Best Surgical Tech Associate Degree Programs

Jul 08, 2021

What is a Surgical Technician Associate Degree?

Associate degree programs in surgical technology prepare students for jobs assisting surgeons in the operating room. Surgical technologists work under the supervision of the surgeon and operating room team. They assist before, during and after the medical procedure by helping to prepare patients for their operation, ensuring the required surgical instruments are sterile, all needed supplies are available, and the operating room is ready. At times the technologist will be responsible for cleaning and closing patient's wounds. They often are the one responsible for handing the surgical instruments to the surgeon during the operation, and they assist the surgical team with putting on their sterile gowns prior to entering the operating room. Because these jobs are typically located in a hospital setting, technologists should be prepared to spend a lot of time on their feet.

The Best Associate Degree Programs in Surgical Tech

School Tuition* Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 San Jacinto Community College $3456 Yes Yes AP Credits
2 Frederick Community College N/A Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
3 Hudson Valley Community College $4998 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
4 Hutchinson Community College $4770 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
5 Southeast Community College Area $4062 Yes Yes AP Credits
6 Minnesota West Community and Technical College $4440 Yes Yes AP Credits
7 Washburn University $8594 Yes Yes AP Credits
8 Moraine Park Technical College $6130 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
9 Lake Superior College $3762 Yes Yes AP Credits
10 CUNY Kingsborough Community College $6590 Yes Yes N/A
11 Northland Community and Technical College $5115 No Yes AP Credits
12 Gwinnett Technical College $6654 Yes Yes AP Credits
13 Western Technical College $1124 Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
14 Minnesota State Community and Technical College $1394 Yes Yes AP Credits
15 Seward County Community College $4592 Yes Yes AP Credits
16 Waukesha County Technical College $4200 Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
17 Kirkwood Community College $1257 No Yes AP Credits
18 The University of Montana $5352 Yes Yes AP Credits
19 Anoka Technical College N/A Yes Yes AP Credits
20 West Kentucky Community and Technical College $9870 Yes Yes AP Credits
21 Colorado Mesa University $7787 Yes Yes AP Credits
22 Northeast Community College $6240 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
23 Illinois Central College $4324 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
24 Northeast State Community College $16050 Yes Yes AP Credits
25 St Philip's College $3402 Yes Yes AP Credits
26 Western Dakota Technical Institute $27570 Yes Yes AP Credits
27 Amarillo College $4556 Yes Yes AP Credits
28 Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences $28540 No Yes AP Credits
29 Roane State Community College $1330 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
30 Holmes Community College $5485 Yes Yes AP Credits
31 Northern Michigan University $10758 Yes Yes AP Credits
32 Richland Community College N/A Yes Yes AP Credits
33 Owensboro Community and Technical College $13635 No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
34 Pearl River Community College $15690 Yes Yes AP Credits
35 Paris Junior College $4188 No Yes AP Credits
36 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health $15422 No Yes AP Credits
37 Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College N/A Yes Yes AP Credits
38 Eastern Iowa Community College District $4800 Yes Yes AP Credits
39 East Central Community College $10440 Yes Yes AP Credits
40 Iowa Lakes Community College $4860 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
41 Neosho County Community College $4560 No Yes AP Credits
42 Western Iowa Tech Community College $5378 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
43 South Arkansas Community College $3126 Yes Yes AP Credits
44 Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College $4703 Yes Yes AP Credits
45 Madisonville Community College $1158 Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
46 University of Arkansas-Fort Smith $6495 Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits
47 John Wood Community College $4425 No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
48 Black Hawk College $8780 Yes Yes AP Credits
49 Wichita State University-Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology $14030 Yes Yes AP Credits
50 Lamar State College-Port Arthur N/A Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit's ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Types of Surgical Technician Associate Degrees

The surgical technology degree is most commonly an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) program, although there are Associate of Science (AS) programs available as well. The AAS degree is typically considered a terminal degree program, meaning the student plans to immediately enter the workforce upon graduation, without further academic studies. The AS degree is designed to transfer credits into a four-year bachelor's degree program for those who wish to continue their academic journey.

Why Should I Get a Surgical Technician Associate Degree?

Career opportunities in the health care industry are expected to continue to grow, and the surgical technologist field is no exception. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2019 and 2029, employment of surgical technologists will grow 7%, which is higher than the average growth for all occupations. This positive career projection is due to the increase in the number of operations being performed, as well as the overall aging of society. Career prospects are best for those who complete an accredited educational program and perform successfully on a surgical technologist certification exam.

The surgical technologist position can be a good fit for those who feel they would enjoy working in a hospital environment. It is important to note that this field is not ideal for those who are squeamish at the sight of blood, since a primary responsibility involves assisting during operations. To be successful, individuals would need to be good communicators, detail oriented, and have the ability to work well under pressure. Good physical health is essential, since the position requires extended periods of standing, as well as assisting with the moving and lifting of patients.

How to Choose a Surgical Technician Associate Program

Programs may vary in length, but usually take about 2 years. They generally encompass both in-classroom learning and clinical experiences, so that students are able to enhance their learning with hands-on application and practice. When comparing programs from various institutions, it may be helpful to ask each college to describe the real-world application opportunities they offer to students. These might include surgical observation requirements, clinical rotations, or practicum experiences. It is essential to ensure the program is accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Applied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), as potential employers may elect not to recognize a degree awarded from a non-accredited college program. More information on program accreditation may be found in the section entitled Accreditation for Surgical Tech Associate Degree Programs.

Program costs should always be provided to you up-front upon request. Questions regarding when tuition is due, any in-state or out-of-state tuition details, and scholarship opportunities are always appropriate. A clear understanding of the total cost of the program, including living expenses, books, and fees helps to ensure that the student is financially ready for the full two-year commitment and is able to successfully complete the associate's degree.

Application and Admissions for Surgical Technician Associate Degree Programs

A high school diploma or GED is required for admission into an associate's degree program. For this reason, an official transcript or GED score report must be submitted along with the application. Shot records may also be required, along with any college entrance examination scores, if taken. Some colleges require a minimum GPA of 2.0 along with a grade of C or better in their core college courses before being admitted into the surgical portion of the program coursework. Writing samples in the form of personal essays are a part of the admissions process at some colleges. Due to requirements of the facilities for the clinical experiences, students may also need to undergo background checks and drug screenings.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Surgical Technician Associate Degree?

Associate degrees are typically designed as two-year programs, although fast track programs do exist that permit students to complete the degree in twelve months. Completion of requirements such as observation hours or clinical experience may add to the overall time frame. Start dates for the program are an important consideration, as this may also affect the completion timeline for a student. Some colleges organize their programs into cohort classes, meaning students advance through the program together as a group. Colleges that offer cohorts may have limited start times, such as alternate semesters, or only during the fall semester of each year. Some programs do offer afternoon or evening cohorts in addition to the more traditional daytime format.

How Much Does an Associate Degree in Surgical Technician Cost?

Tuition and fees may vary greatly between colleges, so it is important to understand the total cost when comparing programs. Tuition rates are broken into three categories: in-state, out-of-state, and off campus or distance learning. In-state tuition simply means that the student resides in the state where the college is located. Similarly, out-of-state tuition applies to students who reside in a different state than the one in which the college is located. Usually the out-of-state tuition rate is significantly higher than the in-state rate. Off-campus or distance learning rates apply to students who will be completing the program fully online.

In-state tuition for the surgical technologist associate's degree is around $100-$130 per credit hour at a 2 year or community college, and may be significantly higher at a private college or four-year university. This cost is for coursework only, and does not include fees, books, or room and board. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2017-2018 the average annual cost for tuition, room and board, and fees for full-time undergraduate students at 2-year public institutions was $10,281. Since the associate's degree for surgical technology is a two-year program, this would mean the total program cost excluding textbooks would average approximately $20,562.

A listing of college fees and program fees can usually be found by using the search feature located on the college's website. College fees cover items such as parking, printing allocations, activity fees, and campus safety fees. Program fees are specific to the program of study. These may include lab fees, uniforms, or materials and supplies necessary to achieve the required learning objectives for the courses.

Associate Degree Coursework

Core courses in mathematics, English, speech/communications, humanities, and biology generally require a grade of C or better. At some institutions these courses must be successfully completed prior to taking courses in the surgical technology portion of the degree plan. Occupational courses include surgical technology, pharmacology, and principles of surgical tech. Observation hours during surgery are required in most programs, and surgical assisting under supervision is a critical part of the hands-on portion of the learning. Basic operating room techniques, sterile processing, and wound care are also included in the curriculum.

How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Surgical Technician?

The average (mean) annual salary for surgical technologists in May 2020 was reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to be $51,510. Outpatient care centers and specialty hospitals offer the highest salaries, with dentist offices paying at the lower end of the pay scale. Of the states that employ the most surgical technologists, California and New York paid the highest salary, at $64,570 and $59,380 respectively. Alaska offers the highest salary overall for the position, with an annual pay of $67,120.

Begin a Career as a Clinical Laboratory Technologist

Surgical technologists may decide to advance their career with a bachelor's degree. One occupation open to students upon completion of a bachelor's program is the clinical laboratory technologist. Similar to the surgical technologist, this position is also located within a hospital setting. Jobs may be found in private clinics or laboratories as well. Clinical laboratory technologists enter data from medical testing into a patient's record, collect and analyze clinical samples, and determine whether test results fall into the normal or abnormal range. A bachelor's degree in life sciences or a medical technology field is required. The average (mean) annual salary for this position is $62,440.

Begin a Career as a Licensed Vocational Nurse or a Respiratory Therapist

Individuals who have an interest in becoming a surgical technologist, but are unable to financially commit to a full-time, two-year program of study right away, may opt for initial employment as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). The LVN program generally takes about 1 year to finish. LVN programs are often a part of a high school's career-based curriculum offerings, allowing a student to graduate high school with their LVN certification in place and therefore pursue full-time employment immediately upon high school graduation. Training programs may also be found at two-year community colleges, and, in some instances, are also offered at hospitals. LVNs monitor the vital signs of patients, see to basic care and comfort of patients, report patient status and concerns to the supervising nurse or doctor, and maintain medical records on the patient. The average hourly rate for an LVN is $23.07.

Respiratory therapists also work in the healthcare industry, and are a part of a patient's medical team similar to LVNs or surgical technologists. Like the surgical tech position, an associate degree is required to become a respiratory therapist. However, with an annual (mean) salary of $62,500, the pay is significantly higher for a respiratory therapist than the annual (mean) salary of $51,510 a surgical technologist can expect to make. Respiratory therapists work with patients who have difficulty breathing, and utilize various techniques and treatments to ease their breathing.

What Is the Difference Between a Surgical Technician and a Sterile Processing Technician?

Surgical technologists and sterile processing technicians assist in the preparation of the equipment needed for medical procedures and operations. Both positions require a thorough knowledge of medical tools, including proper use and care of the equipment. While surgical technologists may assist during the operation, the work of the sterile processing technician occurs before and after surgery. Sterile processing technicians ensure that the operating room and surgical equipment is sterile, that needed supplies are in place, and that medical equipment has been properly inspected for any potential defect. They are also responsible for decontamination and sterilization of all tools and equipment once surgery is complete. Unlike the surgical technologist, which requires an associate degree and about two years of classes, the sterile processing technician position is a certificate program comprised of about one semester of coursework. The average hourly pay is $16.89.

Certifications & Licensure for Surgical Technician

Basic certifications such as CPR and BLS (basic life support) are often required by the employer. In addition, specialized certification as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or a Tech In Surgery - Certified (TS-C) can prove beneficial in obtaining a job.

To qualify to take the CST exam, students must have graduated from a surgical technology program at an accredited college, or from a military training program in surgical technology. The test costs $190 for those who are members of the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST), or $290 for those who are not members. An application must be submitted either online or via mail.

The TS-C exam allows applications from current students, graduates, those with relevant experience, or military personnel. A form must be submitted to determine eligibility to test. Exam fees range from $155 to $195, depending upon factors such as eligibility category and timeframe between graduation and testing.

Accreditation for Surgical Technician Associate Degree Programs

When considering college or university programs for the associate's degree in surgical technology, it is important to begin by ensuring the program is fully accredited by the CAAHEP, which stands for the Commission on Accreditation of Applied Health Education Programs, or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). The CAAHEP accredits programs in 32 different health science professions. Employers want to see that the degree is from a rigorous program, and they do this by checking the accreditation status of the institution that awarded the degree. Attending a non-accredited program can greatly limit job opportunities after graduation. It is easy to find a listing of accredited programs by using the Find A Program feature on the CAAHEP website, or asking the college if the program is ABHES or CAAHEP accredited.

What Are Other Surgical Technician Degree Options?

The primary educational requirement for this position is completion of the associate degree, with certification preferred. While the associate degree is considered the terminal degree requirement for this position, bachelor's and advanced degrees are available in related medical fields.

Bachelor's Degrees in Surgical Technician

Bachelor's degrees are not commonly offered in surgical technology, but they are available in a variety of health care fields, including health science, medical technology, life sciences, and nursing. Students interested in ultimately pursuing a bachelor's degree will benefit from an Associate of Science (AS) degree program in surgical technology, rather than the Associate of Applied Science (AAS). The reason for this is because the AS degree is designed to more readily transfer into a bachelor's program degree plan.

Master's Degrees in Surgical Technician

Similar to the bachelor's level, master's degrees in surgical technology are not common. A related option for those who wish to pursue an advanced degree is the Physician Assistant master's degree. Physician assistants work under the supervision of a doctor or surgeon, helping to take medical histories, diagnose illness, prescribe medication, and provide medical treatment. Physician assistants who are employed in a surgical center may assist in surgery as directed by the surgeon, close incisions, and provide care to the patient before, during, and after the surgical procedure.

Doctoral Degrees in Surgical Technician

A surgical technologist is supervised by the attending surgeon. While doctoral degrees are not offered in surgical technology, a medical doctor degree (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree are options for those who wish to attend medical school with the ultimate goal of becoming a surgeon. A residency program after completion of medical school would be required to come a licensed surgeon.

Certificate Programs in Surgical Technician

Certificates for surgical technology are professional certification awards that are earned after the associate's degree has been completed and a certification test is taken and passed. More information on this certification may be found in the section entitled Certifications and Licensure for Surgical Tech. This certification by exam awarded by a professional organization or association differs from an educational certificate obtained after taking a set number of academic credit hours at a college. Educational certificate programs are not available in lieu of associate's degrees for surgical technologist. Post-secondary educational certificate programs are available, however, for the more general category of medical laboratory technicians.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Surgical Technician Associate Degrees

Completion of the FASFA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the first step in applying for federal financial aid. Many colleges use the FASFA to determine eligibility for local financial aid opportunities as well. In addition to the FASFA, there are a number of associations and organizations that offer scholarships to students interested in pursuing an associate degree in surgical tech.

The Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (ARC/STSA) offers a student scholarship of $500. To be eligible, students must be members of either the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) or the Association of Surgical Assistants (ASA), have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a letter of recommendation from their program director, and submit a written essay. The Foundation for Surgical Technology offers academic scholarships for surgical technology students to use toward either tuition or student loan debt. The deadline for the scholarship is March 1 of each year, with the amount of the scholarship award varying from year to year. For this scholarship, the student completes 50% of the application, and an instructor of the student's choosing completes the remaining 50%. Local colleges often have financial aid packages and scholarships available as well. These can generally be found by contacting the financial aid office of the college.

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