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Guide to Business Administration Associate Degrees

Usmaan Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 2/24/2022

An associate degree in business administration introduces the fundamentals of business: marketing, accounting, and operations. After graduating with this degree, students are likely to find employment in sales, customer service, or management.

According to the Institute of Education Sciences, more than 115,000 associate degrees in business were awarded in 2019, and many schools offer distance learning programs for this credential. Earning an associate degree online could be the best option for students who need to fit classes around their busy schedules. A typical business administration associate takes two years of full-time study to complete and requires a minimum of 60 credit hours. If speed is a student’s primary objective, they can choose an accelerated program or transfer credits from previous college experience to finish their degree in less than two years. On the other hand, part-time students can take anywhere from three to five years.

Admission requirements for an associate degree in business vary by program. In general, students need a high school diploma or GED equivalent as well as a minimum 2.0 GPA. Applicants may also have to submit ACT or SAT scores.

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Is Business Administration an A.A. or A.S. degree?

Students can either pursue an online Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.) in business administration. While both degrees include curricula on business topics, they differ in terms of the general education courses they offer. Students pursuing an A.A. take courses in the humanities and social sciences — including history, sociology, and literature. By contrast, those studying for an A.S. typically take classes in mathematics and science.

Both A.A. and A.S. degrees prepare students to join the workforce, but neither degree has a distinct advantage over the other.

Both A.A. and A.S. degrees prepare students to join the workforce, but neither degree has a distinct advantage over the other. Prospective students should consider their future education goals before deciding which degree to tackle. An A.A. degree is more suitable for students who want to pursue an in-person or online bachelor's in the humanities and social sciences, while an A.S. is better for those who hope to gain a bachelor's in a field of study driven by math or science.

If you remain undecided about your major, explore some of the best online associate degrees that offer the highest return on your investment.


Colleges and universities are periodically evaluated for the quality of education they provide through a process called accreditation. Higher education institutions voluntarily undertake this scrutiny by independent governmental or non-profit organizations because being an accredited institution means that a school meets nationally recognized standards for educational quality. Additionally, only students enrolled in an accredited institution — whether online or on-campus — can apply for and receive financial aid. Attending an accredited college or university can also help ensure that a student can transfer their existing college credits. To check whether your preferred school is accredited, use the U.S. Department of Education’s search tool.

Schools and colleges can receive multiple accreditations, but most receive institutional accreditation from national or regional bodies. In some cases, specific degree programs can also meet educational standards in a given discipline. For example, two bodies accredit business administration degree programs at the associate level: the International Accreditation Council for Business Education and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Common Courses in Business Administration

The curriculum for an associate degree program in business administration typically includes coursework in finance, accounting, operations management, microeconomics, and macroeconomics. With a grounding in these fundamentals, college students can go on to pursue a bachelor's degree in business or a related field, such as project management, human resource management, or marketing. The following courses are often required when pursuing an associate in business administration.


This course is designed to help prepare students with bookkeeping skills and payroll expertise. Students should learn how to document, record, and summarize financial transactions for businesses. The coursework typically covers accounting theory, the value of current assets, and instructions on reporting financial information.

Business Communications

Given the increasingly global nature of business operations, this course focuses on preparing students to engage in different social and cultural settings. Overall, it covers how to communicate in any real-world business environment effectively. Students learn verbal and nonverbal communication techniques, especially methods for avoiding conflict in international business situations.

Business Law

In this course, students strive to learn about the U.S. legal system as it relates to business activities, and it often includes a focus on cyber law. The faculty may introduce topics, such as product liability, employment law, and regulations relevant to sales and business liabilities.

Introduction to Macroeconomics

Business leaders, executives, and employees should understand how the economy functions. This business course is designed to teach students the basic principles of macroeconomic theory. Students should gain an understanding about how economic indicators shape and are shaped by the business world. Faculty may also introduce them to concepts such as GDP, demand, and supply.

Introduction to Statistics

Businesses are increasingly relying on data to make decisions. In this course, students learn the basics of statistical analysis. The course aims to cover complex topics, such as probability and descriptive statistics, while providing students with the skills to visualize and present the results of data analyses.

Principles of Finance

This foundational course is meant to teach students how they can evaluate a business’ financial standing, and it should also explain how both financial markets and the banking system relate to businesses. It may also introduce students to important concepts, such as shareholder wealth, dividends, and valuation.

Educational Advancement

Many students decide to continue their education after completing an associate degree in business administration at a community college. Though this credential is designed to equip graduates with the business skills to begin a career in this field, it can also be used to transition into a four-year bachelor's program. Depending on the courses students take, they could complete a bachelor's in two years of full-time study after transferring the credits they derived from an associate degree.

Many of the subjects taught in a business administration associate program cover a wide range of knowledge, from problem-solving to critical thinking, which is applicable across other career choices besides business. Though transferring to business management or a related bachelor's may seem like the obvious path, students with an associate degree in this field can also choose to transition into entirely different degree programs. However, pursuing a non-business bachelor's degree may require that students take prerequisites as electives, thereby increasing the time it takes them to complete a bachelor's.

A transfer associate degree may be more suitable for those determined to pursue a bachelor's.

Individuals who complete a non-transfer associate should work with an educational advisor to determine which credits can be applied to a four-year credential. It is also important to note that an associate degree is distinct from a transfer degree. While similar to an A.A. or A.S. in terms of structure and credit requirements, a transfer degree is specifically designed to transition students into their junior year of a bachelor's degree. Therefore, a transfer associate may be more suitable for those determined to pursue a bachelor's.

Careers with an Associate Degree in Business Administration

An associate degree in business administration equips students with knowledge about key operations — such as financial accounting, information technology, and human resources — while also helping them develop general skills, such as decision-making in a business environment. This background makes associate degree alumni qualified for many entry-level positions in areas such as administration, finance, and marketing.

Similarly, graduates can pursue careers in a variety of business sectors. Some careers in this field only require a high school diploma, but an associate degree may strengthen an applicant's employment chances. Still, it's important to note that the demand for these occupations is either below the U.S. average of 8% or expected to decline through 2030. The low job growth may be due to the development of technology, which has enabled some office managers to perform certain tasks on their own. Below are some potential careers in this field, featuring salary and job outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Administrative Assistants
Median Annual Salary: $40,990
Job Growth Projection: -7%

Administrative assistants are responsible for ensuring that daily business operations run smoothly. Also known as secretaries, administrative assistants coordinate meetings, answer phone calls, prepare reports, and offer general support to mid- and upper-level executives.

Median Annual Salary: $42,410
Job Growth Projection: -3%

Bookkeepers carry out tasks to organize a business’ financial information, which may involve entering it into Microsoft Excel or other relevant software to produce balance sheets, verify income statements, and track daily expenditures.

Human Resource Assistants
Median Annual Salary: $36,920
Job Growth Projection: 2%

Human resource assistants, also referred to as information clerks, aid HR managers in a variety of tasks: recording employee information, producing paystubs, and keeping track of compensation and benefits. While they are not involved in the recruitment process for new employees, HR assistants ensure that collected data is accurate.

Office Clerks
Median Annual Salary: $35,330
Job Growth Projection: -2%

Office clerks perform general administrative duties, such as answering phone calls, delivering mail internally, greeting customers, and processing data. Their role and day-to-day tasks often vary based on the industry they work in, which is highly varied.

Median Annual Salary: $27,320
Job Growth Projection: -1%

Salespersons, or retail sales workers, can be found working in places that range from car dealerships to insurance companies. Their job is to convince potential customers to buy a particular product or service. They spend the majority of their time answering customer questions, advertising seasonal or monthly offers, or recommending products.

Is an Online Associate Degree in Business Administration Worth It?

Before investing in a college degree, it may be helpful to evaluate your personal and financial circumstances and research what an online associate degree in business administration can help you achieve. In general, an online degree can be convenient if you can't relocate or simply need to fit classes around your busy schedule. On the other hand, online learning programs can make it difficult for you to network, which may be particularly vital when securing employment in the business world. Ultimately, you should take the time to consider a wide range of factors before enrolling.

Potential Benefits

You may increase your earnings potential. On average, associate degree holders earn $157 more per week than high school graduates. While high school graduates can apply for the same jobs as associate degree holders, having a business degree may give applicants a competitive edge. An online associate in business administration may help foster more career opportunities than a high school diploma.

An associate in business can be a versatile degree that keeps your educational and career options open. The general business knowledge gained through an online program's curriculum may apply to various work environments across occupations and industries. This midway credential between a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree may also give you enough college experience to determine whether you want to continue higher education or enter the workforce.

Potential Drawbacks

The job outlook for many positions that business associate graduates can apply for is generally unfavorable. The BLS predicts some of the typical job openings for associate degree holders are likely to decrease through 2030. For example, the BLS projects that the job outlook for legal secretaries and administrative assistants will drop by as much as 21% through 2030.

The ability to transfer from an associate degree to a bachelor's program is not guaranteed. According to a 2020 report by the RP Group, bureaucratic procedures can make it challenging for students to transition into a bachelor's program. Additionally, if you hope to continue your education but remain undecided about pursuing business, an associate degree in business could limit the credits you can transfer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take To Get a Business Administration Associate Degree?

It generally takes full-time students two years to earn a business administration associate degree. However, it may take longer for part-time students.

What Can I Do With an Associate Degree in Business Administration?

There are a variety of job options for business associate degree graduates. Some common occupations include human resource and administrative assistants, bookkeepers, office clerks, and salespersons. Graduates may also choose to use their credits to transfer to four-year business degree programs.

How Much Money Can I Make With an Associate Degree in Business Administration?

Generally, the annual median salary for an employee with an associate degree was $55,870 in 2020. However, salaries for business associate degree graduates may vary depending on the industry, location, and prior work experience. For example, the bottom 10% of administrative assistants earned $26,880 in 2020, while the top 10% earned $67,510. The range for bookkeepers was also significant: $27,050 to $63,900.

Additional Resources

A variety of resources are available to support students pursuing an online business administration program. Several professional business organizations have forums where communities can engage and discuss the pros and cons of their education and profession and learn from each others' experiences. For example, LinkedIn could be a helpful place to get started. This site promotes professional networking with others who have similar educational backgrounds and career interests. Learning through the direct experiences of others may provide insight into how potential academic and career paths could look. We've identified several other organizations to explore that may provide opportunities for networking, mentorship, and guidance:

American Business Women's Association (ABWA) brings women of diverse occupations together to share their knowledge and expertise of best practices. Their overall mission is to support and advocate for women in business. Members can attend conferences and educational events. In addition, ABWA partners with several organizations to offer scholarships to their student members.

Business Professionals of America has over 45,000 members and 1,800 chapters across the U.S., and they support students pursuing careers in business, office administration, finance, and IT. Students can join school or virtual chapters to connect with others, and student members can apply for scholarships and recognition awards to help pay for college.

DECA — formerly known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America — helps high school and college students prepare for professional business careers. Members can attend educational conferences, participate in competitive events, network through social media, and work on community services projects to help build leadership skills. DECA also partners with several large corporations to award over $200,000 in scholarships to its members.

Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL) supports students' professional development through career preparation and leadership experiences. This organization has a networking platform and learning center that enables its members to engage within the FBLA-PBL community. High school and college students can apply for scholarships to help pay for business degrees.

The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) is the world's largest professional HR society, with over 300,000 members globally who work together to support the HR profession. Members can access the latest HR news, best practices, and other professional HR tools and resources.

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