How Long Does it Take to Get an Associate Degree? 

It typically takes about 2 years for a full-time student to complete an associate degree.

Part-time students typically take 2-4 years to complete an associate degree.

The minimum number of credits required in most associate degree programs is 60 credits. Degrees requiring specialized training often have higher credit requirements up to about 70 credits.

The time it takes to earn an associate degree for either full-time or part-time students can be shorter if the student enters an accelerated associate program, takes more than the standard full load of classes, goes to school year-round or has AP credits or CLEP credits when entering the program.

The process of earning an associate degree can be slower if students retake classes that they failed or classes they passed but in which they seek to improve their grade. Finally, some associate degrees require more credits and can take longer to complete. These include degrees with higher credit requirements medical and healthcare majors like nursing, computer and engineering fields, automotive repair and early childhood education.

What Can Help Accelerate Associate Degree Completion?

You can complete an associate degree faster in the following ways:

  • Transferring credits from a previous school: This does not shorten the total time it takes to earn an associate degree, but it means you’ll be at the school granting the degree for a shorter time.
  • Taking additional credits each semester: A credit overload is considered more than 15 credits per semester. By taking more, you can reduce the number of semesters it takes to earn an associate degree.
  • Go to school all year: Taking classes in spring and summer semesters in addition to fall and winter semesters allows you to complete your degree in fewer months.
  • Earning AP credits: Taking AP classes and completing AP exams in high school can reduce the number of college credits required when you score high enough on the exam and the school accepts those credits.
  • Earning credits through CLEP exams: The College Level Exam Program offers exams in 34 subjects that cover information typically taught in 100 and 200 level college courses. Currently, CLEP exam credits are accepted by 2,900 American colleges and universities. These are exams only; no classes are required.
  • Choosing an accelerated associate degree program: Many schools offer intensive associate degree programs that reduce the time it takes to complete them. For example, the average student in a Purdue Global associate degree program earned an associate in 1.7 years for the 2021-2022 class.

What Can Slow Down Completing an Associate Degree?

These factors can slow down the process of earning an associate degree.

  • Part-Time enrollment: Taking less than 12 credit hours per semester is considered part-time enrollment vs full-time enrollment, which is 12 or more credits. To complete an associate degree in 2 years, full-time enrollment is suggested.
  • Taking time off from school: When students skip semesters for any reason, the time it takes to earn an associate degree is extended.
  • Failing courses: Failing to earn credits for a course slows down the education process. This is also true if a student chooses to retake a course in order to get a better grade, even if credit was earned in the course previously. A research study on credit accumulation for first year students showed that, “Students earn roughly 75% of the credits they attempt. That is, on average, students earn 9 credit hours for every 12 credits they attempt.” And the credit accumulation rate, CAR, for students at public 2-year schools was 70%.
  • Choosing programs requiring more than 60 credits: Programs that are more than 60 credit hours can take longer. Associate degrees in nursing and engineering are two examples.
  • Changing your degree program: Switching associate degree programs often means going to school longer in order to complete requirements for the new degree program.

Is There a Time Limit for Finishing an Associate Degree?

No, there is no strict time limit for completion of an associate degree that is universally enforced. Check with the Admissions office of your school to learn whether it has specific time limits for completing a degree.

There are restrictions at some schools that may make completing an associate degree impossible.

Enrollment time limits at some schools determine that a student might be dis-enrolled if the student is inactive without taking classes for a number of semesters or years as determined by each school.

Financial aid limits can also end a student’s college career without getting a degree. The Pell Grant, a common form of federal financial aid, can be obtained for 12 semesters only.  

Keep in mind that some schools drop degree programs from time to time while others have an expiration date for credits. These can also create deadlines for completing an associate degree.

How Do Majors Affect the Time it Takes to Get an Associate Degree?

The major you choose for your associate degree affects the length of time needed to complete the degree based on its unique requirements.

Generally, the number of credits needed for an associate degree is a minimum of 60 credits.

Some associate degree programs require more than 60 credits. The reasons vary:

  • Additional technical information is needed in programs including engineering, international business, nursing, and other health related associate degrees.
  • Additional practical skills are needed in some associate’s degrees such as veterinary or animal health technology, respiratory care therapy, physical therapy and other healthcare majors.
  • Some associate degree majors have a higher maximum number of credits that can be taken. Additional credits above the minimum may be the result of the student wanting to get a broader education in the major. Associate degree programs with a high maximum number of credit hours are medical and healthcare majors such as nursing and radiology, computer programing and other computer-related majors, early childhood education, engineering, manufacturing, electronics, and automotive mechanic and autobody repair majors.

How Many Credits Do I Need to Get an Associate Degree?

The number of credits required for an associate degree is about 60 credits for most degrees. This is the equivalent of taking 3 or 4 classes per semester depending on the number of credits for each class, for a total of 15 credits each semester. At that rate, it will typically take a student 4 semesters or 2 years of school to earn an associate degree.

Keep in mind that earning an associates can be accelerated or slowed down by academic and personal factors.  

Some degrees in specialized or technical fields require more credits, up to about 70. Fields requiring the most credits for an associate degree are nursing and healthcare fields, computer majors, engineering and automotive.

Additional credits above 60 might also be required if the student is pursuing professional accreditation in the field in which they are getting a degree.

Associate degree programs requiring the least number of credits include journalism, child development, childcare provider, English language and literature, liberal arts, general studies, humanities, psychology, sociology, biological sciences, general business, sales, history, and physical sciences.

How Many Credits Can be Transferred When Earning an Associate Degree?

The number of transfer credits accepted is usually at least 30 with the highest number being 45. This means that half to 75% of credits toward your degree can potentially come from other schools. Most schools allow at least some transfer credits, especially in general education courses, to mee the requirements in their associate degree programs.

Policies about the transfer of credits vary widely from school to school and within schools depending on the associate degree major. Most schools require a minimum number of credits, usually 15 to 30, to be earned at that school.

Check with the admissions office, school website or your academic advisor to find specific information about the number and type of credits that can be transferred to fulfill the school’s program requirements.

How Long is an Online Associate Degree?

Most online associate degree programs take an average of 2 years to complete when attending full-time. Like in-person programs, most are a minimum of 60 credits.

This is the same amount of time it takes to complete an in-person associates program.

Part-time students taking classes toward an associate degree online will need more than 2 years to complete the degree, in most cases.

Accelerated online associate degree programs are available from some schools. They can be completed in as little as one year.

Additional factors in how long it takes to earn an associate degree online are the number of AP or CLEP credits the student has or credits from other programs that can be transferred to the accelerated associate degree school.

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