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Associate’s Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree: What Computer Science Program Should You Choose?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: March 13, 2017

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: March 13, 2017

Diploma vs. Associate Degree vs. Bachelor Degree in Computer Science copy


Computer science was the 19th most popular major in the 2019-2020 school year. Students interested in this degree have a plethora of great schools to choose from and can pursue a multitude of specialties. The challenge can be deciding on a 2-year or 4-year program and which school is best.


If you are a prospective student, what should you think about when considering an associate degree vs bachelor degree?




Associate vs. Bachelor Degree: The Basics


The very basic difference between an associate’s degree vs a bachelor’s degree is the time it takes to earn one. Generally speaking, an associate’s degree requires 40-60 credits which can be completed with  2 years of full-time study while a bachelor’s degree demands 120 credits and 4 years. The 2-year associate’s, which is most often offered by a community or junior college, can be a stand-alone degree or it can be a stepping stone to a bachelor’s.


There are a couple of notable advantages to pursuing an associate degree vs bachelor degree. The associate’s degree is occupational focused and the courses tend to be technical and job-related. A bachelor’s degree program offers courses that expose students to broader, more theoretical learning.


If you are the type of person who thrives in technical learning, the associate’s degree will be a good fit. And if you decide to get your bachelor’s degree, the credits you’ve earned will count towards it.


Another advantage in the associate’s degree vs bachelor’s degree discussion is cost. The price tag for courses at community or junior colleges is cheaper than those at a public or private 4-year college.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition and fees for 2-year programs at public colleges are less than half the costs of a 4-year institution.


Because the courses in an associate’s degree program are often occupational, graduates have received the hands-on training that makes them ready to immediately move into their field. An impressive 57% of associate’s degrees are in career-oriented fields like STEM, health, business, and consumer and public service.


One of the significant differences to consider when thinking about the associate vs bachelor’s degree is future earnings. If you hold a bachelor’s degree, you can expect to make $18,772 more per year than someone who has an associate’s degree. Over a lifetime, that adds up to $750,000 of additional income.


Now that we have a handle on some of the basic differences between the associate degree vs the bachelor degree, let’s take a look at the beautiful world of computer science and the types of degrees!



Source: Pixabay 




An Associate’s Degree in Computer Science


The definition of computer science is the study of computers and their computational methods. Computer scientists figure out how computers and computer systems work together and then use that knowledge in an impressive number of subsets.

As a student with an associate’s degree in computer science, you can expect to take some general education courses like English, math, and communications but the bulk of your studies will be practical, tech-related and prepare you to launch your career.

Some of those computer courses in the associate’s degree program will include intro to computer science, computer networks, intro to Java, and the basics of cyber security.

With an associate’s degree, you will find that you can work as a programmer, IT specialist, software engineer, or in any number of other specialties. And don’t forget that your associate’s degree can be a stepping stone to earning a bachelor’s degree!




A Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science


If you’ve been perusing different college catalogs, you’ve likely noticed that a good portion of the required coursework in the associate’s program is also part of the bachelor’s program. One significant difference between the bachelor degree vs the associate degree is that the 4-year program goes into greater depth and requires the completion of more advanced courses like calculus, data structures, and advanced programming.


If you hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, you will find that you have a wider field of job opportunities which include software developer, systems analyst, and database administrator. As a general rule of thumb, those holding an associate degree vs a bachelor degree earn less.



Source: Unsplash



Admission Requirements: Associate vs Bachelor


Each school offering computer science programs has different admissions requirements so be sure to do your homework! Generally speaking, colleges and universities will first expect you to have a high school diploma or equivalent and possess English proficiency.


Some schools may ask for a certain GPA or they may request that you complete some standardized testing, so make sure that you have carefully read all the details. One significant difference between the associate vs bachelor program is that the 2-year community colleges are designed to be accessible to everyone.


It is also helpful if you’ve studied some basic computer science before college. Recommended courses include CSS, Python, and JavaScript.




Coursework Expectations: Associate’s Vs. Bachelor’s


There are differences in the types and numbers of courses in the associate degree vs the bachelor degree in computer science. Let’s break it down for you.


In the associate’s degree, you’ll have a requirement of 60 credits. Of those, 25 will be specific to your major. Then you will be required to take 20 general education credits like English, communication, and math. And to round out your degree, the school will ask you to complete 15 elective credits.


A bachelor’s degree will demand you complete 120 credits and at least 40 or more credit hours must be specific to your major. General education requirements will cover about half of the credit hours needed for your degree and the remaining credits can be achieved through elective courses.


It is also possible to get a diploma in computer science. Time and money are significant differences in the discussion around an associate degree vs a diploma. Diploma programs are narrow in their focus and take less time to complete. For example, you can get a diploma in a specific programming language like JavaScript. The diploma can open a door for specific jobs but if you want broader opportunities, getting a degree is a better choice!



Earning Your Degree Online


Online learning is a great way to pursue a degree, particularly if you are juggling responsibilities like a job and a family. This type of education is flexible, allowing you to timetable studies around your schedule.


The University of the People offers associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in computer science that, like all their programs, are completely online and accredited. UoPeople has removed many traditional barriers to a college education by being tuition-free, requiring prospective students to only have a high school diploma or equivalent and proof of English proficiency



Closing Thoughts


It is not difficult to understand that computer science is an exciting and growing field! The career options are almost limitless and range from simple programming to technology that makes our lives better to futuristic artificial intelligence.


If you’re considering studying computer science, take some time to think about the differences between an associate degree vs bachelor’s degree and where each path could potentially take you. Whatever you decide, when it comes to computer science, the sky’s the limit!


At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.