A general studies associate degree is an accessible starting point for students who understand the value of higher education but do not know what academic major or career pathways they want to pursue. These programs prepare you to eventually attend a four-year institution through a curriculum of general education and prerequisite classes. The degree plan also enables you to enroll in a trade school and gain professional certification in fields like fire safety, private security, and administrative support.

Earning a college degree represents a substantial investment in time and money. The greatest strength of the associate degree in general studies is its flexibility. This program often prepares graduates to enter a four-year program. Furthermore, a two-year degree benefits general job prospects. In its 2017 report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that professionals who hold associate credentials benefit from lower unemployment rates (3.4%) than those who only hold a high school diploma (4.6%) and those who attended college but did not earn a degree (4.0%).

Should I Get an Associate Degree in General Studies?

Students in a general studies associate degree programs complete most of their general education requirements, including English composition, computer applications, information literacy, oral communication, and academic research. Through electives, students can pack the curriculum with classes that fulfill the prerequisites of their prospective major. This benefits physical science students in particular, who can get general chemistry, biology, and math courses out of the way.

Affordability is another major advantage of an associate of general studies degree. Distance education — usually a preference for working professionals — usually comes with a discounted tuition rate that disregards residency status. This perk allows online learners to pick their programs based on academic outcomes and career resources, rather than just cost. For recent high school graduates, on-campus programs offer the same affordable prices in addition to direct university services and networking opportunities. Through traditional classes, students cultivate relationships with peers and professors that can lead to long-lasting friendships and collaborative opportunities through research, field training, and volunteerism. Furthermore, on-campus students benefit from work-study positions and internship placement programs, which are often inaccessible to distance learners.

Regardless of program type, general studies degree seekers should strongly consider attending a local community college. These schools provide the lowest tuition rates and scholarships for high school students and adult learners. Most community colleges also facilitate direct pathways to state universities, and students usually enjoy an easier admission process. They can also be assured that most of their associate coursework fulfills bachelor's degree general education requirements.

What Can I Do With an Associate in General Studies?

The BLS reports that the average associate degree holder earns a weekly salary of $836. For full-time professionals, this number translates into approximately $43,500 in yearly income. While some employers hire candidates with a general studies associate degree, most require their employees to hold relevant certificates and licenses, or to undergo on-the-job training. With the proper preparation, students can pursue careers in diverse fields like healthcare, information technology, business administration, and even geological engineering.

Administrative Assistant

Associate degree holders with general business skills can access administrative support positions in private companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Assistants handle daily communications and perform clerical duties, such as preparing documents, filing records, and maintaining electronic information. Administrative assistants also schedule meetings, keep minutes, and write progress reports.

Median Annual Salary: $37,870


These professionals handle fundamental administrative tasks. They answer phone calls, respond to emails, provide business information, and manage scheduling. Receptionists also provide customer service support, including checking in visitors and helping them complete necessary paperwork. With an associate degree, receptionists may occupy positions in a variety of industries.

Median Annual Salary: $28,390

Dental Assistant

As the title suggests, dental assistants support dentists by taking x-ray scans, performing routine check-ups, and educating patients on proper teeth care. They also sterilize instruments and help dentists with complex procedures, such as tooth extractions and root canals. Additionally, dental assistants perform administrative tasks such as keeping patient records, managing appointments, and providing customer service. To pursue this career, students need state-specific licensure and an associate degree.

Median Annual Salary: $37,630

Customer Service Representative

These professionals provide front-end support for their businesses and organizations. They manage phone calls, answer customer questions, handle complaints, and schedule meetings and appointments. Depending on their specific position, customer service representatives manage a company's day-to-day social media presence. They also generate sales by providing information on products and services. Professionals can access this position with an associate degree.

Median Annual Salary: $32,890

How to Choose an Associate Program in General Studies

Most associate programs spans two years and require 60 credits. General studies degrees are designed to fit into any bachelor's curricula and do not usually offer defined specializations. Students can expect general education classes in such topics as cultural studies, natural sciences, mathematics, social sciences, communications, and arts and humanities. Degree candidates also may offer electives, which can be used to fulfill major prerequisite requirements. For example, a student who wants to pursue a nursing career can enroll in fundamental courses like medical terminology, pharmacology, and patient management. Associate programs culminate in a capstone project, which requires students to bridge knowledge and skill application in their chosen field.

Beyond course options, students should factor the direct and indirect costs of attending school. For example, online associate degrees in general studies offer the most competitive tuition rates. Colleges and universities want to attract distance learners, and therefore incentivize them with flat rates, discounts, and distinct financial assistance. Traditional students enjoy the lowest prices from in-state schools, particularly community colleges. Regardless of program type, students should also consider location and how it affects education costs, living expenses, quality of life, and employment opportunities. Depending on their career choice, students may need to earn state-specific professional licenses, which do not easily transfer across borders.

In order to earn degrees respected by employers and government bodies, students must attend a nationally or regionally accredited school. Higher education institutions earn national accreditation from organizations approved by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. They obtain regional accreditation from one of six organizations based on location.

Associate in General Studies Program Admissions

Colleges and universities usually require a general application, high school transcripts, recommendation letters, and standardized test scores. Online programs operate a more intensive admission process since distance learners need to demonstrate not only academic potential, but also the capabilities for self-motivated learning. Some schools require students to meet a minimum GPA, which is usually 2.0-3.0. However, higher education institutions, especially community colleges, understand that associate degree work should center on accessibility. To this end, many schools do not ask for a minimum GPA. Similarly, some schools do not require ACT or SAT scores. In any case, students eventually need to take standardized exams because test scores are a common criteria for bachelor's programs.

Students may find the college application process overwhelming. To make it more manageable and cost-effective, students should narrow down their school options and apply to no more than five. Because general studies associate degrees are broad, academic specifics take a back seat to tuition costs and financial aid opportunities. Students also need to consider location and it how it affects living expenses, quality of life, and opportunities for advanced education and career entry.

Admission Materials

  • Application:Prospective students must submit an online application that includes their name, address, academic history, and professional goals.
  • Transcripts: Most schools ask for official high school transcripts. Some institutions require students to submit pre-graduation and post-graduation records. Candidates may request transcripts by contacting their high school's student services office.
  • Application Fee: In addition to submitting an application, students need to pay a processing fee. This expense can quickly become a burden if students apply to several schools. Students should contact their institutions to inquire about fee reductions and waivers.

Educational Paths for General Studies Associate Programs

General studies associate degrees prepare students for advanced academics, which opens doors to more career opportunities and higher pay. According to BLS data, bachelor's degree holders earn over $300 more in weekly salary than those who hold an associate, which amounts to approximately $16,000 annually. Furthermore, PayScale statistics show that even within the same field, the difference is substantial. With an associate degree, administrative assistants earn approximately $38,753. With a bachelor's, they can hold advanced roles as executive assistants, who enjoy an annual salary of $52,960.

Bachelor of Science in Engineering

As an interdisciplinary field, engineering combines the fields of science, mathematics, and project management. Students can pick from specializations starting at the undergraduate level, including mechanical, biomedical, civil, and electrical engineering. This degree enables students to pursue careers in such growing fields as healthcare, manufacturing, petroleum extraction, and environmental research.

Bachelor of Business Administration

Available as a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts track, business administration prepares students to take up leadership positions in companies and organizations. Degree candidates learn to work in teams, motivate others, communicate persuasively, manage finances, and progress through a project cycle. Graduates can occupy positions as cost estimators, social media marketers, human resources associates, and loss prevention specialists.

Bachelor of Arts in English

Contrary to popular perceptions, an English degree prepares graduates for diverse and lucrative careers. English students learn to research effectively, write clearly, and speak effectively. Because the curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, English majors are also expert problem-solvers and team leaders. In addition to careers in teaching and education, graduates can occupy roles as copywriters, digital content managers, public relations specialists, and entrepreneurs.

What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in General Studies?

All associate of general studies degrees prepare students for further bachelor's-level academics. Beyond this, curricula varies based on the philosophy and goals of individual schools. Students who attend a Christian college may find that courses like spiritual formation, theology, and interpretation of Old and New Testament replace general history and literature topics. Some colleges and universities specify their programs, as well. For example, students at Odessa College pick from general studies degree plans with tracks in health science, STEM, business, and pubic and consumer services.

Courses in an Associate Program in General Studies

A program's goals affect what courses it offers. Associate degree candidates usually encounter general education classes in areas like math, natural science, humanities, and social/behavioral science. The rest of the degree plan consists of electives, which students use to prepare for major coursework at the bachelor's level. The list below details some courses students may choose from.

English Composition

Students learn fundamental aspects of academic writing, including paragraph development and organization. Students develop the ability to write and revise their essays with consideration to style, tone, and audience. The course also covers grammar, mechanics, and research tools. Because academic writing is at the core of college success, all students benefit from this class.

Information Literacy

By analyzing scholarly works and applying these ideas in projects, students learn to properly use academic and digital information. The course also delves into ethical issues and how cultural, social, and political forces affect the creation and dissemination of information. This topic is important for all students, but especially benefits those who want to pursue careers in research, technical writing, and business management.

Public Speaking

This course provides students with theoretical understanding and hands-on application of oral communication skills. Candidates analyze historical speeches and student speaker examples to discern ethics, audience, and setting. They apply these ideas through general practice and simulations. Future business leaders, political activists, and educators must master public speaking.

World History

The class surveys historical events from the birth of civilization to the present. Students delve into the social, cultural, political, and economic developments of major societies. They also examine how these societies interact with each other and the consequences of these meetings. By studying how history shapes the world, students can better understand current events. This is a required topic for historians, anthropologists, and writers.

Introduction to Chemistry

Students learn basic terminologies and methodologies of the field. In laboratory settings, they apply this knowledge through experiments and data collection. Chemistry students also develop the quantitative and qualitative analysis skills needed to make sense of information and create projections. A general chemistry class provides necessary training for scientists and engineers.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in General Studies?

A general studies associate degree takes two years to complete, and students earn at least 60 credits. Program type can affect this timeline. For example, most colleges and universities allow students to individually pace their schedules, taking as many or as few classes as they wish, within reason. On the other hand, some schools operate a cohort learning model, which requires students to take one or two classes at a time, advancing through their degree at the same pace as their program peers.

Students can expedite degree process by pursuing a maximum course load and taking courses over optional summer and winter sessions. Some colleges and universities provide accelerated pathways for full-time students. These programs operate eight-week classes, which enables candidates to obtain their degree in about one year. Adult learners may want to slow down academic progress so they can juggle work and family responsibilities, and may opt to take courses part time. However, part-time enrollment often leads to higher tuition prices, and also limits scholarship, grant, and work-study opportunities.

Online associate degrees in general studies offer the most flexibility. Through asynchronous classes, distance learners may access materials, engage with instructors, and collaborate with peers at their convenience.

How Much Is an Associate in General Studies?

General studies associate degrees are among the most affordable academic programs, especially for students who attend community colleges. In its 2017 report, College Board notes that the average annual tuition for students who enroll in public two-year institutions sits at $3,570. California students pay the least, at $1,430, while Vermont students pay the most, at $7,980. The same report shows that students who enroll at four-year schools pay far more on average, with in-state rates of $9,970 and out-of-state prices of $25,620.

To pay for college, general studies degree seekers should take advantage of federal and state funding through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Furthermore, they should speak to their school's financial aid office about need- and merit-based scholarships. Students should also seek out awards from local businesses, honor societies, and professional associations. Numerous organizations exist to help low-income students pursue higher education, including College Possible and the National College Access Network.

Prospective students need to budget for living costs. Those who want to move for school should consult websites like PayScale, which lets users calculate and compare cost of living by city. Students should also factor in lab fees, technology costs, and the expenses related to conference attendance and professional development.

Professional Organizations in General Studies

General studies associate degrees offer an accessible starting point. Students can build on the knowledge, skills, and opportunities afforded to them in their academic programs by engaging with a professional organization. While membership may require an annual fee, resulting privileges include networking opportunities through local meeting and national/international conferences. Many of these organizations provide financial support, including academic scholarships and research grants. Members also benefit from career guidance, professional development programs, and job listings. Students who want to earn a graduate degree can take advantage of the resources provided by the Council on Undergraduate Research.


This organization helps low-income students pursue higher education through transition and skill development programs. QuestBridge also provides academic awards and information on admission and financial aid processes.

Council on Undergraduate Research

Founded in 1978, CUR boasts over 1,000 institutional members. The organization operates vast databases of research and presentation opportunities. CUR also provides mentorship and grant programs.

American Association of University Women

AAUW advances gender equality in higher education through research and public policy initiatives. Members benefit from leadership training, conference opportunities, and award programs. They also get access to career support, including internship and job listings.