The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 42% of students who enrolled in a two-year associate degree program in 2017 didn’t finish their degrees by 2020. Many common issues can interrupt a student’s education, financial circumstances, work or family responsibilities, health issues, and shifting career goals.

If you’re one of these students contemplating your return to college to finish your associate degree, there are multiple factors to consider. They include the following:

  • Different ways to complete an associate degree
  • Transferring credits: how it works
  • The length of time it will take you to complete your program
  • The pros and cons of completing an associate degree online

How Do I Complete My Associate Degree Online?

The first step to completing an associate degree online is reflecting on why you didn’t finish the degree the last time you were enrolled in a program and how this time will be different. This will help you choose the right option and set yourself up for success this time around.

The steps vary somewhat depending on whether you’re finishing your associate degree at the same school you attended previously or plan on enrolling in a new school.

Option #1: Readmission

Returning to a school where you were previously enrolled is typically a simpler process than transferring to a different institution.

First, confirm that your degree program is still available and can be completed online. Schools regularly update program offerings, so it’s important to understand any changes that may have happened while you were away. 

The next step is to submit readmission paperwork. Each school sets its own readmission policies and procedures. This may be true even if you’re returning to the same program but attending online instead of in person. Contact the school’s registrar or admissions office to confirm all readmission processes.

You’ll also need to talk to an academic advisor regarding your plan of study, including how to complete your remaining requirements and the next steps after finishing your associate. This is also an ideal time to speak to a financial aid counselor regarding how you’ll pay for the program.

Option #2: Transferring to a new school

If you’re not returning to the school you previously attended, you’ll have to apply for admission to a new school as a transfer student.

First, identify the new school (or schools) you plan to apply to. Do your research to ensure the school meets your criteria, which can include the following:

Once you’ve identified your top-choice schools, submit your applications, including the official transcripts from all colleges you previously attended. Each school sets its own transfer credit evaluation policies. However, generally speaking, a transfer counselor will review your transcripts to determine which previously earned credits will apply to your new degree program.

At this point, the process is similar to that for readmitted students. Contact an academic advisor to review your plan of study and speak to a financial aid counselor to ensure you have your finances in order to pay for school.

Will My Credits Transfer to a New School?

This is a key consideration for students switching to a different school to complete their associate degree. The number of credits a new school accepts can affect the duration and cost of the program as well as the classes you must enroll in.

Whether your credits transfer is largely up to the school you’re transferring to, as every institution sets its own transfer policies and procedures. However, there are some essential factors that come into play, including:

  • Accreditation status: There are two types of accreditation for post-secondary institutions in the U.S., regional and national. The accreditation status of the school you previously attended will influence whether or not a new school accepts your credits. Regionally-accredited schools typically only accept credits from other regionally-accredited schools, while nationally-accredited schools are more flexible.
  • Minimum grade requirements: Typically, schools will only give you transfer credit for courses you passed, although every school sets its own policies. Some schools may have minimum letter grades or GPA score requirements to transfer credits.
  • When credits were earned: Most schools will only accept credits earned within a certain time frame, typically the last 5-10 years. This ensures that a student’s knowledge is still relevant and accurate based on new developments in their field of study.
  • Type of coursework completed: The transfer credit evaluation process is crucial because it determines how the coursework you previously completed fits into your new curriculum.  That’s why general education requirements like math, social sciences, and English are usually the easiest to transfer.
  • Articulation agreements: Does the school you previously attended have articulation agreements with any other colleges? If so, consider those schools first. Articulation agreements are designed to facilitate the transfer process and guarantee students maximum transfer credits.

Many schools have online tools to help students get an idea of how the transfer process will work. You can also speak directly to a transfer or admissions counselor to get more information on applying as a transfer student. Review the information available for transfer students on the school’s website to get clarity on these questions.

You’ll receive a copy of the transfer credit evaluation, so you know exactly what your new school is awarding you credit for and what courses you must still complete. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with a transfer counselor or academic advisor.

How Long Will It Take to Complete My Associate Degree Online?

Associate degrees require 60 college credits and are usually designed to be completed in two years of full-time study. However, the time it will take you to complete your associate degree depends on a few variables.

A key factor is how many credits you have left to complete your degree. The math is simple: the more credits you already have, the less time it’ll take to finish your associate degree.

For students transferring to a new school, submitting transcripts from every college attended is important, even if you only took a few classes there. Those credits could save you valuable time and help you graduate faster.

Students should also keep in mind that their new school may only accept some of their credits. Schools may deny students credit for classes they failed, took too long ago, or didn’t fit into the new curriculum.

Once you know how many credits you need to complete to earn your degree, the main variable is pacing. Students who enroll full-time will finish sooner than part-time students.

Some schools offer accelerated programs that help students complete their degrees as fast as possible by compressing classes into shorter time frames or going year-round.

Can I Transfer My Associate Degree Credits to a Bachelor’s Program?

Generally speaking, credits you earn as part of your associate degree can be applied towards a bachelor’s degree. The specifics will vary based on where and how you intend to earn the two degrees.

Many schools offer “2 + 2 programs,” in which students complete an associate degree at a two-year community college, then transfer to a four-year college to finish their bachelor’s degree. These programs facilitate a smooth transition from one phase of education to the next. Bachelor’s programs may guarantee students a place as long as they meet the requirements in their associate program. Others may let students start taking bachelor’s classes while still completing their associate degree requirements, accelerating their time in school.

Otherwise, students who have an associate degree and are applying for a bachelor’s program are treated as any other transfer student. The new institution will evaluate their courses and determine which credits apply to the bachelor’s program. Students can investigate degree completion programs, which are designed for students who already have a significant number of college credits.

If you plan to transfer credits from your associate degree to a bachelor’s degree, make sure the program you’re attending has the proper accreditation and meets the requirements for your desired bachelor’s program. This can help prevent issues when it comes time for a transfer credit evaluation.

Pros of Completing an Associate Degree Online

  • tickAccessibility

    Earning an associate degree online means having access to a broader range of program options than what’s available at the nearest community college. Additionally, for students with physical disabilities, health issues, or learning differences that make learning in a traditional classroom setting difficult, virtually attending class can make it easier to obtain an education.

  • tickFlexibility

    Online learning is ideal for individuals who need to arrange their school schedule around the rest of their life, not the other way around. Whether they select a synchronous or asynchronous program, students in online associate degree programs have more control over where and when they learn. This includes choosing an environment that suits their needs better than a traditional classroom, such as a home office, bedroom, or kitchen.

  • tickAffordability

    The average annual tuition at community colleges, which commonly award associate degrees, is $3,730 for in-state students. This makes it one of the most affordable higher education options. Attending school online can cut costs even more because students don’t have to pay room and board, on-campus student fees, or transportation costs like parking and gas.

  • tickCareer prospects

    Completing an associate degree can boost a student’s career outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the unemployment rate for individuals with an associate degree in 2021 was 4.6%. Comparatively, 6.2% of individuals with only a high school diploma were unemployed. As employers increasingly view online degrees favorably, the outlook remains optimistic for students with online degrees.

Cons of Completing an Associate Degree Online

  • tickNot suitable for all learners

    Despite the appeal of online learning, this educational format isn’t necessarily a good fit. Remote learning requires strong self-motivation, discipline, organization, time management, and communication skills. Students who need more support to keep them on-task and accountable may find that an in-person learning environment is best for them. It’s also important to consider how you learn. Online programs rely heavily on pre-recorded videos, lectures, and readings, which may not work for more hands-on learners.

  • tickNetworking challenges

    There are many different tools available for students to use for communication while in their online associate degree program, but it’s hard to replicate the experience of meeting classmates and faculty face-to-face. Students who are prioritizing building a professional network through their associate degree program may find that an in-person or hybrid program is ideal for developing relationships.

The Best Online Associate Degree Programs

Learn more about online associate degree programs with’s list of the best online associate degree programs or, discover specific associate programs below:

Interested in a degree instead?

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