General Office Secretary Degrees: Career Diploma, Associate & Online Class Info

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

General office secretaries are needed in many industries and settings to keep an office running smoothly. Professionals in this role are responsible for a variety of support tasks, from answering telephones to processing financial reports. The diploma in administrative assistance or secretarial science offers the basic skills necessary to work in any office environment. The associate's degree provides a well-rounded education experience and combines general education courses with secretarial studies.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for administrative assistants and secretaries was expected to grow by 12% from 2010-2020, which was about as fast as the average for all occupations ( Entry-level clerical positions offered comparatively low salaries. However, obtaining the appropriate education and experience can lead to supervisory administration opportunities.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this degree for? People seeking entry-level administrative opportunities Individuals who wish to pursue a supervisory position within office administration
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Receptionist or information clerk ($26,000)*
- General office clerk ($27,000)*
- General secretary or administrative assistant ($32,000)*
Career paths are similar to those who have a diploma, although an associate's degree prepares you for specialization and increased salary.
- Executive assistant ($51,000)**
- Administrative services supervisor ($55,000)**
Time to Completion Up to 1 year, full-time About 2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 10-12 courses focused on secretarial subjects - Roughly 14-17 courses in secretarial studies
- General education courses
- Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (July 2012 figures).

Diploma in Administrative Assistance

Schools may offer a diploma in administrative assistance or secretarial science, which provides a basic education in business procedures, computer applications and customer service skills. While a high school diploma often the minimum education required to become a receptionist, the diploma program provides a foundational knowledge that may give you an edge for many entry-level administrative positions. These programs cover general business topics like accounting and business math, which is followed by courses that can teach you how an office functions. Since diploma programs generally take a year or less to complete, you may not have any opportunities to participate in an internship, although this varies between programs.

Pros and Cons


  • Completing a diploma program may increase your marketability for entry-level positions
  • Short program length can facilitate quick entry into the field (programs usually only take a year to complete)
  • Courses are focused on secretarial subjects and rarely require general education courses (which can save you time and money)


  • Some secretarial specialties may experience slow growth (legal secretaries were projected to see a 4% increases in jobs from 2010-2020)*
  • Diploma programs don't offer specialized programs and electives, limiting your learning options
  • Applicants who hold a degree may be preferred over those who only have a diploma

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

Secretarial science and administrative assistance programs can give you an understanding of business operations, electronic communications, common administrative procedures and business correspondence procedures. A diploma program typically offers a curriculum that gives a general overview of what it takes to become a secretary and usually doesn't dive too deep into any particular subject. Some of the courses you might take include:

  • Business composition
  • Business math
  • Personal communications
  • Business accounting
  • Office procedures
  • Information processing

Online Diploma Info

This diploma is available in an online format and is usually identical to the on-campus program. You may be required to meet a certain typing speed before you can enroll. The online program can even give you the added benefit of communicating strictly by using computer technologies. You'll have the opportunity to get comfortable with using online communication methods while you learn about general office operations and basic business concepts.

Stand Out with This Degree

Improving and validating your technology skills can advance your career. Business technologies require personnel with current technology skills. Secretaries perform a number of tasks, including processing business correspondence, formatting reports and sending e-mails. Gaining certification, such as the Microsoft Office Specialist designation from Microsoft, can show employers that your skills are up-to-date.

The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) confers the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) credential. The CAP designation demonstrates your competence to employers and can lead to higher salary offers or give you a competitive edge. If you don't plan to pursue an associate's degree, you'll need 4 years of administrative experience to apply for the CAP designation.

Alternative Degree Options

If you're interested in becoming a secretary or administrative assistant at a legal or medical business, you may want to look at obtaining a diploma program designed for those professionals. Although much of the general coursework is the same as a standard diploma program, you'll take a few courses that deal with that particular industry. For example, a medical secretary program may cover legal aspects in health information and medical terminology, while a legal secretary program might teach you how to use legal software applications and process legal documents.

Associate's in Administrative Assistance

The associate's degree gives you an in-depth curriculum that focuses on administrative assistance, business technology and communications. Associate's programs can teach you skills in processing documents, accounting, bookkeeping and business ethics. Most associate's programs can prepare you to continue on to a bachelor's degree program if you wish to continue your education. An associate's degree can lead to a job as an executive assistant or an administrative services supervisor.

Pros and Cons


  • An associate's degree can improve your marketability and may give you preference over those who only have a diploma
  • Schools usually offer internship opportunities so you can gain experience while you're studying
  • Can reduce the amount of experience you need to qualify for some certifications


  • Many of the jobs you qualify for only require a high school diploma
  • More general education courses are required than in a diploma program, so you'll be spending more time in school to learn about subjects not related to becoming an administrative secretary
  • Few elective options means you can't really focus your studies on a particular area of office administration

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree provides a foundation in technology and business practices. Programs offer advanced coursework in microeconomics, finance, business law and management. Some programs may provide training in legal ethics, transcription and speech communication as well. The amount of elective options you'll have in an associate's program are often very limited, with only one or two course slots that give you freedom to pick which course to take. You'll likely have an opportunity to participate in an internship while you're in the associate's program.

Online Degree Info

Similar to the diploma program, many schools offer this associate's program completely online. Schools usually design online programs for working professionals seeking upward mobility in their current jobs or those interested in starting a new career. Your course options are comparable to on-campus programs, and you'll still have the opportunity to pursue an internship in an online program.

Stand Out with This Degree

Many schools offer clubs that provide a service to the school community. You can participate in clubs related to secretarial science or the industry in which you plan to seek employment. Gaining a professional certification, such as the CAP designation from IAAP or the Microsoft Office Specialist from Microsoft, can improve your employment prospects and possibly increase salary offers. Creating a portfolio that demonstrates your document formatting and processing skills can also make you more appealing to employers.

Alternative Degrees

Similar to diploma programs, you can often find secretarial associate's programs that focus on becoming a legal or medical secretary. Many of the courses are similar to what you'd take in a general program, but you'll also be getting specialized instruction that pertains to the legal or medical business. Medical secretarial programs may include courses on medical office procedures, medical transcription and pharmacology, while a legal secretary associate's program may allow you to take courses in legal research, law practice and the legal environment of business.

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