Associate’s Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree

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If you’re on the fence about getting a bachelor’s or associate degree, we’re here to help. There are various advantages associated with both degree programs, and the best degree depends heavily on the individual. Here, we’ll talk about the key differences between an Associate’s degree vs Bachelor’s degree program to help you decide the best course of action to pursue your academic goals.

What’s the Difference Between an Associate and Bachelor Degree?

One degree isn’t necessarily better than the other. The best degree for you will be the one that aligns with your personal and professional goals. The good news is, if you choose one route, you can always return to school later to get another degree or switch careers. Here are five things to consider that may help you choose whether an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is right for you.

1. Time Commitment

If you’re not set on one degree over the other and the amount of time you spend in school is a concern, then you may want to pursue an associate degree. To answer the question, how many years is an associate degree? A full-time student can earn an associate degree in two years, whereas a bachelor’s program generally takes four years. Of course, these timelines will increase if you’re working and not attending school full time, so if you want to get in and out as quickly as possible, go for your associate degree.

Another consideration is the amount of classes required to earn your degree. An associate degree consists of around 60 credits (or 90 quarter units), and these can be more specialized depending on the program you choose. There are even specialized associate degree programs that set you up for a specific job, such as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or veterinary technician. To earn a bachelor’s degree, you’ll take at least 120 credits or 180 quarter units), which can consist of courses in your specific field of study (your major), plus general education requirements.

2. Financial Considerations

While costs will vary based on the college or university, an associate degree is generally less expensive than a bachelor’s program. An associate degree typically costs between $20,000 – $25,000 vs. $40,000 for a bachelor’s degree. Even if you commute, which allows you to omit the costs of room and board, you will still have tuition fees and have to pay per credit unit. Since the program takes longer and requires more courses, a bachelor’s degree naturally costs more.

3. Your Career Goals

Earning your degree can pave the way for more rewarding, lucrative career opportunities. Some specialized or trade-based industries require an associate degree, while others prefer prospective candidates have their bachelor’s degree.

Jobs That Require an Associate Degree

Here are some examples of career opportunities for associate degree holders. Note: some of these require specialized training so you will need to find a specific program that caters to the field of your choosing.

  • Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Ultrasound Technician
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Veterinary Technician
  • Paralegal
  • Web Developer
Jobs That Require a Bachelor’s Degree

Some jobs in specific fields, such as accounting and finance, require a bachelor’s degree. Also, some management and leadership roles favor candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager
  • Financial Manager
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Marketing Manager
  • Human Resources Manager

If you already know which type of job you want and it doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, consider getting your associate’s degree. One of the benefits of an associate degree is that in some cases, you can bypass the general education courses that don’t align with your career goals.

4. Earning Potential

If you’re going to invest time in your education you probably have a very valid question: which degree allows me to make more money? Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can earn more with a bachelor’s degree, and you’re less likely to be unemployed. This is not to say you can’t earn a decent living and support your family with an associate degree. With your associate and enough on-the-job experience, you can advance into a manager position in your career path and increase your initial earning potential.

5. Higher Education Plans

If you want to earn your degree and immediately start working in the industry of your choosing, we’ve given you some food for thought to help you choose one program vs. the other. However, if you have plans to continue your education to earn a master’s or graduate-level degree, a bachelor’s degree is a required prerequisite. 

A graduate-level degree can help you gain specialized education in your field and increase your earning potential. If you’re considering any of the following career paths, you will need a master’s degree so you’re better off starting with a bachelor’s program.

  • Psychologist
  • School or Career Counselor
  • Social Worker
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physician Assistant

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Do I Need an Associate Degree to Get a Bachelor’s Degree? 

An associate degree is not a prerequisite to earn a bachelor’s degree, you can skip an associate degree and go straight to a bachelor’s degree. However, one option you may want to consider is earning your associate degree at a community college prior to transferring to a four-year university. This way, if you end up leaving school, you will still have an associate degree. The good news is, if you’ve dropped out, you can always go back to college to earn your bachelor’s at a later time.

Applying Associate Degree Credits to a Bachelor’s Degree

If you want to turn your associate’s into a bachelor’s degree, you will need to transfer to a four-year university. It may be helpful to contact an academic advisor at any school you are considering, as they can help you determine which of your previous credits you are able to transfer. If you were not in a trade-specific or specialized associate program, you likely have many of the general education courses required to earn your bachelor’s degree. This means you will only need to take upper-division courses and courses related to the major you want to pursue.

Earn Your Associate’s or Bachelor’s at National University

Now that you understand the benefits of each type of degree, we hope you can make a more informed decision about which program is right for you. Regardless of what you choose to study, National University offers flexible online and in-person learning options for both Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree programs.

Our four-week class schedules cater specifically to working professionals and/or students with families to allow you to complete your coursework on your own time. Learn more about how to enroll at National University or contact us to speak to an academic advisor. You’re one step closer to earning your degree and setting yourself up for career success.

This post was updated on December 7th, 2022 to allow for the most up-to-date information.

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