As annual enrollment in the nation's community colleges increases year after year, these educational institutions continue to expand their degree programs to meet students' needs. Here are some tips to help you navigate through some of the more common Associate degree programs available.
- Prior to selecting a community college degree program, you should think about what you intend to do with the degree that you earn. Community college students typically fall into three categories: those that plan to transfer to a baccalaureate-granting institution, those that plan to enter the workforce immediately, and those that are undecided about which route they will take. Put yourself in the category that you most strongly relate to right now; you'll still be able to change your mind later. Your answer will have a significant impact on the type of degree program you should choose.
- If you plan to transfer to a baccalaureate-granting institution, it's very important that you check into any articulation agreements that your community college may have with the four-year university that you would like to attend. An articulation agreement is essentially a pact made between community colleges and four-year universities wherein the four-year universities agree to accept transfer credits from students of the community college. Some articulation agreements are more liberal than others, allowing you to transfer all of your credits and enroll at the four-year school as a junior. Be sure you know which credits will transfer and which won't.
- Think about the subject you wish to major in at the four-year school. This will help you narrow down the choices for your community college degree program. If you plan to earn your Bachelor's degree in a science-related field, then you ought to pursue an Associate in Science degree at your community college. Conversely, if you plan to earn a Bachelor's degree in a liberal arts field, then you ought to pursue an Associate in Arts degree. Larger community colleges might also offer Associate in Engineering Science degrees and/or Associate in Fine Arts degrees for those interested in later studying engineering, art, or music at a four-year institution.
- If you plan to enter the workforce immediately after completing two years of study at a community college, you should choose a program that will lead to an Associate in Applied Science degree with an emphasis in a particular occupational field. You'll still be required to complete the same general education requirements as all other students. However, most of your electives will consist of courses that offer you hands-on training in your desired field. For example, if you wish to earn an AAS degree with an emphasis in Automotive Service Technology, you will be performing real work on real cars in many of your elective classes. This kind of hands-on training coupled with an Associate degree will turn you into a very attractive job candidate.
- If you are undecided about what you wish to study, a good option would be to choose an Associate in General Studies degree program. With this program, instead of taking all of your electives in the same subject, you would use the time to explore different interests. By taking a variety of subjects, you will increase your chances of finding one that you wish to study more in-depth at a four-year university. You'll still have an Associate degree after your two years, plus you'll have greater flexibility in choosing a baccalaureate program or entering a non-specialized field in the workforce.