Accredited Online Associate Degree in Liberal Arts

Compare Degrees, Coursework and Career Potential

An associate degree in liberal arts builds critical thinking and analytical skills for individuals seeking entry-level positions in industries like social services, administration, retail, and business. A liberal arts degree also allows professionals to advance within their current role as they gain valuable communication and decision-making competencies.

The curriculum of an online liberal arts associate degree incorporates work in the humanities, social sciences, and history. Students gain insight into cultures, perspectives, and practices around the world, building a base from which they can continue their studies. With an associate degree in liberal arts, learners are positioned to pursue a bachelor's degree in history, English, creative and fine arts, or numerous other disciplines.

What Is a Liberal Arts Associate Degree?

Liberal arts programs are distinct from technical and professional programs as they emphasize the humanities and social sciences rather than science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics. According to the Association for American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), a liberal education embraces coursework that prepares learners to appreciate the importance of diversity and change. Through a liberal arts-based curriculum, students learn to communicate, analyze, and solve problems while gaining a sense of responsibility for their role in society.

An online liberal arts associate degree prepares students for lifelong learning and social engagement. With a liberal arts foundation, students develop critical thinking and analytical skills that encourage continued intellectual exploration. A liberal arts degree also helps students build and maintain personal and communal relationships as they gain knowledge related to art, nature, human behavior, and language.

Aside from the personal benefit associated with liberal arts study, learners can apply communication and problem-solving skills throughout their professional lives. Liberal arts degrees prepare students for entry-level careers in growing areas like business, social services, and law. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), legal assistants positions are projected to increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028.

An associate degree in liberal arts also provides a foundation for students to transition into bachelor's degree programs in the humanities and social services. With a comprehensive introductory curriculum, an associate degree in liberal arts helps prepare learners to take advanced classes in subjects such as history, English, psychology, and sociology.

Why Earn an Online Liberal Arts Degree?

The interdisciplinary nature of an associate degree in liberal arts gives students opportunities to explore humanity and society through numerous lenses. Liberal arts degrees also hone critical thinking and analytical skills, and learners develop a multidisciplinary perspective of the world.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking allows individuals to apply clear, rational processes to ideas and concepts. This form of thinking involves making logical connections, exploring new beliefs, and remaining skeptical yet unbiased.

Analytical Skills

Analytical skills involve the collection of information for the purpose of synthesis. Analysis can also mean deconstructing large concepts into smaller, individual points. These skills prepare individuals to solve problems and make decisions in personal and professional contexts.

Written and Verbal Communication

Effective written and verbal communication is at the core of human interaction. A liberal arts degree builds understanding of the English language, public speaking, and interpersonal communication and provides additional insights into cultural and social aspects of idea exchange.

Ethical Insights

Ethical insights give individuals access to different moral perspectives as they relate to personal and professional choices. With the ability to identify ethical behaviors, choices, and responsibilities, liberal arts students can act and live by a set of consistent moral values.

Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism involves a sensitivity to other cultures, awareness and curiosity about different beliefs and traditions, empathy, and contextual understanding. Multiculturalism may also involve multilingual skills.

Career and Salary Potential with an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts

Liberal arts associate degrees prepare students for careers in private and public sectors. While no college degree guarantees a specific job or salary, the skills gained through liberal arts study allow learners to explore positions in business, healthcare, education, and human or social services. Professionals can also advance at their current place of employment by building communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Many associate degrees in liberal arts also have specializations, building specific skills applicable to work as paralegals, accounting assistants, or administrative clerks.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Median Annual Salary: $50,940

Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 12%

Paralegals and legal assistants work alongside lawyers. They keep records, organize files, carry out research, and conduct interviews, as needed. Paralegals and legal assistants may also draft legal documents or conduct correspondence with clients and other legal professionals. They may also participate in trials, depositions, and other legal proceedings.
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

Median Annual Salary: $40,350

Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 11%

Medical records and health information technicians maintain and organize data in medical offices, hospitals, and similar settings. They may require training related to medical coding and terminology and/or electronic health records software. Medical records and health information technicians interact with nurses, doctors, and insurance professionals, ensuring payments and data are exchanged in a timely, accurate manner.
Financial Clerks

Median Annual Salary: $39,570

Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 5%

Financial clerks can work as billing and posting clerks, brokerage clerks, insurance claims and processing clerks, or payroll and timekeeping clerks. As individuals who carry out financial transactions, keep financial records, and work with customers and clients, financial clerks perform their duties at insurance companies, businesses and corporations, casinos, and other similar locations.
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

Median Annual Salary: $40,240

Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): -4%

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks keep records using bookkeeping software, spreadsheets, and databases. They record purchases and payments while keeping track of income and other financial exchanges. They also reconcile financial statements and check records for accuracy and compliance with regulations.
Lodging Managers

Median Annual Salary: $53,390

Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 1%

Lodging managers work in the hospitality industry, overseeing the financial, human resource, and guest service aspects at hotels, motels, and resorts. Lodging managers handle budgets, approve expenditures, and interview and hire employees. They may also participate in advertising, food service, and public relations activities.

Source: BLS

Earning an Associate in Liberal Arts Online

Students interested in an associate degree in liberal arts should take into consideration the application process, curriculum, and overall time frame of a program. While many online associate degrees have similar admission requirements and coursework, other factors (e.g., transfer policies, degree specializations, and synchronous or asynchronous course options) may influence your choice.

Application Process

Most schools that offer associate degrees in liberal arts require applicants to submit transcripts from high school (or equivalent documentation). Students contact a guidance counselor or other administrative officer at their high school to request transcripts. Learners with a GED (or comparable qualification) similarly contact the granting agency for their documents.

Students who have completed college courses at other institutions can obtain their transcripts from a school's registrar's office. When assessing an associate program, learners should check transfer policies to see if their previous work will count toward the program. Schools may also limit the number of transfer credits a student can apply to their degree. Additionally, schools have GPA requirements for transfer credits.

Transfer credit may also be awarded for professional training, military education, and certifications/licensure, as appropriate. Active members of the military, their spouses and dependents, and military veterans may also receive special tuition discounts.

Alongside a formal application, learners may also need to pay an application fee. Application fees typically range from $0-$100, depending on the institution and the program.

Common Courses

Composition and Rhetoric

A composition and rhetoric course emphasizes writing in personal, academic, and professional contexts. Students learn how to use language to convey ideas through argument, persuasion, and reflection. Composition and rhetoric classes also train learners to research, write collaboratively, and cite their sources according to different citation styles.

Business Computer Skills

Business computer skills classes focus on hardware and software used in business settings. Participants learn to use various word processing, database, presentation, and communication applications. Business computer skills coursework also hones keyboarding, troubleshooting, and document development competencies.

Public Speaking

A public speaking class focuses on verbal communication. Students present multiple speeches, which are often persuasive or informative in nature. Coursework introduces students to the elements of rhetorical situations by exploring the roles responsibilities of audience members and speakers alongside the content and considerations of speeches themselves.

Introduction to Social Science

Introductory coursework in social science provides a holistic look at sociology. By exploring theories and practices of sociology, students learn how individuals and groups interact. They also assess issues of identity, stereotyping, and culture as they relate to everyday events. Students may take part in comparative exercises to gain an understanding of different social science approaches and contexts.

World Civilizations

Coursework in world civilizations focuses on history and geography as they have shaped the contemporary world. Learners study individuals, events, and groups that have developed over time and their roles within the larger historical spectrum. Students may learn about social trends, cultural beliefs, political changes, and economic factors to assess how people and their surroundings have changed over time.

Average Online Degree Length

The curricula for online associate degrees in liberal arts typically include about 60 credits. Most students earn an associate degree in two years, although part-time learners generally complete their program in 3-4 years. Online programs offer learners the flexibility to take one or two classes each semester and complete coursework on a more convenient schedule. Alternatively, on-campus programs tend to be more structured and require students to attend lectures, take exams, and complete assignments at specific times.

Students interested in earning an associate degree in less than two years can enroll in an accelerated program. Full-time students and accelerated learners may also pay less tuition over time; many schools charge a flat tuition rate to participants who take 12 or more credits per term. Students who earn online liberal arts associate degrees can also take advantage of transfer opportunities to shorten their degree timeline.

Skills, Traits, and Knowledge Gained

An associate degree in liberal arts includes a broad curriculum. Students build versatile knowledge and skills, which they can use to communicate with individuals and groups, analyze data, and apply broad concepts to their personal and professional lives. Similarly, coursework introduces students to different cultures, ideas, and traditions in the interest of creating empathetic, engaged citizens of the world.

By earning an associate degree in liberal arts, learners develop critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving competencies used in business, human services, and educational careers. A liberal arts education emphasizes the communication skills needed to provide administrative support within corporate and organizational settings. Coursework also prepares learners to work in entry-level positions with community organizations, social agencies, and educational institutions.

Online liberal arts associate degree tracks may offer specializations in healthcare and health information, preparing learners for entry-level positions in medical offices and at hospitals. Alternatively, an associate degree in liberal arts that emphasizes paralegal studies offers learners the opportunity to enter the legal profession, working alongside lawyers to prepare and organize legal documents.

The interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts degree allows students to transfer into a variety of baccalaureate programs. By gaining insight into many subjects, learners can study liberal arts as a general major in a four-year program. Students can also focus on one element of the humanities, pursuing a degree in history, English, fine arts, or a related field.

Accreditation for Liberal Arts Associate Programs

Students should identify the accrediting agencies of potential schools because this can impact their financial aid and transfer credit options. All reputable colleges and universities in the United States hold regional or national accreditation.

Regional accreditation is granted through one of several regional bodies recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education. Schools work closely with their accrediting body to maintain academic standards and educational rigor. Regional accreditation indicates a more research-focused institution, in contrast to national accreditation, which is typically awarded to schools that provide vocational, technical, and career-oriented program. Regional accreditation is more widely accepted, and regionally accredited schools may not accept transfer credits from a nationally accredited institution.

Some programs and departments may hold specialized accreditation through an agency specifically related to the discipline. An accrediting body that recognizes liberal arts program is the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE). Accreditation through AALE ensures a program maintains the highest standards, as defined by the organization.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations offer learners opportunities to network, find jobs, and collaborate. Many professional organizations have resources for students and practitioners alike, allowing both to stay current in the field. These organizations may offer continuing education programs, scholarship opportunities, and discussion boards and newsletters. Professional liberal arts organizations may also hold annual conferences and other events, giving participants an opportunity to interact face-to-face with colleagues.

Association of American Colleges and Universities

AAC&U seeks to advance liberal education by building quality and equity within undergraduate programs. Member institutions around the United States and internationally work together and with outside partners, focusing on diversity and student success, global citizenship, curricula quality, and advocacy initiatives. Additional resources include publications, events, and an up-to-date newsroom.


Humanities Education and Research Association

HERA — a professional organization for humanities educators, scholars, and professionals — promotes the study of the humanities worldwide. HERA bridges lines of communication among individuals in disciplines such as history, philosophy, and the visual arts. Research, scholarship, and event initiatives facilitate communication within the field. Members of HERA receive association publications and newsletters, while the general public can access job postings; lists of humanities institutions; and online museums, libraries, and journals.


The Association for Core Texts and Courses

ACTC works to improve liberal education by encouraging and supporting the use of core texts. ACTC holds annual conferences and provides publications to individuals, institutions, and corporate entities. Members can participate in one of ACTC's committees. Resources provided by ACTC include an annual newsletter, a directory, and projects offered through the Liberal Arts Institute.

Next Steps: Continuing Your Education

An associate degree in liberal arts establishes a foundation for continued study. Many colleges and schools offer bachelor's degrees in liberal studies, giving students the opportunity to continue along an interdisciplinary, humanities-based program. Learners who seek to earn a bachelor's degree in fields such as history, philosophy, the creative arts, or related disciplines can also transfer their degree to a four-year institution.

Transferring to a Four-year Degree Program

Consisting of roughly 60 credits, an associate degree constitutes the first two years of a four-year degree. Students pursuing an online liberal arts associate degree who plan to transfer to a bachelor's program should look up the transfer policies and procedures of prospective schools. Many institutions have articulation agreements in place, facilitating transfer between participating schools.

Learners should also work closely with their academic advisors as they look to their future studies. Students interested in specific programs, such as history, should complete coursework in anticipation of a four-year degree in the discipline.

Additional Degree Paths to Consider

A liberal arts degree serves as a core base for many careers in business, social services, law, and government service. With coursework in English, public speaking, and computer applications, liberal arts students build a solid background in communication — an essential part of any baccalaureate program. Classes in psychology, sociology, and history also build critical thinking and analytical skills that are applicable to many four-year degrees.

  • Bachelor's Degree in History: A bachelor's degree in history prepares students for careers as educators and researchers, as well as for continued study. History programs explore historical time periods and the individuals, events, and changes that have led to the present.
  • Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies: A legal studies bachelor's degree includes foundational classes in law, criminal justice, ethics, and legal processes. Students interested in continuing on to law school or entering careers in law, law enforcement, and criminal justice gain essential knowledge and skills applicable to their goals.
  • Bachelor's Degree in Education: Bachelor's degrees in education train learners to become teachers at the elementary, secondary, or high school level. Students take classes in instruction and curriculum, while also completing practical coursework. Participants also pursue a minor field of study in the specific area they plan to teach. Minor options include liberal arts disciplines such as history, social studies, and English.