What Is an Associate Degree in Business?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn more about what an associate degree is, what it takes to earn it, and the jobs you may be able to get in this guide.

[Featured Image]: A associate of business degree student wearing earbuds holds a book in a library.

An associate degree in business is a two-year business degree that you may be able to earn from an online university, community college, junior college, or some four-year colleges and universities. You might get started on your associate degree immediately after graduating high school or after working for a while. When you have an associate degree, you can use it to open doors to different career paths, or apply those credits to earning a bachelor's degree.

Approximately five million students enroll in associate degree programs every year, according to the Institute of Medical and Business Careers [1]. This degree is a lot like a bachelor's degree in business, but it takes about half as long to earn because you only need to complete about half the number of college credits, which saves time and tuition. Research suggests that getting an associate degree gives you better job prospects and higher earning potential compared to having a high school degree. Better yet, with your associate degree program, you’ll cultivate your skills and prepare for entry-level business jobs.

Read more: Your Guide to the Associate Degree in Business Administration

What does it take to earn an associate degree in business?

To get your associate business degree, you’ll need to complete an average of 60 credit hours if you attend an institution that operates on a semester schedule, or 90 credits in an institution that operates on a quarter system [2]. For many students, this works out to roughly two years of full-time schooling. 

Courses you’ll see in the associate degree program

The requirements and coursework may vary depending on the program and the school. Most associate degree programs offer a versatile curriculum that allows you to explore different facets of the business industry while you hone your skills. Common courses that you’ll see in an associate degree program include:

  • Human resource management

  • Business analysis

  • Financial accounting

  • Business writing

  • Business information systems

  • Customer service

  • Business ethics

Core principles you’ll learn

Unlike bachelor's degrees, which typically require you to complete general studies in subjects like English or math, in an associate degree program you’ll dive into core principles almost right away. Some of the core principles you can expect to learn include finance, management theory, project planning and management, principles of business, and business-related technology.

Why do students opt for an associate degree in business as opposed to a bachelor's degree?

Earning your degree may improve your employment outlook compared to candidates with a high school degree. But that doesn't mean you have to commit to a four-year bachelor's degree to reap those benefits. Although some people complete an associate degree and go on to pursue a bachelor's, others leverage that degree to get right into the workforce. Being able to grow your career quickly isn’t the only benefit of an associate degree versus a bachelor’s degree. There’s also the cost of getting that degree and the time you’ll need to invest. 

Cost of the degree

In the 21st century, the average cost of higher education has more than doubled. There are a variety of factors that impact the ultimate cost you can expect to pay, including whether you choose a public or private college and whether you're getting an associate or a bachelor's degree. Associate degrees can cost from $3,377 to $16,898 per year on average while bachelor's degrees average $9,349 to $35,807 per year according to the Education Data Initiative [3].

Time investment

An associate degree in business may typically be referred to as a “two-year” degree. That’s because many programs take an average of two years to complete. There are factors that impact the length of time the program requires. For example, if you attend school full-time and take 15 credit hours each semester, you'll complete your requirements in four semesters or two academic years. If you opt to complete your schooling part-time because of personal or professional commitments, it could take four years or longer to earn your associate degree. Some schools may also offer an accelerated option, which could allow you to get your associate degree in as little as 12 to 18 months.

Ability to enter the work field quickly and grow your career

Because it only takes around two years to get an associate degree, you’ll be able to get an entry-level job in the business field and start gaining experience faster than if you were getting your bachelor’s degree. Having an associate degree in business often helps you stand out among other applicants because it demonstrates your mastery of certain skills. It may also provide you with more opportunities to move up after you've been hired. Additionally, by earning an associate degree in business, you can explore the various fields of the industry and the areas in which you’d like to focus on before committing to further education and determine if it’s the right degree for you. 

What jobs can you do with an associate degree in business? 

By getting your associate degree in business, you can advance your career in the company you’re currently working in. You can also access a variety of business-related jobs ranging from administrative roles to banking to sales and more. 

Administrative assistant

As an administrative assistant, your day-to-day tasks will largely vary depending on your employer and your work location. You might work for a specific person or for an entire department, and you may have to report to upper management. Common duties include scheduling meetings, answering calls, managing mail, managing supplies, writing emails, and performing clerical tasks to keep business operations moving forward. 

Banker

As a banker, you'll provide customer service and manage client relationships. You'll need to gain familiarity with the services and products offered by your employer so you can answer your clients’ questions and help guide them to make the right financial decisions. You'll typically work as a central point of contact for individuals and for businesses, which may have more complex account issues. 

Customer service manager

In this role, you'll perform a variety of tasks including: managing accounts payable and receivables, managing company goals and targets, enacting process improvement opportunities for optimal customer service, and providing leadership to the customer associates and representatives that work as part of the team. You could start out as a customer service associate and work your way up to a management position, or you could get hired as a manager. Although 45.6 percent of customer service managers have a bachelor's degree according to Zippia [4], having an associate degree in business is also common.

Store manager 

As a store manager, you'll spend a lot of your time training employees and managing work schedules for the store. You may also order inventory, help customers, evaluate what your store's competitors are doing, and set up shop displays. Additionally, you'll  head the sales team by setting goals, creating training programs, and analyzing data. You might also be in charge of the store's budgets and be tasked with attracting new customers and helping to improve the experience of existing customers.

Sales support specialist

As a sales support specialist, you'll perform a variety of tasks to support the sales team. This may include doing market research, cold calling prospects, and getting materials ready. You might also help provide solutions to product-related issues, help carry out customer requests, and maintain client records. As a sales support specialist, you’ll also manage the help desk or online chats to provide sales-related support. 

Account manager

As an account manager, you’ll provide customer service to your dedicated accounts. You'll manage client accounts, answer questions, provide solutions, and contribute to your company's ability to provide a positive client experience. 

Human resources

As a human resources professional, you'll work closely with employees, to help them understand their benefits and deal with any compliance or disciplinary issues. You may also oversee hiring, onboarding, and training processes, and you may be required to bridge the gap between management and employees. To further your career and move into management, you’ll need to become well versed in governmental regulations and employment law, and you may need to pursue an advanced degree.

Next steps

Pursuing an associate degree in business may be an effective step in furthering your education and increasing your business knowledge. Explore areas of business you want to study with more than 5,000 courses, certificates, and degrees on Coursera. Join our global community and start learning today

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Article sources  

1. Institute of Medical and Business Careers. “Yes, an Associate Degree in Business Is Worth It (And Here’s Why!), https://imbc.edu/2020/04/29/yes-an-associate-degree-in-business-is-worth-it-and-heres-why/.” Accessed March 27, 2022.

2. Frank Financial Aid. “How Many Credits Do You Need for an Associate Degree?, https://withfrank.org/how-to-pay-for-college/how-does-college-work/degrees/how-many-credits-do-you-need-for-an-associates-degree/.” Accessed March 27, 2022

3. The Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of College [2022]: Yearly Tuition + Expenses, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college.” Accessed March 27, 2022.

4. Zippia. “How to Become a Customer Service Manager in 2022: Step by Step Guide and Career Paths, https://www.zippia.com/customer-service-manager-jobs/.” Accessed March 27, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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