How many hours equals an associate’s degree?

An associate’s degree is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, bachelor’s degree-granting colleges, and universities upon completion of a course of study usually lasting two years. It is earned while working towards a bachelor’s degree at four year colleges or universities in the United States.

In order to earn an associate’s degree, students must complete a specific number of credit hours in their major or field of study as well as meet general education requirements. The number of credit hours required depends on the specific program, school policies, and course load each semester. Most associate’s degree programs require students to complete 60 credit hours, which is approximately equivalent to four semesters of full-time study.

Number of Credit Hours for an Associate’s Degree

The standard number of credit hours required for an associate’s degree is 60 semester credits. However, the exact requirements can vary by school and program.

Here is an overview of the typical credit hour requirements:

  • 60 semester credits or 90 quarter credits
  • Approximately 20 courses
  • Full-time students take 15 credits per semester (30 credits per year)
  • With a full course load, an associate’s degree takes 2 years

Most schools structure associate’s degree programs as either 60 credits or approximately 20 courses to equal the 2-year length. Taking a full-time course load of 15 credits per semester, students can complete an associate’s degree in 2 academic years.

Some examples of typical credit requirements by program:

  • Associate of Arts: 60 credits
  • Associate of Science: 60 credits
  • Associate of Applied Science: 60-72 credits
  • Associate of General Studies: 60 credits

While 60 credits is the standard, some programs like nursing or other technical fields may require additional credits or have prerequisites that extend the time to earn the degree. However, most students can expect their associate’s degree to consist of 60 credits or 20 courses.

Calculating Credits and Course Loads

When calculating how long it takes to complete an associate’s degree, it helps to understand how credits and course loads work. Here’s an overview:

  • 1 credit = 1 hour of instruction per week for a 15 week semester
  • A 3 credit course = 3 hours of class time per week
  • A full-time course load is typically 12-15 credits per semester
  • Full-time students take 2-5 courses per semester

So for a typical 3 credit course, students attend class for 3 hours per week and should expect 6 hours of outside study or homework. Over a 15 week semester, that equals 45 hours of instructional time and 90 hours of work outside of class for a total of 135 hours of time spent on that 1 course.

To estimate time spent on a degree, multiply the credit hours by 135. For example:

  • 60 credit degree x 135 hours per credit = 8,100 total hours
  • 20 courses x 135 hours per course = 2,700 hours per course

This is why an associate’s degree is considered approximately equivalent to 2 years of full time study. By taking a full course load each semester, you spend around 4,050 hours on your degree each year (15 credits x 135 hours per credit).

Typical Timeline for an Associate’s Degree

The standard timeline for completing an associate’s degree by taking a full-time course load is 2 academic years. Here is a breakdown:

Year 1

  • Fall: 15 credits
  • Spring: 15 credits
  • Total: 30 credits (or 10 3-credit courses)

Year 2

  • Fall: 15 credits
  • Spring: 15 credits
  • Total: 30 credits (or 10 3-credit courses)

Total for Associate’s Degree: 60 credits

By taking 15 credits each fall and spring semester, you can complete a typical 60 credit associate’s degree in just 2 years. Some students choose to also take courses in the summer to accelerate their timeline or lighten their course load during the school year. Others may need to attend part-time and extend their timeline depending on their work and family obligations.

How Many Hours Per Week for an Associate’s Degree?

Given a 15 credit full-time course load, how many hours per week should students expect to spend on their associate’s degree classes and study?

Here is an estimate:

  • 15 credits x 3 hours of class time per credit = 45 hours in class
  • Plan 2 hours of study time per hour in class = 90 hours of study
  • Total: 45 hours in class + 90 hours of study = 135 hours per week

This averages out to about 19 hours per day spent on your degree if you take a full 15 credit schedule. This assumes 5 days per week with around 3 hours of classes and 6 hours of study time each day.

Your actual time will vary by course, your study habits, and enrollment status. For example, taking just two 3-credit courses would cut this estimate in half. Some courses have labs or clinical rotations that increase class time as well. But in general, you can expect to spend as much time studying as you do in class for each course.

Study Time Needed

To successfully complete an associate’s degree in two years, dedicate sufficient study time in addition to attending all classes. Here are some tips:

  • Plan to spend 2-3 hours of study time per week for each credit hour enrolled.
  • For a 3 credit course, expect 6-9 study hours per week.
  • Schedule regular blocks for studying and homework each day.
  • Studying a little bit daily is more effective than cramming.
  • Stay organized with calendars and to-do lists.
  • Find a quiet place to study and minimize distractions.
  • Create a study group to stay motivated.
  • Ask professors if you need help understanding concepts.

Making studying a priority and scheduling enough time to truly learn the material is key to succeeding in an associate’s degree program.

Sample Weekly Schedule

To give you an idea of what a typical week studying full-time for an associate’s degree might look like, here is an example:


  • English Composition 101: 9am – 12pm (3 hour lecture)
  • Study: 12pm – 3pm (3 hours)
  • General Biology: 3pm – 4pm (1 hour lab)
  • Study: 5pm – 7pm (2 hours)


  • General Psychology: 9am – 11am (2 hour lecture)
  • Study: 12pm – 2pm (2 hours)
  • Intro to Statistics: 2pm – 4pm (2 hour lecture)
  • Study: 6pm – 8pm (2 hours)


  • English Composition 101: 9am – 12pm (3 hour lecture)
  • Study: 1pm – 3pm (2 hours)
  • Work: 4pm – 9pm (5 hours)


  • General Psychology: 9am – 11am (2 hour lecture)
  • Study: 12pm – 2pm (2 hours)
  • Intro to Statistics: 2pm – 4pm (2 hour lecture)
  • Study: 7pm – 9pm (2 hours)


  • General Biology: 9am – 11am (2 hour lecture)
  • Study: 12pm – 3pm (3 hours)
  • Work: 4pm – 9pm (5 hours)

As you can see, a full-time schedule requires dedication with nearly a full work week spent on classes and studying. But this investment in time leads to greater career opportunities after graduating in just 2 years.

Calculating Hours from Credits

If you know the number of credits required, you can easily calculate the total time spent using the following estimates:

  • 1 credit = 15 hours of class time per semester
  • Plan on 2-3x class time for studying
  • So 1 credit = 45-90 hours per semester including study time

Using this conversion:

  • 60 credit associate’s degree = 60 credits x 45 hours per credit = 2,700 hours
  • With maximum study time: 60 credits x 90 hours per credit = 5,400 hours

While your actual time will vary, this gives a ballpark estimate to understand the time investment required. The key is dedicating sufficient study time outside the classroom to truly master the material.

Semester vs. Quarter Systems

Some schools follow a quarter system rather than semesters. In a quarter system:

  • Each quarter is 10-11 weeks long
  • There are 3 quarters in an academic year
  • Students take 10 credits per quarter
  • Standard associate’s degrees require 90 quarter credits

So while the course loads and pace of instruction are accelerated in a quarter system, the total hours and time to complete an associate’s remains approximately equivalent to 60 semester credits.

Factors That Impact Time to Completion

While most associate’s degrees are designed to take 2 years of full-time study, there are several factors that can lengthen or shorten that timeframe:

  • Enrollment status – Full-time is faster than part-time
  • Credit load – Taking the maximum credits each term speeds up completion
  • Failing courses – May require retaking classes and delay graduation
  • Changing majors – Adds extra courses not needed for your degree
  • developmental classes – Must be taken before college-level courses
  • Prerequisite courses – Key foundational courses must be taken first
  • Summer courses – Allows you to catch up or get ahead
  • Work and family demands – May need to reduce course load

Create a course schedule and academic plan that takes into account your specific circumstances and needs. An academic advisor can also help ensure you take courses in the optimal sequence.


While associate’s degree requirements vary, most consist of around 60 semester credits or 90 quarter credits. This is equivalent to approximately 20-30 college-level courses or 2 years of full-time study.

By dedicating sufficient time to your studies, attending class consistently, and following your course sequence, you can successfully earn an associate’s degree within the standard 2 year timeline. The investment of around 4,050 hours per year provides you with valuable skills, career opportunities, and a stepping stone towards further education through a bachelor’s degree.

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