Associate degree in secondary education program guide

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Introduction to secondary education

An associate of arts degree (A.A.) in secondary education provides the first 2 years of a 4-year curriculum for students who intend to transfer to a 4-year college or university. Some associate degree programs have dual or joint A.A. and 2+2 program options to facilitate the transition to a 4-year school. These students then go on to earn a bachelor’s degree with a state certification for grades 6-12 in a specialized subject like English, social studies, mathematics, physical education, foreign language, earth science, or biology. Holders of an associate degree can work as teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and tutors.

Students interested in becoming licensed teachers will need to earn their bachelor’s degree in secondary education. However, having an associate’s degree can be beneficial for those who want to work sooner in the classroom and gain experience in this field. Fieldwork experience can solidify their desire to continue pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education or can even result in a change in major. An associate degree in secondary education will help you gain the expertise needed to work with adolescents in the classroom and beyond.

About this degree

If you are considering enrolling in an associate degree program, you will most likely need a high school diploma or GED, and an official high school transcript with a required minimum GPA. Since many community colleges attract students from non-traditional pathways, many programs will not require standard examinations, references, and other prerequisites.

Since some schools offer 2+2 transfer programs, you may need to sign an articulation agreement with your school to ensure the successful transfer of credits from one institution to the next.

If you have already earned a bachelor’s degree, you may be able to transfer college credits to your associate’s degree program. This is sometimes called “reverse transfer” and an advisor can help you create a roadmap that best works for your situation.

Degree flexibility

An associate degree in secondary education usually requires students to complete an in-person teaching internship, and may limit your options in program flexibility. However, since more schools are offering courses online, you can check in with your admissions counselor for the latest information on any changes going forward. Depending on the program and state requirements, you will need to complete a specified amount of hours doing classroom observations of licensed teachers.

If you want to become a teacher, you will need to look into a program that offers school-based student teaching opportunities. In this case, you will be teaching during the day and taking classes in the evening. Depending on your personal commitments, you will have to consider time and distance in earning your associate degree.

Whether you are a college student, career changer, homemaker, or stay at home parent, an associate’s degree in secondary education can help you pivot into education-related careers.


How much does this degree cost?

If you would like to attend classes on campus, you may be eligible for in-state tuition, which is often more affordable than out-of-state tuition.

The average tuition and fees for full-time, public 2-year in-district is $3,770 in 2020-21.

In addition to tuition and fees, you will need to factor in living costs, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses while pursuing your studies.

Financial support

Begin your research into financial support available to students pursuing an associate’s degree in secondary education at Federal Student Aid, where you can complete the FAFSA to check your eligibility. In addition, you can look into eligible for Federal Pell Grants, Federal Perkins Loans, or scholarships.

You can apply for private scholarships depending on your situation. High school graduates and non-traditional learners who are attending community colleges may check to see if community-based organizations, religious organizations, and others offer scholarships, and apply on a timely manner.


The curriculum for an associate’s degree in secondary education varies from program to program.  Typically in your first year you follow general education requirements English composition, mathematics, science, and foreign language. Once required courses are completed, you can take more specialized core classes that prepare you for secondary education. Some of these classes can include:

Introduction to adolescent education

An introductory class in adolescent education gives you perspective on the field of education and how it has changed over time. Students will explore and discuss past and current issues in education, and how to prepare to work in middle or high schools.

Teaching methods

This course provides the foundational knowledge related to pedagogy and classroom management strategies such as differentiated instruction, inquiry-based learning, hybrid instruction, and more. This course may also be tied to student teaching in which students will discuss their experiences and observations from their classrooms.

Adolescent psychology

You will learn about the historical and current theories and practices in childhood to adulthood development, and how these understandings are translated in teaching practices and curricula.

Educational technology

Technology is ever changing and teachers need to be adaptable in using technology to support learning. Students in this course read, use, and evaluate integrative technology, and discuss best practices with other students.

Working with students with special needs

An introductory course on special needs provides students an overview of the past and current issues in special education. Students learn about the laws, terminology, assessment tools, and get an overview of the types of accommodations that teachers need to make in the classroom.


Earning a TESOL certification, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, can help widen your employability with schools and companies that hire teachers with this certification. You can even teach abroad if you choose. This certification takes about 120-hours and can be completed through an accredited online course. 


Checking that your school and program is accredited is important because this is your guarantee that the coursework meets national standards, which is relevant for both employers and future education.  Search for the college and program you are interested in on the Database for Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) that is officially recognized by the U.S. Dept of Education. 

Career paths

Teacher assistants work with a licensed teacher to manage students’ behaviors and facilitate instruction. Assistants help with setting up the classroom, working with students individually or in groups, grading papers, and reinforcing classroom behaviors. Teacher assistants’ employment opportunities depend on school districts’ budgets as they are supplementary positions. Generally, they can work part-time or full-time depending on the type of employer, and usually have holidays and school vacations off. They can find available work in middle or high schools, public or private after-school programs, and religious and community centers.

The average salary in 2021 is $28,203.

Overall this career is great for those who have an associate degree in secondary education and are working towards a bachelor’s degree in teaching. Working as a teacher assistant means that you will have fewer classroom responsibilities since the lead teacher will be in charge of preparing lessons and activities. This can be an opportunity for those who want to increase their work responsibilities incrementally while pursuing their studies or other life commitments.

Tutors can work for afterschool programs and community-based organizations, privately tutor individuals on a flexible schedule, and try online teaching for students around the world. Contracted tutors usually follow a set pay scale with incentives, but private tutors can set their own rates depending on location, commute times and expenses, and experiences with specific teaching expertise.

The average salary in 2021 for private tutors is $30,904.

There is always a demand for tutors to help students reinforce their learning. Word of mouth goes far for tutors, and maintaining high expectations for students is critical to succeeding as a tutor. Even when you earn your licensure as a teacher, you can continue to work as a tutor outside school hours.

Continuing education

As you complete your associate degree in secondary education, you should think about what subject and grades you would like to teach. Once you have the subject and grades you are most comfortable with, you can then pursue your bachelor’s degree in a more specialized subject area, and complete the necessary courses for your state teaching licensure.

An associate degree in secondary education allows you to build the foundational understandings of working with adolescent children, but you will need to continually read up on educational trends and practice old and new teaching methods to become an effective educator.

Should I get this degree?

An associate degree in secondary education is a great choice for students who are looking to become teachers, paraprofessionals, tutors, and want to take a cost-effective approach to complete their first 2 years at a community college. Since the first 2 years include general courses, students will have more opportunities to take specialized courses necessary to become licensed teachers once they transfer to a 4-year institution. Since many A.A. in secondary education offers dual 2+2 or transfer options, students should not have much difficulty following the pathway to completion.   

National Education Association (NEA)

The NEA has over 3,000,000 members and approximately 14,000 affiliate offices across the U.S. Their mission statement highlights a determination to achieve excellence in education for all students.

Association for American Educators  (AAE)

This national organization supports their national membership with educational advocacy and teacher representation, but without a partisan agenda.