What Is an Associate Degree? Everything You Need To Know

quick answer

An Associate Degree is an undergraduate academic program that provides students with the fundamental knowledge and practical skills to help secure employment or pursue further education. Typically, students take two years to complete an Associate Degree.

An Associate Degree is a type of post-secondary education spanning two years that provides students with a solid base of general knowledge. Students also have the opportunity to specialize in a particular field of interest, such as science, business, or the arts. An Associate Degree is generally equivalent to the first two years of a Bachelor’s Degree program. 

If you’re unsure what you should go to college for, an Associate Degree can open up many paths. Upon completion, you can choose to immediately enter the workforce or continue on to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree. 

In this article, we’ll explain what an Associate Degree is and explore the different types of Associate Degrees available. We’ll also outline how an Associate Degree differs from a Bachelor’s Degree and a Diploma. 

Read on to learn more about Associate Degrees in Canada. 

What Is an Associate Degree in Canada?

In Canada, you can receive an Associate Degree once you complete 60 hours of credits from a community college or polytechnic institute. Whether you’re looking to upskill, make a career change at 40, or transfer credit to a Bachelor’s Degree, an Associate Degree can help you achieve your career goals. 

When pursuing an Associate Degree, students take courses in English, Mathematics, Science, and Arts. They also have the opportunity to specialize in a field of study. 

Benefits of an Associate Degree

Pursuing an Associate Degree offers many benefits that can open doors for both your career and future education. Here are a few of the top benefits of Associate Degrees:

  • Higher acceptance rate: Associate Degree programs typically have high acceptance rates, making them ideal for those seeking accessible entry into higher education.
  • Quick completion: An Associate Degree is very time-efficient since it typically only takes two years to complete. As a result, students can enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. 
  • Affordability: Associate Degrees have a short duration and low tuition costs, making them an affordable post-secondary education option. 
  • Higher earning potential: According to the latest employment income statistics, those with an Associate Degree earn a higher salary than those with only high school degrees. 
  • Stepping stone to higher education: Individuals with an Associate Degree can easily transfer their credits to a four-year university. 

5 Types of Associate Degrees

There are five different types of Degrees you can choose depending on your post-graduation career goals. While students in all programs take the same general education courses, some of your classes may differ depending on the type of Associate Degree you choose. Continue reading to discover what type of Associate Degree you should pursue depending on your future educational and career goals. 

1. Associate of Arts (AA) 

An Associate of Arts (AA) program is a well-rounded degree featuring foundational liberal arts courses such as English, Math and Science, Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities. These courses are transferable to most four-year programs, allowing students to continue on to get a Bachelor of Arts degree. 

While an AA degree provides students with general academic knowledge, you also have the option to specialize in the following areas of interest:

  • Communications 
  • Creative Writing 
  • Cross-cultural Studies 
  • Economics 
  • English
  • Environmental Studies 
  • Gender and Women’s Studies 
  • Geography 
  • History 
  • Foreign Language 
  • Philosophy 
  • Political Science 
  • Psychology 
  • Sociology 

2. Associate of Science (AS)

An Associate of Science (AS) program features a broad range of courses related to science, mathematics, and computer science. Upon graduation, individuals can move on to a Bachelor of Science program. AS specialization areas include: 

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computing Science
  • Geography
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Physics

Potential future career paths include a Biologist, Doctor,
Data Scientist, or Computer Programmer. 

3. Associate of Business Administration (ABA)

An Associate of Business Administration (ABA) degree provides students with fundamental business skills through courses such as the following: 

  • Accounting and Finance
  • Economics
  • Marketing
  • Human Resource Management 

Following graduation, you can pursue entry-level roles in business or continue on to get a four-year Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) at one of the best business schools in Canada

4. Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS)

An Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) degree prepares graduates to enter the workforce immediately upon graduating. Potential areas of focus include: 

  • Business Administration
  • Agriculture 
  • Accounting 
  • Industrial Technology 
  • Mechanical Technology 
  • Cyber Operations 
  • Construction Management 
  • Early Childhood Development 
  • Information Technology 
  • Medical Office Assisting 

While an AAS degree is meant for those pursuing further education, it is more career-focused, so many of the credits aren’t transferable.

5. Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)

Similar to an AAS, an Associate of Applied Arts (AAA) is a broad degree that prepares students to enter the workforce after graduating. Depending on your goals, you may decide to focus your degree in one of the following areas: 

  • Graphic Design 
  • Photography 
  • Music 
  • Advertising 
  • Art History 
  • Sculpting 
  • Fashion Design 

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree?

If you’re hoping to enter the workforce upon graduating with your Associate Degree, you can pursue a wide range of careers across many different fields.From health care jobs to roles in information technology, here are some examples of jobs you can get with an Associate Degree: 

  • Business and finance: Customer Service Representative, Bank Teller, Executive Assistant, Sales Representative
  • Health care: Biomedical Technician, Radiation Therapist, Dental Hygienist, Assistant Nurse
  • Information technology: Web Developer, IT Support Specialist, Computer Technician 
  • Education: Teacher’s Aide, Paraeducator, Substitute Teacher
  • Law: Paralegal, Security Guard, Police Officer 

While an Associate Degree can provide you with a wide range of jobs, you can unlock even more career opportunities after continuing on to get a Bachelor’s degree. 

Associate Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree

Associate Degrees and Bachelor’s Degrees are two of the most popular types of undergraduate degrees. Just like there are several differences between college and university, these two types of post-secondary degrees also differ. 

When deciding which degree to pursue, it’s important to consider the time it takes to complete, tuition costs, and admission requirements. Here’s an overview of the main differences between an Associate Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree. 

Time To Complete 

An Associate Degree takes two years to complete, while a Bachelor’s Degree spans four years. If you want to enter the workforce sooner rather than later, an Associate Degree could be the right option for you. 


On average, an Associate Degree costs less than a Bachelor’s Degree due to the lower tuition fees and shorter duration. Since the average student loan debt in Canada is approximately $28,000, some students may opt for this more affordable option. Additional costs to keep in mind when deciding on a program include: 

  • Housing 
  • Food
  • Fees
  • Textbooks 
  • Supplies and equipment 

Admission Requirements

Both Associate Degree and Bachelor’s Degree programs require a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the program, other requirements include a minimum GPA and standardized tests. Typically, Associate Degree programs have less strict requirements than Bachelor’s Degree programs. 

Associate Degree vs. Diploma

A Diploma is another type of post-secondary education offered in Canada that provides the skills needed to enter the workforce. A Diploma differs from an Associate Degree in that it is typically shorter in duration and more focused on a specific career. 

Here are examples of Diploma programs offered at Robertson College: 

  • Accounting and Payroll Administrator
  • Bookkeeping 
  • Business Administration – Event Planning and Hospitality 
  • Computer Support Technician 
  • Data Analyst 
  • Early Childhood Educator 
  • Full Stack Web Developer 
  • Legal Assistant 
  • Medical Office Assistant 
  • Nursing Assistant
  • Paralegal 
  • Veterinary Assistant 

Explore our full list of programs.

  Bachelor’s Degree Associate Degree Diploma or Certificate
Length of program Four years Two years One to two years
Credits 120 credits 60 credits 30 credits
Admission requirements Secondary school Diploma (additional requirements vary based on program) Secondary school Diploma (additional requirements vary based on program) Secondary school Diploma (additional requirements vary based on program)
Program focus General academic knowledge with a concentrated major Broad academic knowledge with specialization in a specific field Specialized study
Career opportunities Entry-level or mid-level positions in various fields Entry-level positions in various fields Entry-level technical or vocational careers

How To Choose the Right Program for You

Deciding on the right program for you depends on your future goals. Here are a few useful tips to help you decide on a post-secondary education: 

  • Consider your career goals: Careers have different educational credentials needed to enter the workforce. For example, a school Teacher position requires a Bachelor’s Degree, while a Teacher’s Aide may have an Associate Degree or a Diploma. 
  • Weigh the financial costs: When researching programs, note the cost of tuition, fees, housing, and textbooks. 
  • Take into account your learning style: Consider what type of learner you are, whether you prefer online vs. in-person, instructor-guided vs. self-led courses, and lectures vs. hands-on training. 
  • Determine whether you can transfer credits: If you plan to pursue further education, determine whether the credits are transferable.
  • Decide how much time you want to invest: A Bachelor’s Degree requires you to invest significantly more time in your education than an Associate Degree or Diploma. 
  • Get advice from an advisor: If you’re interested in a program or have questions regarding tuition for the admission process, speak with an advisor for additional information. 


Choosing the right education path for you can be difficult. Below, we’ve answered common questions about Associate Degree programs so you can decide if it’s right for you. 

How Many Years Is an Associate Degree?

An Associate Degree is a two-year undergraduate degree. However, the exact amount of time it takes to complete depends on whether you’re a full-time or part-time student, your specific course load, and whether you earned transfer credits from high school courses. 

What Is an Associate of Arts Degree Good For?

An Associate of Arts degree is good for students looking to get a comprehensive education that opens doors to a wide range of career paths or further education opportunities. 

What Are the Requirements for an Associate Degree?

To earn an Associate Degree, you must complete a minimum of 60 university program credits, meet your program’s minimum GPA requirements, and fulfill the specific requirements for your degree. 

Is an Associate Degree the Same as a Diploma?

No, an Associate Degree is not the same as a Diploma. Although they are both two-year programs, Associate Degrees cover a broader range of knowledge, while Diplomas focus on a specific set of skills. 

Let Robertson Help You Choose the Right Post-Secondary Option 

An Associate Degree is a great option for individuals looking to kick-start their careers or begin their journey of post-secondary education. However, keep in mind that this type of degree may not be the right choice for everyone. Depending on your specific goals, you may want to consider other options such as Diploma programs or online micro-courses. 

At Robertson College, we offer a wide variety of flexible programs that will give you the skills you need to excel in your career. And as one of the best online colleges in Canada, we can accommodate both in-person and online students.

If you’re looking to get an accredited Diploma, Robertson College may be a great fit. Browse our programs today to learn more about the different options available.

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