What is an Online Health Science Associate Degree?
An online health science associate degree is a 2-year degree program that typically awards an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Health Science. AAS degrees in health science are often designed for immediate entry into a chosen career upon graduation, while AS degrees are usually designed for transfer to a more advanced degree in a specialized subject. Health science associate degrees cover basic topics in subjects such as biology, anatomy, chemistry, and math, along with social science courses like psychology, anthropology, communication, and sociology. This is to help students gain strong foundational knowledge in topics that will prepare them for a number of health science careers as well as understand and have compassion for the people they will work with.
Although these programs cover general science and math topics, students also take a few classes that are specific to health science, such as medical terminology, scientific analysis, human health and disease, and public health. Some schools allow students to choose a concentration area, such as medical assisting or pharmacy technician. Even though the programs are online, laboratory courses are also included; special technical equipment may be required in order to complete a laboratory class online. The main objective of health science associate degrees is to help students prepare to promote health and wellness through advocacy and best practices for patients, regardless of their specific chosen career.
Who Should Pursue an Online Health Science Associate Degree?
Online associate degrees are suitable for working adults who lead busy lives, for students who want a low-cost education, and for anyone who wants to quickly learn skills for a new career or begin the process of receiving higher education. An online associate degree in health science may work best for you if you are interested in pursuing a career in the healthcare industry, but don't quite yet know which career, or if you need a more affordable option to get started. Online schools also have credit transfer policies, so if you are returning to school to finish your degree, you may be able to transfer a significant amount of credits and finish faster.
Application, Admissions, and Enrollment for Online Health Science Associate Degree Programs
The specific admissions requirements, application materials, and enrollment processes will vary by school. However, in general, most online associate degree programs in health science have similar requirements. For admission, students will typically need:
- High school diploma or equivalent
- High school transcripts (if no college experience, or transferring a minimal amount of college credits)
- College transcripts (if some college experience)
Applications also request proof of English proficiency, either by being a citizen of an English-speaking country, or demonstrating knowledge in subjects such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening by taking a placement test. If you must take an English proficiency test, plan accordingly so that you can receive your scores by the time you apply for school; many of these tests are available online. Colleges that offer online associate degrees typically process the application in 2 days or more; the process may take significantly longer if you are transferring credits.
Once you've been accepted, it's time to enroll and register for classes. Many online programs have rolling admissions and enrollment dates, meaning that you can apply at any time of the year and begin classes at the soonest available date-sometimes this means you can begin classes as soon as a month later. An enrollment advisor will contact you to guide you through the enrollment process and choosing classes. A course schedule is usually made available so you can get an idea of what courses you can take and when. Some programs, like health science, will have additional technical requirements (like software and hardware) for students to complete classes.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of an Online Health Science Degree Program?
The worth of an online associate degree in health science is ultimately up to you. You have to consider your needs and goals in order to make the right decision. However, there are some concrete pros and cons to studying health science online.
Studying online provides an option for students who work, have other commitments, or who don't have/can't attend a program close to where they live. The class schedule is often flexible, there's usually multiple start dates, and students have the option to study part-time. Even if you don't lead a busy life, studying online can be a great option to earn a degree from the comfort of home at a pace that works best for your learning style. The costs of an online degree are often lower as well, thanks to not having to pay for living on campus or taking fewer classes than needed because of credit transfers.
Health science requires lab courses and, while these may be done online, you have to consider what the best learning format is for you. The same applies to any class taken in an online program, but laboratory classes in particular are hands-on; consider whether you will learn just as effectively in a virtual setting.
Online degree programs can be recognized and reputable, but there are scams out there. It's especially important to graduate from a recognized, well-respected school or program if you are interested in a medical or health career. Making sure a school is accredited is one way to avoid scams, but be sure to check the organization that accredits the school. Sometimes online schools will be accredited by an organization that is false, biased, or not respected within the education field or health science industry.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Health Science Associate Degree?
The average time to complete an associate degree is 2 years when studying full-time with few to no transfer credits. This can be sped up through flexible online schedules and generous transfer credit policies. Some online programs follow a more traditional format, where you take multiple classes over an 8- or 16-week period, and others follow a one-class-a-month format.
Since online class schedules are more flexible than traditional learning, a more accurate way to measure time to completion is credits. Associate degree programs require about 60 credits for graduation. Each class is typically worth between 2 and 4 credits and most students average 15 credits per semester. However, if you feel you can knock out 20 credits per semester (or take extra classes in the summer), you may be able to get your degree in a year and a half. Lab requirements can make this more difficult in health science versus a typical associate degree.
How Much Does an Online Associate Degree in Health Science Cost?
Online associate degrees are generally less expensive than their on-campus counterparts because students don't have to pay room and board costs. The tuition itself may also be lower because students are not using classroom resources, but this varies. Many online associate degree programs charge tuition by credit, meaning you pay a flat fee for each credit you earn. For example, a school that charges $139 per credit would charge $417 for one course because that course is worth 3 credits. One academic year is usually around 30 credits, so the tuition would be $4,170 per year. In health science, lab fees might add a bit more to that total. Be sure to ask your school about the total cost, including fees, of each course.
Online Health Science Associate Degree Coursework
Online health science associate degrees have a curriculum that consists of general education, health science courses, and electives. The specific types of courses, number of courses required, and number of courses available to choose from vary by school. Students usually begin their education with general courses and move on to major-specific courses as the degree program advances. In the case of electives, they don't have to be related to your major area, but choosing related electives may be beneficial if you know what career you're interested in; it is especially beneficial if you are planning to transfer to a higher degree and need certain courses to do so. A few courses found in health science associate degrees can include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Communication/English/Professional Writing
- Public Health
- Scientific Analysis
What Can I Do With an Online Associate Degree in Health Science?
Many associate degrees in health science are designed for transfer to a more advanced and specialized program, so there are not as many work opportunities for those who graduate with a 2-year degree in the field. However, there are some options readily available for graduates who want to begin working right away. Some include a community health assistant, a patient advocate, a home health aide, and an admitting clerk. Some programs offer concentrations to choose from that allow students to begin learning skills that will prepare them for specific careers; they include pharmacy technician, medical administrative assistant, health information technician, healthcare associate, and medical services technician, among others. The career opportunities for health sciences expand once you earn a 4-year degree.
Begin a Career as a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants have a job that uniquely combines administrative and clinical skills to help medical offices run smoothly. The administrative tasks they perform can include setting up patient appointments, talking to patients over the phone, recording patients' personal and medical history, and entering that information for medical records. The clinical tasks they perform can include drawing blood, helping patients get ready for appointments or exams, measure vital signs, and prepare blood samples.
Medical assistants need at least a high school diploma and on-the-job training, but it is very common for employers to require candidates to earn a certificate or diploma from a post-secondary institution. These programs can last about one year, but some individuals earn a 2-year degree that includes courses in anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants have a median annual wage of $34,800 as of 2019.
Begin a Career as a Medical Records and Health Information Technician
Medical records and health information technicians are more commonly known as just health information technicians. They keep paper and electronic medical records and files secure, up-to-date, and organized. They usually work in hospitals, medical offices, or other healthcare facilities and may collaborate with physicians and nurses to get accurate patient information.
Part of their job is entering patient information into a health records database; this includes things like patient history, medications, symptoms of illnesses, treatments, and exam and test results. Because of new technology, most of their work is now done electronically through special software. A few other tasks they may perform include reviewing records to ensure they are accurate, keeping track of patient outcomes, and assigning codes for insurance reimbursement.
Health information technicians need at least a certificate or associate degree with classes in medical terminology, communication, anatomy and physiology, and computer systems, among others. Because they are dealing with private medical information, health information technicians must maintain integrity and confidentiality and pay attention to detail to ensure information is accurate. The BLS states that as of 2019, the annual median wage for medical records and health information technicians is $42,630.
Accreditation for Online Health Science Associate Degree Programs
Schools can be accredited by independent organizations approved by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Some of these include the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Programs can also be accredited. For example, a nursing program can have programmatic accreditation granted by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Health science associate programs are usually not granted programmatic accreditation because their curriculum is more general. Instead, you should look for health science associate programs that are at schools that receive institutional accreditation.
Accreditation is an important thing to watch out for. It not only ensures you are getting a quality education, but it also qualifies to take part in federal financial aid, meaning you can get federal money to pay for school. It's also important to check for accreditation because if you need to transfer credits, the school you are transferring to may not accept them all if your past school has no accreditation.
What is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Medical Secretary?
Medical assistants and medical secretaries sound like they may be the same thing, but they are not. Medical secretaries deal with administrative tasks in medical offices such as managing medical charts, communicating with patients, and scheduling appointments. Medical assistants perform some of the same tasks, but their duties are expanded to include more clinical ones that directly handle patient care. Some include administering medication, drawing blood, and checking vitals. The education and training differ for these two professions. Medical secretaries only need to have a certificate in medical administrative assistant studies or a similar area, while medical assistants need a diploma and on-the-job training to learn patient care skills. Many 2-year programs that medical assistants can take require laboratory work as well.
Transfer Options After Completing an Online Health Science Associate Degree
Depending on where you are located, you could transfer from an online program to an on-campus one, or you could continue your studies online. Some community colleges partner with universities to form a transfer program to make the transition easier for students.
There are many health, science, and medical-related bachelor's degrees students can transfer to. A few common ones include nursing, public health, exercise science, health sciences, healthcare administration, school health education, and more. If you are interested in transferring to a bachelor's program at the same school or a different school, it's important to know ahead of time what classes you'll need to take. An academic advisor at your current school can answer questions you may have, but it's a good idea to also look at the curriculum and transfer requirements of the schools you want to transfer to.
What Are Other Health Science Degree Paths/Options?
While a health science bachelor's degree is a possible next step for associate graduates, it's not the only one. Depending on your career goals, bachelor's degrees in areas such as exercise physiology, public health, or nursing may be suitable. If you want to take your career even further, a graduate degree in these subjects or related ones can also help. Health science associate degrees provide the foundational education needed to succeed in many of these higher degree programs.
Online Bachelor's Programs in Health Science
Online bachelor's programs in health science, or a Bachelor of Science in Health Science, are similar to associate degrees in that they cover a wide variety of relevant topics so students can pursue many career paths. There is room for more advanced study and study in specialized topics. Additionally, some online health science programs are designed for graduates of allied health associate degrees (such as dental hygiene, respiratory therapy, etc.) to build new skills.
Students can choose an area of emphasis such as healthcare management, exercise science, sports management, and emergency planning, among others. This will vary by school, however. Choosing an emphasis allows students to begin coursework that will direct them in the path of their chosen careers, such as surgical technology, physical therapy assistant, health administrator and radiography.
Online Master's Programs in Health Science
Online master's programs in health sciences are suitable for working adults and are designed for career advancement or career change, with advanced-level study in health science topics. The curriculum in a masters-level health science program is a little less general than its undergraduate counterparts. Students can choose from several concentrations including, but not limited to, public health, health leadership, health education, and environmental and occupational health and safety. The curriculum also explores management and leadership skills, ethical responsibilities, and how to understand and work with diverse populations.
Online Doctoral Programs in Health Science
Online doctoral programs in health science, usually titled a Doctor of Health Science (DHSc), prepare students to become college professors and researchers in health science disciplines. They are also suitable for career advancement in positions in public health and other community positions related to health care. There is also a Ph.D. in Health Science, which also prepares students for positions in academia and research. Both types of degrees usually require courses in research, leadership, education, and professional development. In-person practicums to develop skills may also be required. The main difference between the two degrees is that a DHSc is more for practical application while a Ph.D. is more for scholarly development.
Online Certificate Programs in Health Science
Health science certificates allow students to study a specific area within the health science field and learn skills for a certain job. These programs may last for a few months or up to a year, and depending on the type of certificate and school it's earned from, they may be done alone or alongside a degree program. A few programs can include dental assisting, respiratory care, dietetics and nutrition, healthcare quality, patient care technician, and correctional health administration, among others.
There are also health professions programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that award a certificate.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Health Science Online Associate Degrees
Financial aid is available for students to help pay for college through federal programs, school programs, and awards offered by national, state, and local organizations. Federal aid, which is most commonly loans and grants, can be obtained by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid applications can vary in criteria, ranging from financial need to major-specific or population-specific requirements, among others. There are plenty of scholarships available to health science students, online students, associate degree-seeking students, or a combination of the three.
The Basil L. King Scholarships Foundation awards scholarships to residents of St. Lucie County who are studying health science at 2-year and 4-year colleges; they do not have to study in the St. Lucie County area.
The 1,000 Dreams Scholarship Fund awards educational assistance to female high school, 2-year, 4-year, and graduate-level students; tuition is not covered.
Similarly, the Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund awards scholarships to women over 35 who are pursuing a vocational, associate, or bachelor's degree and are classified as low-income.