To earn an associate degree at a community or technical college, a student must complete 90 quarter or 60 semester credits. By design, this is the same number of credits needed to complete the first two years of a bachelor's degree program.
The bachelor's degree generally requires completion of a total 180 quarter or 120 semester credits over a four-year period. Bachelor's and associate degrees require students to complete credits in three types of course material.
General Education courses cover a broad range of basic subjects, including mathematics; communication (writing, speaking); science (biology, chemistry); social science (sociology, anthropology); and the humanities (literature, history, world languages).
The knowledge and reasoning skills gained through these courses generally is considered an essential base from which to attain further, more specific education. These courses make up from 60 to 70 quarter credits of an associate degree, or the first two years of a bachelor's degree.
Preparation for Major Courses
Additional credits required for an associate degree usually focus on a specific area of emphasis. Several associate transfer degrees prepare students to transfer to specific bachelor's degree programs at four-year colleges and universities. See the Transfer Pathways section.
Students seeking a bachelor's degree also are expected to complete some major-specific preparatory courses in the first two years. Some programs such as engineering require a comparatively large number of major-specific preparatory courses. Others, such as history, require fewer.
Associate and bachelor’s degree programs also provide opportunities for students to explore from 20 to 50 quarter credits in elective courses. Fewer electives are allowed for bachelor's students in fields such as business, teacher preparation, the sciences, technology, and engineering. In other fields, many more electives are allowed. Because electives constitute a small percentage of total credits, students are encouraged to select them carefully.