Associate's degrees require two years of undergraduate work in a particular field. They're essentially half a bachelor's degree and accordingly rank as the lowest of the college degrees. Many community colleges and junior colleges offer associate's degrees; regular universities sometimes offer them as well, but many award a certificate, not a degree, for associate's-level work and do not allow students to get the certificate unless they are also earning a bachelor's degree.

Some associate's programs serve as technical schools; these programs try to provide their students with skills in a particular field (like graphic arts or carpentry, for example). Others simply provide a general introduction to a particular topic, just like an undergraduate major. Although the former programs are generally more useful in the job market, the latter type provides a flexible and relatively inexpensive way to begin a college education; they're accordingly popular among older adults or students with other obligations (like children or a full-time job). Many of these students then go on to get a bachelor's or other higher degree.

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