Office Assistant Training: Diploma, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in an office assistant diploma or associate's degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a diploma and associate's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Office Assistance: Degrees at a Glance

Office assistants perform tasks that are an integral part of a company's daily operations. Professionals in the field utilize communication and organizational skills to create and maintain a cohesive business environment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that specialists can expect average- to faster-than-average job growth (12%-24%) through 2020 for several occupations (www.bls.gov). Salaries for some positions are comparatively low, but choosing a specialization and earning certifications may boost job prospects and salary potential.

An office assistant diploma program provides graduates with the skills and knowledge required to obtain work in private industry, small businesses or government agencies. Associate's degree programs offer concentrations and may qualify graduates for specialty opportunities, such as positions in legal settings. Many jobs in the field only require a high school diploma. Both diploma and associate's degree programs teach the fundamentals of business operations, finance and information technology.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this program for? Individuals interested in entry-level opportunities in any industry or those seeking a career change People who want to specialize or those seeking administrative advancement
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - General office clerk ($27,000)*
- Customer service representative ($31,000)*
- Receptionist or information clerk ($26,000)*
- Paralegal or legal assistant ($47,000)*
- Administrative services manager ($80,000 - this position requires a high school diploma and 1 to 5 years of experience but employers may look favorably on an associate's degree)*
Time to Completion 9 to 18 months full-time 2 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 36 to 48 credits - About 60 credits, including general education courses
- Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Administrative Assistant Diploma

An administrative assistant diploma program teaches the basics of operating effectively and efficiently in an office environment. In this program, you can expect to complete career-oriented coursework that does not include general education classes. You learn how to use technology, assist with projects, apply problem-solving skills and provide customer service. Programs offer applied training in business communication and office processes through hands-on meeting coordination, travel management and software activities. Business English and composition are taught to develop critical writing and communication skills.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Short program completion time allows you to enter the market quickly
  • Programs can help you prepare for a career change or entering the field
  • Hands-on opportunities give you experience working in the field

Cons

  • Starting salaries may be on the low side ($26,000 - $31,000 median)*
  • May be competing with people with an associate's degree or higher for job opportunities
  • Specialization, which could increase marketability, may be unavailable

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Common Courses and Requirements

Diploma programs combine training in business technology with managing the procedural components of business operations. Usually, between 36 and 48 course credit hours of study are required. These courses cover topics like information technology, business finance and professional development. Some programs require an internship, which provides you with work experience. You may also be awarded credit for relevant work experience or industry certifications.

Common courses include:

  • Statistical typing
  • Computerized accounting
  • Business law
  • Business presentations
  • Payroll accounting
  • Introduction to computers

Online Course Info

Several community and technical colleges offer administrative assistant diploma programs that you can complete entirely online. Online diplomas may offer courses, such as human relations, that are unavailable in campus-based programs. Some programs are designed for a specific audience, such as people already employed in a business office or those seeking professional development training.

Stand Out With This Credential

Technology drives business and job candidates with validated technology skills are in demand. Office and administrative assistants use word-processing, spreadsheet, scheduling and presentation software to manage their responsibilities. Obtaining a relevant credential, such as the Microsoft Office Specialist certification, can help you differentiate yourself among other candidates. Furthermore, professional credentials, including the Certified Administrative Professional conferred by the International Association of Administrative Professionals, demonstrate to employers that you understand the roles of an office assistant.

Other Degrees to Consider

Though the administrative professionals field offers average to faster than average job growth, a few other occupations provide higher salaries. The BLS reports that bookkeeper, accounting and auditing clerks experienced about as fast as average job growth (14%), but they earned a median annual salary of $35,000, which is $8,000 more per year than a general office clerk. If you have an interest in mathematics or calculations, you might consider pursuing an accounting clerk diploma instead.

Administrative Assistant Associate's Degree

An administrative assistant associate's degree program further develops the technology, business procedures and keyboarding skills acquired in a diploma program. Office technologies change rapidly, and some associate's degree programs offer a business technology curriculum. In this type of program, you learn to use the appropriate technology to solve business problems and develop your skills in software applications. Furthermore, some programs offer a concentration in law or management.

Unlike the administrative assistant diploma program, associate's degree coursework may count towards a bachelor's degree in secretarial science. Associate degree programs offer a foundation in general education complemented by core classes in office assistance.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Choosing the right program can increase salary offers ($47,000 median for paralegals)*
  • Many programs offer specialization and general education coursework
  • Programs may offer an internship to help you gain valuable work experience

Cons

  • Many general office assistant positions only require a high school diploma
  • Salary offers may be similar to those received by diploma holders
  • May compete with candidates who have a bachelor's degree

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Common Courses and Requirements

Associate's degrees, which usually require 60 credits, include 22 to 48 credits of general education courses. Remaining credits are allocated to the program core and electives, which include financial accounting, statistical methods, administrative procedures, word-processing software use and keyboarding courses. If you choose to specialize in a legal or business assisting, you may take additional courses such as legal ethics, drafting legal documentation or management principles. Some programs require completion of a business internship.

Online Course Info

Administrative assistant associate's degrees are available online. Like their in-person counterparts, these programs include both liberal arts and general education classes and career-oriented administrative courses. Unlike campus-based programs that require an internship, some programs require a capstone project in administrative assisting procedures and techniques. This project allows you to demonstrate the organization, communication and technology skills you acquired during your studies.

Stand Out With This Credential

Administrative assistants work in multiple settings; specializing in legal documentation or transcription can help you stand out against your competition. The BLS states that, in 2011, legal secretaries earned a median annual salary of $42,500, which is higher than that of general office assistants. Some associate's degree programs offer electives that provide training in legal documentation, terminology and software. If you choose the legal approach, obtaining the Accredited Legal Secretary designation from the Association for Legal Professionals demonstrates your knowledge of business and law to potential employers.

If you are interested in working in a business office, the International Association of Administrative Professionals' (IAAP) Certified Administrative Professional credential validates your proficiency in the field. Maintaining current technology certifications, such as the Technology Applications specialty offered by the IAAP, may also impact your marketability.

Other Degrees to Consider

Although administrative occupations offer good job prospects, you may find yourself competing with candidates who hold a bachelor's degree. Many employers prefer office and administrative assistants with a post-secondary education in business administration or an industry-related subject. If you enjoy running an office, performing research and working on complex documentation, consider a career as a paralegal.

Paralegals perform complex administrative tasks, such as legal research and document drafting. The BLS reports that, as of may 2011, paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $47,000. In addition, the BLS expects 18% job growth through 2020 in the field. An associate's degree in paralegal studies offers an education in business operations and law and can prepare you for entry-level opportunities in a legal setting.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Associate: Business Admin.
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Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • AA: Business Administration

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Baker College Online

  • Business Administration - Associate

What is your highest level of education?

Wichita Area Technical College

Western Wyoming Community College

University of Northwestern Ohio

United Tribes Technical College