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Associate’s Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree: What’s for You?

Updated: February 20, 2024 | Published: February 6, 2018

Updated: February 20, 2024

Published: February 6, 2018

Student researching something

Whether you have recently graduated and are first looking into colleges, or are looking further into your career options, it is important to have a well-set plan. Oftentimes, students plunge into the college realm without considering their career goals. Due to this, sometimes students end up pursuing a field that has no relation to their degree or discovers that their degree was not entirely necessary to their job.

To avoid such regret, the first step you should take before starting college is deciding whether to get an associate degree vs bachelor degree. This choice requires you to have a clear perspective on the difference between an associate’s and bachelor’s degree.

Let’s dive into all the information so you can decide between earning an associate’s degree vs a bachelor’s degree.

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What’s an Associate’s Degree?

An associate’s degree is meant to be a two-year undergraduate level program. While students can finish the requirements in 12 or 18 months, it takes most people two years to complete. It provides students with basic academic knowledge and the skills needed in order to be employed or continue the study of their field. For example, a student who wishes to delve into the business world can get a career boost by choosing to pursue a degree in business administration. While associate’s degrees are mainly available in the US, this program is also offered in countries like Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Denmark, Turkey, and Australia, to name a few.

In the US, an associate’s degree is generally offered at community colleges, technical colleges, online colleges, and junior colleges. While some students pursue an associate’s degree in order to increase job prospects, others choose to obtain an associate’s degree in order to then get a bachelor’s degree.

What’s a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree that generally takes four years to complete. Students can choose to focus on a variety of subjects such as business, nursing, psychology, and English.

It’s possible to earn a bachelor’s degree at an in-person college campus and online colleges. In fact, there are an increasing number of colleges that offer online degree programs.

In almost all institutions that offer a bachelor’s degree, students must take liberal arts and general education classes to fulfill the requirements. In some fields, students are required to have a bachelor’s degree. This applies to attending graduate school for law, teacher education, medicine, and psychology.

Bachelor’s Degree vs Associate’s Degree: How to Choose

Now that you have a basic understanding of what an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree are, it’s time to examine the differences between the two.

Key Considerations

1. Program Length

While both a bachelor’s degree and an associate’s degree are labeled as undergraduate degrees, the time it takes to complete each one is different.

It typically takes two years to complete an associate degree, while it takes around four years to complete a bachelor’s.

For both degrees, students are required to complete a specific number of course credits and hours. In the United States, an associate’s degree requires about 60 credit hours in contrast to the 120 hours that the bachelor’s degree requires.

It’s important to know that this timeframe applies to a full-time student. So if a student wishes to study part-time, the program length will increase. Students who wish to pursue an associate’s degree can choose to take a fast-track course in order to finish their degree quickly. Once students complete their associate’s degree, some relevant credits may be able to go towards a bachelor’s degree which shortens the course length.

2. Career Endeavors

In general, there are many job opportunities for students who complete associate degrees. Therefore, in order to really stand out in the workforce, getting a bachelor’s degree can be greatly beneficial. Now more than ever before, US workers are earning four-year degrees as more jobs have begun to require a bachelor’s degree or higher. As the 2020 U.S.Census Bureau reports, 39.4% of Americans have a four-year college degree in comparison to the 28% who had a college degree 10 years prior.

If you are interested in software development, market research analysis, or working as a nurse or mental health counselor, you will be required to have a bachelor’s degree. As mentioned above, if you are already enrolled in an associate’s degree program there is no need to fret because you can often apply credits to your bachelor’s degree program. That could shorten the span it would take to complete a bachelor’s degree to about two years rather than four. For instance, the credits gained in an associate’s degree in business administration can be applied to a bachelor’s degree with a major in business management.

3. Program Cost

Associate’s degrees are often cheaper than bachelor’s degrees due to the shorter amount of time they take to complete. Although the cost of the program will depend on which college you attend, an associate’s degree typically costs two to three times less than a bachelor’s degree. It’s important to note that in order to pursue a postgraduate degree like a master’s or a Ph.D., students are required to have a bachelor’s level degree. So, if you really wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree, do not let its cost scare you off. There are many financial aid options and government programs that grant scholarships that are available. Additionally, you can enroll in tuition-free institutions like the University of the People, which offers associate’s degrees in Business Administration, Computer Science, and Health Science.

4. Earning Potential

Here’s what everyone wants to know, how much could you make with an associate’s degree versus a bachelor‘s degree? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the yearly salary for a bachelor’s holder is about $56,000 a year. Those with an associate’s degree earn less at $49,000 a year. In the long run, it may make more sense to spend the extra money getting a bachelor’s degree rather than saving temporarily with an associate’s degree.

Earning Your Degree(s) Online

Now that you have the necessary information about deciding which degree is for you, it’s time to consider whether you wish to attend college in person. Perhaps the thought of leaving the comfort of your home is daunting, or you wish to fit college classes around your work schedule. If you crave flexibility and want to earn an affordable degree that doesn’t leave your wallet empty, consider University of the People. UoPeople is an accredited online university that is tuition-free and just requires small fees. Scholarships are also offered in order to be accessible to a wider variety of students.

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The Bottom Line

If, by now, you are still not sure whether you wish to pursue an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, have no fear. It is worthwhile to pursue an associate’s degree while you’re figuring out if your career path requires a bachelor’s. That way, you don’t lose out on not having gotten a degree at all. You’ll be able to start working in various fields with your associate’s degree and you can always return to complete your bachelor’s degree.

No matter what you choose, make sure to be your best advocate in accomplishing your goals. Your ultimate success rests solely on you and your motivation to succeed as well as on utilizing the top resources to advance your education.