An associate degree is the first step after secondary school toward pursuing a collegiate academic program. These degrees provide students with the fundamental academic and technical knowledge needed for employment or continued study within a desired field. Associate degrees are popular in the United States, and as of 2014 are growing in popularity in the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.
An associate degree requires two years of satisfactory academic performance. For most students, this degree takes at least two years or four semesters of full-time academic study to complete. An associate degree is equivalent to completing the freshman and sophomore levels of college. In order to earn the degree, the student must complete 60 semester credits, or 90 quarter credits, of academic study. Many of these degrees are awarded after completing 20 college-level courses, or the equivalent thereof. In the United States, associate degrees are awarded by technical colleges, community colleges, junior colleges and private career colleges. This degree is also awarded by university institutes and colleges affiliated with universities. Some students use the degree as a prerequisite or preparation tool for a bachelor’s degree, and it can help increase a student's academic opportunities. Other students are able to use the skills and knowledge learned in their associate-degree studies to find jobs in their chosen fields.