General Studies Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a general studies degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate degree and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Associate and Bachelor's General Studies Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in pursuing your college education, but are uncertain where to start, a degree in general studies might be the place to start. General studies, at the associate and bachelor's levels, do not focus on a specific area of interest, but instead require that students take a broad set of courses that touch on topics from multiple fields. Although students must take classes in the physical sciences, humanities and social sciences, many programs do not point to specific classes within these fields, instead providing a framework in which students can select, with or without the help of an advisor, courses that reflect their areas of interest.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this Degree for? Individuals interested in beginning college-level coursework who do not yet have an area of academic focus; also, students looking to complete core requirements before transferring to 4-year programs People looking to earn a bachelor's degree without selecting a single area of academic focus, either while exploring possibilities or in order to develop their own academic focus
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Office administrator ($31,000)*
- Sales representative ($51,000)*
- Desktop publisher ($37,000)*
- Same as associate degree, plus:
- Human resources assistant ($37,000)*
- Writer ($56,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full time Four years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 20-24 courses - Roughly 48 courses
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate in General Studies

If you would like to get the required general education courses of a bachelor's degree out of the way before having to choose a major, then earning an Associate of General Studies (A.G.S.) degree may be right for you. This way you can explore your career options and weigh your decisions while actively pursuing your education. Most general studies programs allow you to personalize your courseload in addition to completing mandatory core classes. This means you can choose a variety of classes to help you determine your educational interests.

Pros and Cons Subsection


  • An associate program in general studies can give a lot of flexibility to students in how they determine which courses to take.
  • Some A.G.S. programs are designed to take advantage of credits earned at other schools, providing a streamlined path to graduation.
  • Quite a few A.G.S. degree programs are available online, so finding one that suits your needs may be considerably easier than other some other degree paths.


  • A.G.S. degrees may not always work well as pre-professional degrees, as coursework is driven by student decisions rather than program requirements.
  • For those looking to move to a bachelor's program, transferring coursework to a 4-year school will require working with the registrars of both schools.
  • A.G.S. program requirements are broad, and students may find themselves challenged by certain areas of study.

Courses and Requirements

In order to complete an associate degree in general studies, students need to complete both specific required courses and a series of courses that can be selected within certain fields. Those fields usually cover introductions to the physical sciences, humanities and social sciences. They may also require additional coursework in areas such as the behavioral sciences. Courses might include such topics as:

  • English composition
  • Basic computer use
  • Physics
  • College algebra
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • European history

Online Degree Options

Some programs offering an Associate of General Studies degree are completely online. These programs may be of benefit to working professionals, especially those with plans to enter a 4-year program. An A.G.S. may be used to complete core requirements that may be transferred to a 4-year school, although this should be discussed with the registrars of both schools to make certain that course equivalency will be accepted.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

An Associate of General Studies degree can be useful to students looking to enhance their current careers or move into a bachelor's degree program. In order to make the best use of these programs, careful course selection is necessary, especially with an eye to either completing core courses for another program or developing career-related skills. Because of the general nature of the program, students may want to keep an eye toward their ability to both develop skills and market those skills to future employers. Careful planning in course selection can make a difference when it comes to getting added value from this degree.

Bachelor's in General Studies

While an Associate in General Studies degree may be used to ease entry into a bachelor's degree program by focusing on core requirements, a Bachelor of General Studies (B.G.S.) degree may be used to allow the student to tailor their coursework to a specific area of interest that they have defined themselves. Others may select a B.G.S. program because of previous coursework in other programs, allowing transfer credits to complete much of their required work.

Pros and Cons Subsection


  • A bachelor's degree program in general studies allows students to tailor the specific courses they take, allowing them to pursue a self-designed program.
  • B.G.S. degrees have less stringent requirements for which courses will apply to degree completion, and may allow students to complete their degree more quickly if they have coursework from pursuing several areas of study.
  • B.G.S. degrees available online may offer asynchronous courses, which is useful for working professionals.


  • B.G.S. degrees are not always designed to provide specific career-oriented coursework.
  • Because of the fluid nature of B.G.S. degree programs, students may find it necessary to emphasize their own accomplishments within the program to employers.
  • As B.G.S. programs require courses from diverse areas of study, students may not develop mentor relationships with professors without significant effort on their own part.

Courses and Requirements

The courses required for a bachelor's degree in general studies are often selected by the student within a framework provided by the college. Coursework is required in a variety of disciplines, including the social sciences, physical sciences and humanities. Additionally, B.G.S. programs also require that courses forming the core curriculum be completed, similar to other majors. The education from a B.G.S. is thus broader than that of a typical Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree program, which will focus the student into a specific academic or pre-professional direction. Additionally, some B.G.S. programs offer options for specific concentrations. Course requirements for these programs may vary, and should be researched in the college catalog.

Online Degree Options

Quite a few Bachelor of General Studies degree programs are available online. Because of the broad nature of the requirements of these programs, students may need to check which courses at the offering school are being delivered online. Because there are sometimes specific college requirements for B.A. and B.S. programs, some colleges offer B.G.S. degrees for interdisciplinary majors that may pose challenges to traditional requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

For some students entering a 4-year program, traditional majors and departments provide planning, support and career development options. Taking advantage of the B.G.S. option may mean either providing yourself with alternative routes to these goals or seeking out resources to create the same opportunities. Finding a mentor with some expertise in your area of study can help create the same relationships to boost your career. A B.G.S. student looking to get ahead may need to tailor the program to his or her own needs, creating a record of accomplishments that show the degree program's value.

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