

A standard associate degree requires earning a minimum of 60 credits. Most associate degree programs are designed to be completed in two years of full-time study.

However, thanks to the flexibility and accessibility of online learning, students often have the option of completing their associate degree in a shorter time frame. Alternately, students who attend school part-time will likely take longer than two years to complete their associate degree.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34% of students who enrolled in a two-year associate degree or certificate program in 2017 graduated within three years. Another 14% of these students transferred to another institution to complete their degree.

How do I apply to an online associate degree program?

In most cases, completing an application (usually available online) and submitting supporting materials is the first step in applying to an online associate degree program. To ensure that you’re meeting all the requirements for admission to an associate degree program, confirm the application process with the school(s) you’re applying to before you start.

In general, applying to an online associate degree program means completing an application (usually available online) and submitting supplemental application materials. The requirements for online associate degree programs are typically minimal but may include the following:

  • Official transcripts from your high school and any other colleges you previously attended
  • Letters of recommendation
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Personal essays

Depending on the school and program, multiple start terms and application deadlines may exist. Before applying, confirm your intended start date and application deadline to ensure you have all application materials submitted on time.

Is earning an associate degree worth it?

“Earning an online associate degree can be beneficial for students looking to advance their education and career in a shorter amount of time and more cost-effective way compared to bachelor degree programs,” Villagomez says.

Many lucrative careers in fast-growing industries only require an associate degree for entry-level employment, including computer network specialists, dental hygienists, food science technicians, and more.

An associate degree is highly lucrative when it comes to earning potential. In 2021, individuals with associate degrees earned a median weekly salary of $963, compared to $809 per week for those with a high school diploma.

An associate degree can also act as a safeguard against unemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, the unemployment rate for individuals with associate degrees was 4.6%, compared to 6.2% of high school diploma holders.

For students who plan on earning a bachelor’s degree, “An associate degree can be a great stepping stone in accessing an entry-level position, developing a specific skill set, or improving your GPA,” Villagomez says.

However, Villagomez also notes, “While there are many benefits, determining the worth of any degree is a unique and personal decision. Every student must decide if it’s a worthwhile investment for them after considering their individual academic and career track.”

What should students know if they’re planning to transfer to a four-year college after completing their associate degree?

It’s common for students to earn an associate degree as a stepping-stone on their way to getting a bachelor’s degree. If this is your trajectory, there are a few steps Villagomez recommends taking now to facilitate a smoother transition later.

First, Villagomez says, “It’s important to be proactive in communicating this goal to an academic advisor or counselor at your current associate program. I recommend meeting with them during your first term to help you develop an educational plan and track your progress.”

A student advisor or counselor can assist you in identifying programs that you can transfer to for a bachelor’s degree. If your current college offers bachelor’s and associate degrees, consider applying there.

If you have to transfer to a different school, contact their admissions office, as they likely have transfer counselors who can help facilitate the process. “Since each school has its own transfer requirements, it’s important to have a full understanding of your roadmap to be competitively eligible, specifically the minimum GPA, course requirements, and any exams needed,” Villagomez says.

Finally, you’ll also want to keep the financial aspect of completing a bachelor’s degree in mind throughout the process. “The financial aid system can greatly differ from school to school, so it’s vital to be aware of any important deadlines, scholarship opportunities, and payment plans,” Villagomez says.

How to Choose the Right Online Associate Degree Program

Step 1: Choose your area of study

The first question to consider when selecting an online associate degree program is what you want to study. This will help you focus your search on schools that offer an associate degree in your area of interest. It will also help you understand the big picture of your educational journey.

“Make a list of your interests and then assess which can be translated into a career,” Villagomez says. “Consider where you are in your career track and which kind of associate program can help you make progress.”

Villagomez points out that there are several different reasons why students may seek an associate degree.

“Some students need an associate degree for vocational training purposes or to be eligible for entry-level positions in the workforce,” she says. “Others need it as a cost-effective pathway to transfer to bachelor degree programs.”

This is an excellent time to learn the differences between the various types of associate degrees, including Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), and more. These different types of associate degrees are equally valuable, but they include differences regarding specific coursework, areas of study, and the number of credits.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

Once you have clarity on what you want to study, it’s time to dive deep into researching programs that align with your interests.

“As you screen through multiple programs you come across, compare each program’s curriculum,” Villagomez says.”Depending on your academic and career goals, you may require a program with specific courses and requirements tailored to your field of study. For example, some associate degrees require lab components, hands-on internships, or clinical experiences. Others specifically prepare you for professional licensure and certification exams.”

It’s common for associate degree students to start their search locally with their nearest community college, which may offer discounted tuition to area residents. However, as an online student, you’re not limited by geography, so explore two-year colleges located in other areas or states. It’s also important to verify the accreditation standards of the programs you’re considering to ensure that they align with your transfer and employment opportunities.

To help narrow your search, there are some key parameters you can use, including:

  • Synchronous or asynchronous class schedules
  • Full-time or part-time enrollment
  • Fully remote or hybrid program
  • Daytime, evening, or weekend classes
  • Scholarships and financial aid
  • Transfer agreements

Transfer agreements are particularly important for associate degree students, especially if there’s a possibility you’ll go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Many two-year colleges develop articulation agreements with four-year colleges to create a formalized transfer pathway for students, saving you time, money, and stress when continuing your education.

Once you start evaluating your options, ask the following questions:

  • How do online students interact with each other, faculty, and staff?
  • What academic, technical, and career support services are available for online students?
  • What is the overall culture of this institution?
  • What scholarship and financial aid opportunities are available?

You can get the answers to these questions by visiting the school’s website, following them on social media, and requesting digital or print admissions materials. Villagomez also recommends reaching out to admissions representatives from the schools you’re considering. “Many programs host informational sessions throughout the calendar year to provide key information,” she says. “This can be a great way to gain insight on the programs you’re interested in.”

Step 3: Select the school(s) to which you’ll apply

Once you complete your research, you should have a solid idea of which school or schools you’ll apply to. Admissions to associate degree programs are typically less competitive than bachelor’s or master’s degree programs, but you may still apply to multiple programs based on your specific needs.

Make a list of the schools to which you want to apply, including their specific application requirements and deadlines. Keeping track of deadlines and application materials helps to stay on top of this information.

Step 4: Prepare and submit your application

The specific application process may vary somewhat from school to school, but when it comes time to apply, you’ll likely take the following steps:

  • Complete and submit the application for admission
  • Send official transcripts from your high school and any other colleges you’ve attended
  • Request recommendation letters from teachers, employers, or community members
  • Write an essay, if required
  • Prepare for and take standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, if needed

Associate degree programs typically have fewer application requirements than bachelor’s, including not requiring SAT or ACT scores. However, taking these exams in preparation for enrolling in a two-year program can still be beneficial, especially if you’re a first-time undergraduate student or considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the future.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

While associate degree programs are typically more cost-effective than bachelor’s degree programs because they take less time to complete, they still require a financial investment.

“Depending on your current life circumstances, you’ll need to compare the cost of all programs you’re considering and what the financial aid opportunities look like,” Villagomez says.

Find out whether you’re eligible for any tuition discounts based on residency or military status. The school’s financial aid office can assist you with information about student loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. If you’re currently employed, find out if your employer offers tuition assistance benefits.

Students enrolled in associate degree programs are eligible for federal student loans through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as private education loans. Before committing to borrowing money for your associate degree, we strongly encourage students to learn more about how student loans work to ensure they fully understand what borrowing money for college entails.

Online Associate Degree Scholarship Database

Intelligent Scholarship Finder Tool

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AAUW's Re-Entry Scholarship

Award Amount: $2,000

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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AL Diablo Valley Community College Scholarships

Award Amount: Up to $4,000

Due Date: March 21, 2025

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American Indian Science and Engineering Society

Award Amount: $5,000

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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Army Women's Foundation Legacy Scholarship

Award Amount: $1,000 - $3,000

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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CBC Spouses Education Scholarship

Award Amount: Varies

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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CIRI Excellence Scholarship

Award Amount: Varies

Due Date: Not listed

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Learn.org Online Associate's Degree Scholarship

Award Amount: $500

Due Date: Closed for 2024

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National Horticulture Foundation's James H. Davis Memorial Scholarship

Award Amount: Recipients will be notified by April 15th annually of their award amount

Due Date: January 15, annually

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PHCC Educational Foundation Scholarships

Award Amount: $2,500

Due Date: May 1, 2025

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Soil and Water Stewardship Scholarship

Award Amount: Varies

Due Date: Rolling basis

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Learn More About Online Associate Degrees

Have additional questions about earning an online associate degree? Our research team and undergraduate experts have provided answers to students’ frequently asked questions about associate degree programs, including program availability, how to finish an associate degree online, and employer perception of online degrees. You can find these resources below, along with additional information about financial aid, standardized test prep, applying to programs, and more.


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