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Online Associates Degree Programs in Social Science and Public Affairs

For many students, pursuing an associate’s degree is the perfect start to an academic career or a great way to pursue a particular field. For students who work fulltime,

live distant from the program of their choice, or otherwise depend on a flexible schedule and online accessibility, online associate’s degree programs may provide a wonderful opportunity to pursue an entry-level degree and meet personal, professional, and academic goals. An online associates degree in social science and public affairs may help students gain knowledge and skills in a variety of disciplines and subjects from the comfort and convenience of their own computers. Read on to learn more.

An Online Associates Degree in Social Science and Public Affairs: The Essentials

As categories, social science and public affairs cover a large range of fields and disciplines such as political science, psychology, environmental science, social work, sociology, and others. A great way to think of social science and public affairs is as disciplines devoted to the study of individuals, groups, and society and how they all interact. Programs in these disciplines could focus on the individual (as a psychology program might), the society (as a political science program might), or how the construction of one (the individual, a group, a society, or a government, for example) might influence and interact with another (as a sociology program might). Depending on the focus of the program, any one of these and other subjects could focus on the individual, the collective, or the interaction between the two. If you find this kind of inquiry intriguing, you might consider pursuing a social science or public affairs associate’s degree.

Earning an associates degree in social science or public affairs may help you develop the knowledge you need to pursue a career in a field. Students typically pursue an associates degree through two years of fulltime study. Including their general education, core, and elective requirements, students typically complete 55 to 65 credits to earn their degree. At the end of their program, they might opt to transfer their credits into a bachelor’s degree program. If you plan to transfer to a four-year college, talk to an academic counselor in your online associates degree program and in the program to which you intend to transfer; you’ll need to confirm that your credits will transfer. Students might pursue an online associate’s degree from a community college or a four-year college or university.

Hot tip: Online education may free you up to fully live life while you’re pursuing your degree. Whether you’re working fulltime, traveling, raising a family, or otherwise filling your calendar, online education could grant you a convenient and flexible schedule. Online education may make you free to design school around your life instead of designing your life around school.    

The Nitty Gritty of an Online Associates Degree in Social Science and Public Affairs Programs

Types of Online Associates Degrees in Social Science and Public Affairs

Two popular types of associate’s degree programs in social science and public affairs are the Associate of Arts (A.A.) and the Associate of Science (A.S.). In these types of programs, students typically take general education courses and core and elective courses that fulfill a major or emphasis. Some subjects that students might study in an A.A. or A.S. social science or public affairs program include political science, psychology, environmental science, political science, sociology, human services, and numerous others. Students might study basic information in these subjects broadly, or they might study a specific component of one of the subjects such as developmental psychology, conservation science, or public policy.

As you’re considering what type of online associate’s degree to pursue—an A.A. or A.S.—keep in mind that A.A. programs typically emphasize an interdisciplinary study across or within the social sciences and humanities (sometimes referred to as the “arts”), while A.S. programs typically emphasize studies across and within the physical and biological sciences. While this is the case in many programs, it is not the case in every program, so you should explore a program’s curriculum and objectives extensively to determine what precisely you’ll study.

Potential Curriculum in an Online Associate’s in Social Science or Public Affairs Degree Program

As students pursue credits in their major (an area of social science and public affairs), they commonly pursue basic knowledge across the discipline or within a particular component of the discipline. For example, they might study the basic theories, philosophies, and applications of psychology broadly, or they might study the key components of developmental psychology. In a political science program, they might study political science’s basic theories, philosophies, and applications, or they might study key areas of local governance. It simply depends on the program and its intended outcomes.

As we mentioned above, your online associate’s degree program will likely comprise general, core, and elective credits. Your core credits will likely cover the kind of core information we described above, and your elective credits will likely enable you to dive deeper into a prescribed area of your major or select courses in topics you find interesting. Collectively, your core and elective credit should give you a strong sense of your discipline and field overall. 

To give you a better sense of the difference between core and elective curricula (though the distinction varies from program to program), here are some examples of what you might study through your core curriculum:

  • Introductory elements of psychology, sociology, human development, environmental science, or another subject based on your major
  • Areas of psychology, sociology, human development, environmental science, and other subjects (such as abnormal psychology or marriage and family in a psychology program; accounting principles and public health issues in a human services program; and comparative politics and public policy in a political science program)

Through your elective curriculum, you might study areas like those mentioned above in greater depth, or you might further expand your knowledge by studying additional areas. In a psychology program, for example, you might study memory and cognition, learning and motivation, or sensation and perception; in a political science program, you might study conflict resolution, mass communication, or law and ethics; and in an environmental science program you might study world geography, conservation biology, or environmental law in a particular region.

These are just some of numerous subjects you might study as you pursue your online associates degree in social science and public affairs.

How Might an Online Associates Degree in Social Science and Public Affairs Program Be Structured?

Online associate’s degree programs are typically offered 100 percent online. However, some programs might be hybrid programs. In hybrid programs, students spend some time on campus. They might be required by the hybrid program to attend class or a seminar on campus weekly, monthly, or two to four times over the course of the program. It just depends on the program. To ensure that an online program meets your programming needs, read its description carefully and talk to an advisor to determine whether or not the program requires you to go on campus.

As you engage in your online program, you’ll likely do so using an online platform, such as Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle, and a variety of digital resources (such as libraries and study groups) and functions (such as chat, video, and blogs). If you need to complete lab work as part of your program, you might use specialized technology or go to campus to do your labs. To successfully engage in your online program, you’ll need a computer, an internet connection, and a capacity to work with technology.

As you explore your online options to pursue an associate’s degree, you might see that some programs are asynchronous and others are synchronous. Most online programs are asynchronous, meaning that students access coursework at times most convenient to them. Some online programs might be synchronous, meaning that students must access coursework at specific times but can do so from their own locations.i If you want to be free to access coursework at any time, you can talk to an academic advisor to ensure that your program is asynchronous.

Lastly, take note of whether or not the online associate’s degree programs you’re considering are accredited. If you want to transfer your credits to a four-year school or use your associate’s degree in particular capacities, you might need to prove that your degree comes from an accredited college or university. You can check your school’s accreditation status through the school and the U.S. Department of Education.ii

Did you know? 24 percent of online students are 100 percent free from a college campus: that is, they never set foot on one for the duration of their program. 32 percent went to a college campus 1 to 2 times during their program, and 25 percent did so just 3 to 5 times. In programs with little to no requirement to set foot on a college campus, you’ll find yourself free as a bird to avoid driving time, paying for parking, navigating campus, and otherwise devoting resources to on-campus education. Instead, you could simply turn on your computer and login! It could be that easy!

How Do I Find the Right Online Associates Degree in Social Science or Public Affairs Program For Me?

eLearners makes it easy to explore online associates degree in social science or public affairs programs. Whether you want to pursue an associates degree in social science or another area, we’ve likely found options for you. Simply browse our sponsored listings or use our search tool to refine your search by subject. When you find programs you like, either click the hyperlink or request more information. Through those features, you can contact the program directly for additional information. Feel free to contact as many programs as you like; having knowledge about your different options could empower you to make a perfect choice. We hope you’ll begin the rewarding journey toward earning your online associate’s degree now.


[i]nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009044.pdf [ii]ope.ed.gov/accreditation/