An associate degree can serve as the start to a new career or as a transition to a four-year university. The additional training can also help you make more money -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that people with associate degrees average $133 more in earnings per week compared to high school graduates. The amount of time it will take to complete your associate degree varies depending upon your program, but it is possible to complete an online degree in less than two years.

Time Considerations

Several schools offer online associate degrees that take less than two years to complete. For example, Kaplan University offers a degree in health and information technology that can take as little as 12 months to complete. Most of Piedmont Technical College's associate degree programs take two years, but students who already have taken some classes can complete their degrees in slightly less time. PTC also offers certificates and diplomas that prepare students for the workforce, but take less than two years.

Course Load

No matter what program you enroll in, the time it takes to complete your degree depends on how many classes you take each semester. At most schools, the estimated time to complete your degree is based upon the assumption that students will take a full course load each semester -- usually 12 to 15 hours. Students majoring in criminal justice at Piedmont Technical College, for example, have to average 15 hours each semester to graduate on time. Taking one or two extra classes, however, could reduce your graduation time.

Additional Courses

Some students choose to take additional classes as they pursue an associate degree. You might do this if you attend an online school to knock out core requirements for a four-year school and then decide to switch to an associate degree, for example. You might also choose to take courses in topics that are interesting to you but not related to your major, or opt for an independent study, both of which can improve the quality of your education, but increase the time it takes to graduate.

Precautions

You might have to make a decision between completing your associate degree quickly and completing it with stellar grades. If your school allows you to overload your schedule, you could graduate in a little more than a year, but if you can't keep up with the coursework, your grades could take a hit. If you're working a full-time job or have young children, it might be better to take a light course load your first semester and then gradually increase the number of classes, depending upon how well you do.