An associate's degree is earned by attending college for the completion of a two-year degree program. Most community colleges offer a wide range of two year associate's degrees, and many four-year colleges offer associate's degrees in addition to bachelor's degrees. There are many positive reasons to seek an associate's degree, with the most obvious being the ability to increase your chances of finding a good-paying job.
Associate's degree is actually an umbrella term to describe a vast range of specific degrees. The two most common associate's degree are associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS); the following is just a partial list of other associate's degrees available: associate of forestry (AF), associate of applied arts (AAA), associate of arts in teaching (AAT) and associate of occupational studies (AOS).
The single best thing that an associate's degree is good for is increasing your income potential. The knowledge that you can get from attending classes is usually something that even on-the-job training can't provide. Indeed, some associate's programs will give on-the-job training as part of the curriculum. The increase in potential income generated by having an associate's degree versus only having a high school diploma is difficult to pinpoint; some studies have even concluded that over the course of a lifetime the income variance may reach as high as a million dollars. While that figure seems rather dubious, a two-year associate's degree is highly likely to earn you a better income and chance for advancement than having only a high school diploma or being a dropout.
Another positive outcome of seeking an associate's degree is that most, if not all, of your credits can usually be transferred over to a college offering four-year degrees. This means that you take the associate's degree you earned at your community college and begin working toward a bachelor's degree at a university.
As anyone who has earned an associate's degree at a community college and then transferred to a university can attest, there is an enormous difference in tuition. An associate's degree earned even at a four-year university is much less expensive than pursuing a bachelor's degree. An associate's degree, therefore, is economically strategic.
Another thing that an associate's degree is good for is focusing on your chosen field of expertise. While some associate's degrees like the AA and AS can be fairly broad, others like degrees in nursing, forestry, fine arts and political science allows the student to spend most of his instruction time focusing specifically on material related to his future career. This contrasts with a four-year program in which you may spend the first two years learning about anything but the specifics related to your chosen career path.
An associate's degree is also quite good for getting you into the job you desire more quickly than a four-year degree. Instead of wading through college for four years before you start making any money with your diploma, you can breeze through an associate's program in just two years (even less if you attend school during the summer) and find gainful employment while others are are just beginning to get into the real meat of their curricula.