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What are the Typical Requirements for an Associate's Degree?

By Lily Ruha
Updated May 17, 2024
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The typical requirements for an associate’s degree include successful completion of classes that usually take two years to complete on a full-time basis. Required general education courses for an associate’s degree typically include mathematics, literature, writing composition, language arts, social science, and life and physical science. Students seeking an associate’s degree in a particular subject usually take a specific number of classes relevant to the major. Most associate’s degree programs also allow a series of elective courses that give students an opportunity to explore other subjects of interest.

While an associate’s degree usually takes two years to complete, a student who has other obligations might choose to attend college on a part-time basis. Colleges typically offer flexible programs for students to progress at their own pace. Admissions requirements for an associate’s degree program are usually minimal, requiring a high school diploma or equivalent. Some colleges also require students to pass basic math, reading and writing tests.

The curriculum requirements for an associate’s degree vary by institution. Most colleges require successful completion of courses in college algebra, literature, and writing composition. Students may be given choices in the type and level of courses within these requirements. Humanities and social sciences requirements might include options in philosophy, social studies, and psychology. Choices in the physical and life sciences typically include biology, chemistry, and physics.

Students can choose to obtain an associate’s degree in a specific subject. An individual majoring in business administration, for example, might be required to take core classes in business management and ethics, business communications, and other related courses. Students majoring in history would be required to take a variety of history classes, typically choosing from options in American, European, and world history.

Most colleges require students to take a specific number of elective courses not necessarily related to the major course of study or general education requirements. Students usually take this opportunity to study courses completely outside of their majors. A computer science student, for example, might choose to take a dance class or an arts class to broaden his horizons. Some colleges allow students to use their elective credits as a way to further deepen their knowledge of their major topic. A student who is passionate about mathematics, for example, might take additional math courses as part of his electives.

Associate’s degrees are often a good foundation for entry into four-year academic programs. Some universities accept the degree and admit students into a four-year program as a third-year student. Other institutions might allow the transfer of only a portion of the credit hours completed. This is something for students to research and consider in advance before fulfilling the requirements for an associate’s degree. For some positions, such as those in business administration and medical billing, an associate’s degree usually enables students to begin entry-level jobs upon completion of the degree.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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