The Associate Degree: The myth, the legend, the truth.


By Dr. Belinda Leon, Senior Advisor with USP – University Scholar Program


An Associate degree is a two years college degree that will allow you to transfer to a University to then complete your Bachelor’s Degree or you could start working in a specific career right away. Do you need an Associate degree? No. You can go straight into a Bachelor’s Degree program without an Associate. Do I need an Associate degree to work? For some specific careers, you may need at LEAST an Associate degree that provided the training needed for the job. So, why would a student need an Associate? It’s not a necessity, but here are the reasons why a student may pursue an Associate degree.

In Miami, students can attend Miami Dade College and graduate with their Associate of Arts degree after two years. With that degree, they can transfer to any Florida state university and complete their Bachelor’s degree with just two more years of study. Students may take this route because they are not ready to move away from home or they are not sure what to major in. The Associate of Arts degree is mostly general education courses – meaning, all the English, Math, History, and other basic required courses that needed for a Bachelor’s degree. Electives are also allowed but limited so that a student can test out courses related to a major.

Tuition is also a big factor in pursuing an Associate degree first. An Associate degree at a community college has a low tuition cost and typically the student will be living at home saving on room and board expenses. Considering the high cost of college tuition plus dorm room and meal plan, paying for only two years of that versus four makes a big difference. Remember, with an Associate degree the student only needs to complete their third and fourth year of study at a university where they would take courses specific to their major for a Bachelor’s degree.  

Students may also complete an Associates of Science degree that will them in a specific field for employment. Some examples include: Medical Assistant, Paralegal, or Dental Hygienist. With an Associates of Science, a student has limited ability to transfer to a Bachelor’s degree because the Associate is so specialized.  

If you are not sure what you want to be when you grow up, the Associates degree buys you two more years of reflection. Torn between law or medicine? You can take at least one course in each area and test it out. Hopefully, by the end of the Associate, you have a better idea of what you want to do and you can confidently transfer to a university where you can start focusing on your major.

The Associate degree is also a way for a student to “restart” their academic career for students who have a low high school grade point average (GPA) or don’t have the right test scores to get into their dream school. Students can work hard to get good grades in their Associate program and if they met the goal, they can apply to any of the top universities in or out of the state. As transfer students, the university will look at what they did in college- not their high school GPA nor test scores. The student has a second opportunity to attend their dream school after two years to fix their grades.

This type of opportunity exists at other community colleges within the state of Florida. For example, Sante Fe College in Gainesville, states on its website: “Florida’s statewide articulation agreement guarantees that all students who earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree at a public college in the state will be granted admission to one of the 12 public universities in Florida. In addition to this statewide articulation agreement, Santa Fe College maintains several direct articulation agreements with the University of Florida, University of North Florida, Florida A&M University, New College of Florida, University of South Florida, University of West Florida and the University of the Virgin Islands. All of these direct articulation agreements guarantee Santa Fe College students admission to these partner universities.”

Students are also able to graduate high school and an Associate degree simultaneously. Several colleges offer this including Miami Dade College and Florida Atlantic University. Miami Dade College offers a high school within its campus called School of Advanced Studies (SAS). Students apply during their sophomore year of high school to attend SAS for 11th and 12th grade. At SAS, students take advanced college level courses to graduate with their high school diploma and their Associate of Arts degree at the same time. These students are held to a higher level of academics and upon graduation, they have historically been accepted to top colleges. It is not the typical high school experience, but it’s an incredible opportunity for the right student.

There are many reasons why a student would obtain his Associate degree instead of going straight into a Bachelor’s degree program. There are also reasons why an Associate is not necessary. The typical path is indeed for a student to graduate high school and attend a school for four years to complete a Bachelor’s degree. Each student is different and each student needs to find the best path for themselves in regards to a college education.


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