How Many Credits Do I Need for an Associate’s Degree

Most associate’s degree programs require students to complete a minimum of 60 semester credits, which is equivalent to approximately 20 3-credit college courses.

The credit requirement varies a bit based on the program of study. For example:

  • Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees generally need 60 semester credits.
  • Certain specialized programs like Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) may require more credits due to a greater emphasis on technical or vocational skills.

Required credits for an associate degree can be broken down into 3 types:

  • General Education Courses: Around 20 to 40 credits.These are foundational courses in English, math, science, humanities, and social sciences.
  • Major Requirements: Typically, 20 to 40 credits focused on the student’s chosen field of study.
  • Electives: Students may need 10 to 25 credits of elective courses that align with their interests and career goals.

What Help Decrease The Total Credits Needed To Obtain An Associate’s Degree

6 main factors can decrease the number of credits required to complete an associate’s degree. These include:

  • Transfer Credits: Credits from accredited institutions can often be transferred, although this might be subject to certain limitations or conditions.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Credits: High school students who pass AP courses and their corresponding exams can earn college credits that may fulfill associate degree requirements. It covers up to 30-45 credits, depending on scores and policies.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Credits: Like AP credits, IB credits earned in high school can be transferred to reduce the credit load in college. You can earn up to 30 credits for higher level (HL) exams.
  • Dual Enrollment: Students who take college courses while still in high school can earn credits that apply towards their associate degree.
  • CLEP Exams: Passing these exams can provide students with college credits for what they already know, bypassing certain courses. Generally it is worth 3-12 credits per CLEP exam passed.
  • Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): Some institutions grant credit (up to 15-30 credits) for career experience or other non-academic experiences. 

What Help Increase The Total Credits Needed To Obtain An Associate’s Degree

Changing majors and choosing career-oriented programs increase the total credits required for an associate degree.

Changing Major

When a student decides to change their major, they may face the need to complete additional coursework that their previous studies do not cover. This can occur if the new program has:

  • Specialized courses that are not interchangeable with the old major.
  • Prerequisites that the student has not yet fulfilled.

For example, shifting from a general studies program to a specialized health sciences program might mandate extra science and lab classes.

Career-Oriented Or Program-Specific Associate’s Degrees

Career-oriented or program-specific associate’s degrees usually require more than 60 credits, with wide variations among institutions, according to a National Survey of Program Requirements

Engineering, Health Science and some AAS programs, for example, generally require additional credits due to the need for specialized training and certification preparation. These additional credits are from:

  • Laboratory work: Hands-on practice courses.
  • Clinical rotations: In-field training components.
  • Technical skills courses: Advanced skillset training.

According to the same survey, associate programs such as dental hygiene, registered nursing, and engineering technology require the highest number of credits, exceeding 67 credits on average.

What Are Different Types of Required Credits for the Associate’s Degree

There are 3 different types of required credits for an associate’s degree: general education credits, major course credits, and elective courses credits.

General Education Credits

General education credits are designed to give students a broad foundation of knowledge. They typically cover subjects such as English, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, arts & humanities, and foreign language. Most associate degree programs require around 20 to 40 credits of general education.

For example, the associate degree GE program from Penn State University requires 21 credits, distributed among English, quantification, humanities, natural science, and social and behavioral sciences. At Florida SouthWestern State College, an Associate in Arts degree requires a total of 60 semester hours of college credit, including 36 credits in general education coursework.

According to the National Survey of Program Requirement, the AS and AAS degrees usually have fewer general education requirements and more discipline- or skill-specific classes than AA degrees, which aim to provide the foundation for later specialization at a 4-year institution. 

Major Courses Credits

Major courses credits relate specifically to a student’s chosen field of study. For an associate’s degree, students must usually complete 20 to 40 credits within their major. These courses provide in-depth knowledge to the student’s intended career path or further education goals.

Technical or vocational associate programs, such as Engineering Technology or Nursing, require close to 40 credits or more in major-specific courses. In contrast, majors in the liberal arts and humanities require fewer credits within the major, often closer to the 30-credit mark.

Elective Courses Credits

Elective courses allow college students to explore topics outside of their major, offering a chance to broaden their education or delve into personal interests. Associate degrees typically include 10 to 25 elective courses credits. Electives can also be used to supplement major requirements or to gain additional skills relevant to a student’s career interests.

The A.A. degree from Tallahassee Community College, for example, includes 24 credit hours of electives, where students are advised to select courses required for admission to their intended major at their desired college or university​.

How Long Does It Take to Earn the Required Credits for Associate Degree

Full-Time Students typically enroll in 12 or more credits per semester. They often complete an associate degree in about two years

Part-Time Students usually take fewer courses each term, typically 6 to 11 credits per semester. As a result, it may take a part-time student approximately 2-4 years to accumulate the required credit hours.

Recently, many colleges start to offer accelerated programs that may shorten this time frame.

Do Accelerated Programs Help Earn an Associate’s Degree in Less Time?

Accelerated programs do help students earn an associate’s degree faster than the standard two-year track. These programs typically accelerate learning through condensed class schedules and increased course load.

Students in accelerated programs generally complete their degree in as little as 12-18 months, with each term lasting for 5-8 weeks, unlike traditional 16-week semesters. While accelerated associate programs reduce overall time, they maintain the same academic standards and total credit requirements. 

How Do Online Associate’s Degree Programs Compare in Terms of Credit Requirements

Online associate’s degree programs often require the same number of credits (60 credits) as traditional on-campus programs. Online programs offer additional flexibility in how these credits are earned:

  • Accelerated Courses: Some online programs offer intensive courses that may shorten the time to degree completion.
  • Credit for Prior Learning: Many online colleges award credits for work experience, military training, or other prior learning, potentially reducing the total credits needed.
  • More Accepted Transfer Credits: For an online associate’s degree, students can generally transfer up to 45 credits. For example: The policy of Southern New Hampshire University states that it allows up to 45 transfer credits towards the associate degree.

Do Associate Degree Credits Transfer to Bachelor

Associate degree credits often transfer to bachelor’s degree programs, but the transferability depends on 2 following factors:

  • Accreditation: Credits from a regionally accredited institution are more widely accepted.
  • Relevance: Courses must align with the bachelor’s degree curriculum.

General Education credits are usually more transferable if they match the receiving institution’s requirements. In most cases, specialized or technical courses can not transfer as easily unless there is a direct equivalent at the bachelor’s level.

Some states, like California and Texas, have specific agreements that make it easier to transfer credits within that state’s public college and university system.

How Much Does It Cost To Earn An Associate’s Degree?

The cost of obtaining an associate’s degree can vary significantly depending on several factors, such as the college types, residency status for tuition purposes, and whether classes are taken on-campus or online.

Public Community Colleges: For in-state residents, the average yearly tuition is $3,970, which is $1,985 per semester and $7,940 for 2 years, according to the College Board. Non-residents often pay more, averaging about $8,210 per year.

Private Colleges: Tuition at private institutions is substantially higher, with an average of $14,590 annually. These figures reflect tuition and fees but do not include additional expenses such as books, supplies, and room and board, which can add several thousand dollars to the overall cost.

Online Programs: Tuition for online associates programs is often less than for on-campus ones due to reduced overhead costs. Prices may vary widely but tend to be lower than traditional college tuition.

Financial aid, grants, and scholarships can help offset the overall expense. 

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