Professional Secretary Degrees: Diploma, Associate & Online Training 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

Professional secretaries, known as administrative assistants, perform tasks integral to a company's daily office operations. Along with office assistants, these types of workers use strong communication and organizational skills to maintain a cohesive business environment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that secretaries and administrative assistants can expect job growth of about 12% between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). Although salaries for some positions are comparatively low, choosing a specialization, as well as gaining the appropriate experience and certification, may boost your job prospects and salary potential.

You'll find diploma and degree programs available to work as a secretary or office assistant in private industry, small businesses or in government. These programs offer business administration, office technology and other administrative and clerical skills. Many entry-level jobs in the secretarial field only require a high school diploma.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this program for? Individuals interested in entry-level administrative positions People seeking specialization or advancement in administrative careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Receptionist or information clerk ($26,000)*
- General office clerk ($27,000)*
- Customer service representative ($31,000)*
- Paralegal or legal assistant ($47,000)*
- Administrative services manager ($80,000; need 1-5 years of experience)*
Time to Completion 9 to 18 months, full-time 2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements 36 to 48 credits 60 credits
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

The administrative assistant diploma program offers you the skills needed to work effectively and efficiently in an office environment. You can expect to take courses focused on this type of career, and programs may not offer an expanded general or liberal arts foundation. You'll learn to use office technology such as copiers and computers, assist with projects, apply problem-solving skills and provide quality customer service.

Diploma programs may also provide training in business communication and office processes. You may learn how to schedule meetings, arrange travel itineraries and use various computer software programs. These programs may incorporate business English and composition to develop critical writing and communication skills.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many entry-level job opportunities require only a high school diploma
  • Short completion time allows you to enter the job market sooner
  • Programs expose you to possible careers in business or administration

Cons

  • Low starting salaries ($26,000 a year for receptionists; $31,000 for customer service representatives)*
  • Competition from job applicants with a degree
  • Programs may not allow specialization or offer electives for expanded training

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

Common Courses and Requirements

Diploma programs combine training in business technology with business operations management. Programs usually require between 36 and 48 credits, which may combine information technology, financial and professional development courses. Some diploma programs require an internship. You may also gain credit for relevant work experience or industry certifications.

Here's a list of some common courses found in administrative assistant diploma programs:

  • 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 entirely online. Some online programs may offer courses not available through campus-based programs. Others may target specific groups, such as individuals employed in a business office or people seeking professional development training.

How to Stand Out

Because office technology is an integral part of many businesses, 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. By obtaining a credential such as the Microsoft Office Specialist certification, you may differentiate yourself among other candidates.

Other professional credentials you may want to consider are the Certified Administrative Professional offered by the International Association of Administrative Professionals. This credential demonstrates your understanding of the roles of an office assistant.

Other Degrees to Consider

If you want to work as an administrative professional but want an occupation with a higher salary, you may want to consider working as an accounting or auditing clerk. The BLS reported that bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks can expect a faster than average job growth of 14% through 2020. If you have an interest in mathematics or accounting, you might consider pursuing an accounting clerk diploma.

Administrative Assistant Associate's Degree

As a professional secretary, you may want to obtain an associate's degree in administrative assistance, business technology, paralegal or a related degree. These programs expand on the technology, business procedures and other skills typically offered in a diploma program. Some associate's degree programs offer a business technology curriculum that allows you to learn about the latest technology available to solve business problems. You'll also develop your skills in software applications. You may also find some degree programs with concentrations in law or management.

Associate's degree coursework may count toward a bachelor's degree in secretarial science, depending on the university or college. Associate's degree programs offer a foundation in general education, complemented with core courses in office assistance.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Selecting certain careers may lead to higher-paying jobs ($47,000 a year for paralegals)*
  • Administrative assistant jobs are available with 2-year degrees*
  • Programs expose you possible careers centered in an office or business environment

Cons

  • Salaries for 2-year graduates may be similar to diploma graduates*
  • There may be competition with candidates who hold a bachelor's degree*
  • General office assistant positions only require a high school diploma

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

Common Courses and Requirements

Associate's degree programs typically require 60 credits to graduate, with between 22 and 48 credits dedicated to general education courses. The remaining credits are for your degree major, which may include courses on financial accounting, statistical method, administrative procedures, word-processing software and keyboarding courses. If you specialize in a legal or business setting, you'll need additional courses, such as legal ethics, drafting legal documentation or management principles. Some programs require a business internship.

Online Course Info

Administrative assistant associate's degrees are available online and require similar training as traditional programs. Instead of an internship, some online programs may require that you complete a capstone project in administrative assisting procedures and techniques. This project allows you to demonstrate the organizational, communication and technology skills you have acquired.

Stand Out With This Credential

Administrative assistants work in multiple office settings. Developing expertise in legal documentation, transcription or another specialty may help you stand out. There are some associate's degree programs which offer electives in legal documentation, terminology and software. You may also want to obtain the Accredited Legal Secretary designation offered by the National Association for Legal Professionals confers. This credential demonstrates your knowledge of business and law to potential employers.

If you're interested in working in a business environment, the International Association of Administrative Professionals' (IAAP) Certified Administrative Professional credential can validate your proficiency. Also, maintaining current technology certifications, including the Technology Applications specialty offered by the IAAP, may improve your marketability and make you stand out.

Other Degrees to Consider

While your associate's degree allows you to pursue good entry-level jobs, 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 in an industry-related major.

Popular Schools

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      • Associate of Arts - Accounting
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      • Associate of Science - Business Studies
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  • Hammond, LA

    Southeastern Louisiana University

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