Office Administration Degrees: Career Diploma, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an office administration program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a diploma and associate degree and potential careers.
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Study Office Administration: Degrees at a Glance

Postsecondary education in this subject can prepare you for any of a wide range of careers in office and administrative support. You can work in offices in government or the legal, healthcare and business sectors. In fact, office administration professionals are employed in nearly every industry. Positions in this field often only require you to have a high school diploma; however, college education can provide you with marketable job skills that are highly valued by many businesses and that many untrained workers do not have.

For the most part, office and administrative support professions were projected to have about average job growth in the decade spanning 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is partly due to an increase in office automation, which will stifle the demand for office workers. One high-growth field is reception; the BLS projected employment for receptionists to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 24% from 2010-2020.

Diploma Associate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level office support positions People seeking entry into the field and experienced workers seeking career advancement
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Receptionist and information clerk ($27,000)*
- General office secretary ($33,000)*
- Legal secretary ($44,000)*
- Medical secretary ($32,000)*
- General office clerk ($29,000)*
- Executive secretary ($48,000)*
- Administrative services manager ($87,000)*
Time to Completion One year Two years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Roughly 36-48 credits - At least 63 credits, including general education requirements
- Cooperative work experience or internship
Prerequisites None None
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Diploma in Office Administration

You can typically find diploma programs in office administration at community and other 2-year colleges. This program of study usually lasts three semesters and is meant to prepare you for an entry-level position in clerical support or office assistance. You'll study basic office systems, and you'll learn to conduct the day-to-day tasks needed to keep an office running smoothly. These programs also tend to incorporate some introductory instruction in business and accounting, knowledge of which is important for advancement in this profession.

Pros and Cons


  • Can give you an edge over competitors, who usually hold only high school diplomas
  • Generalized office administration education can lead to career options in a diverse assortment of industries
  • Provides computer software training, which can increase your chances of employment


  • May not qualify you for some positions in legal and medical offices, which can require specialized education
  • Leads to low-paying entry-level positions (many common careers in this field offered under $33,000 per year in 2011)*
  • Job prospects vary by career field; for example, information clerks specializing in correspondence were projected to see a 12% drop in employment*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures and 2010-2020 projections).

Courses and Requirements

In an office administration diploma program, you'll take courses in basic computer usage, such as keyboarding and word processing, as well as courses in software applications specific to office administration. You typically do not need to complete general education coursework in a diploma program, although your curriculum may incorporate an expository writing class, which can be useful for composing business emails or documents. You can also expect to study:

  • Principles of accounting
  • Records management
  • Business communications
  • Document formatting

Online Degree Options

Many community colleges offer office administration diplomas in the distance-learning format. You can generally choose from entirely online programs or hybrid programs that allow you to complete some coursework online and some coursework on campus. Whichever you choose, your curriculum is generally the same as that of the on-campus program.

Stand Out with this Degree

While diploma programs in office administration provide you with instruction in basic computer applications used in offices, you may want to pursue more advanced training. The BLS emphasizes the importance of computers in this field and notes that those with the strongest grasp of technology often have the strongest job prospects. For example, you may benefit from courses that train you in database, query and spreadsheets software. Additionally, if you know in which setting you want to work, you could familiarize yourself with technology specific to that industry. If you want to work as a legal secretary, for example, you can learn about legal billing and research software, such as Intuit Quicken and LexisNexis.

Degree Alternatives

Since some positions in legal and medical office administration require specialized education, you may want to choose a more focused educational program if you want to pursue a career in one of these specialties. Many 2-year colleges offer diplomas in medical office administration, both online and on-campus. The curriculum is very similar to that of a general office administration program, although you'll also learn about health records management, insurance procedures and medical coding. Legal office administration diplomas are not widely offered; however, certificate programs in this specialty are common and typically take 2-3 semesters full-time to complete.

Associate in Office Administration

A 2-year degree program in office administration is generally designed for students with no experience in the field. Experienced office workers can also benefit from an associate degree program, which could help pave the way for advancement to upper-level positions. Your curriculum incorporates a mix of clerical, business and management instruction. These programs also lay strong emphasis on technologies used in the workplace. Credits earned in an associate degree program in office administration can usually be transferred to a 4-year degree program.

Pros and Cons


  • Can lead to higher-paying positions in office and administrative support
  • Allows for practical experience through internships and cooperative work opportunities
  • Comfortable office settings


  • Management positions may require long hours (about 25% of administrative service managers worked 50 hours or more per week in 2010)*
  • Upper-level secretaries with associate degrees may face strong competition from those with bachelor's degrees, who are anticipated to be in high demand
  • Advancement to upper-level positions requires extensive experience and demonstration of strong leadership skills

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010 statistics).

Courses and Requirements

In a 2-year program in office administration, you'll learn about many of the same topics covered in the diploma program, such as keyboarding and word processing. Unlike a diploma program, an associate degree program in office administration requires you to complete general education coursework in English, math and science. You'll study a broader range of subjects, including business communications and ethics, organizational behavior and advanced computer applications for business. You may also have the opportunity to complete an internship or cooperative work experience.

Online Degree Options

Online associate degree programs in office administration are available. Some schools offer part of their curricula online and require you to complete some coursework on campus, while other programs are offered completely online. These programs are particularly beneficial to working professionals who need flexible formats to accommodate their work schedules. Some online programs also come in accelerated formats.

Stand Out with this Degree

Technology plays a large role in upper-level office administration positions. Some administrative services managers, for example, start out in technical positions and are promoted to management. To get an edge in the field, you may want to take electives in computer operation. In particular, you'll want to learn about accounting software, databases, data analysis software and enterprise resource planning applications, which are used in the day-to-day functions of executive secretaries and administrative services managers.

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