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Q&A: Is an Associate Degree Right for You?

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Earning an associate’s degree has its advantages. Spending less money on tuition is an obvious one, and it may also provide a speedy path to a new career, as it typically takes just two years to complete. Popular degree options include dental hygiene, physical therapy assistant, health information technology and business management.

Rachel Bowen is the associate vice president of enrollment management at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. Her school awards associate’s degrees in an array of specialties. Here she offers some insights into the nuances of going the two-year route.

Who is the right candidate for an associate’s degree?

For Harcum, it’s students coming right out of high school who aren’t really sure what they want to do—or may not want to commit to a four-year degree or the debt [it] might come with. We also have many students who are looking to change careers and don’t have the luxury to spend four years at a four-year institution.

What are the most common careers for students pursuing an associate’s degree?

Our flagship programs are dental hygiene and vet tech—it’s what Harcum’s known for. Also on the upswing are our physical therapy assistant and occupational therapy programs. They’re terminal degrees—there’s not a bachelor’s degree program for PTA. Some careers are only associate’s degree based, if you want that type of career.

In what ways is the curriculum similar to other types of schools?

Most of our programs are 62-99 credits, and those still involve about 30 credits of general education. All students have to take a certain amount of credits in areas like sociology, diversity, English and math. So they still come out with that background on top of what they learn in their program-specific courses.

Can students transfer in credits?

Yes, if the student has already completed college coursework at another regionally accredited school. We’ll accept up to 30 credits—for some majors up to 33. It allows students to not have to pay for courses they’ve already done and successfully passed, and it allows them a little more flexibility in their day-to-day lives.

For those considering a career change, do previously earned credits apply?

Credits do not expire—except for math, computers and science. If you took an “Intro to Psychology” course 20 years ago, it still transfers, as long as it’s from a regionally accredited school and you got a C or better.

Can students transfer credits earned for an associate’s to a four-year degree?

Yes. If you have an articulation agreement with a lot of schools, it’s already laid out. Even if we don’t have an agreement with a school, as long as the other school is regionally accredited, and depending on the major they’re going into, our courses all transfer. [Ultimately] it’s up to the receiving institution, but the baseline a lot of schools operate on is that, as long as you got a C or better and the curriculum was similar (especially for general education courses), they transfer.

What’s the admissions process like?

We operate on rolling admission. As soon as an application is complete, we can make a decision that day. We try to make the admissions process as simple as possible by not asking for a lot of extra documentation. Our programs do not require SATs. Some of our more competitive majors—like in allied health—will have different requirements and may have specific deadlines. But we do need transcripts from all institutions attended and a letter of recommendation. 

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