What is an Associate’s Degree and How is it Different From A Bachelor’s?

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Key Infor­ma­tion:

  • An asso­ci­ate’s degree is typ­i­cal­ly a two-year pro­gram focused on foun­da­tion­al and voca­tion­al train­ing.
  • A bach­e­lor’s degree is a four-year pro­gram offer­ing more in-depth study in a spe­cif­ic field.
  • An asso­ci­ate’s degree can lead to entry-lev­el posi­tions in var­i­ous fields and often serves as a step­ping stone to a bach­e­lor’s degree, which pro­vides greater career advance­ment and earn­ing potential.
  • Asso­ci­ate’s degrees are gen­er­al­ly less expen­sive and more acces­si­ble, often offered by com­mu­ni­ty col­leges, and can be trans­ferred to a four-year insti­tu­tion for a bach­e­lor’s degree.
  • Both degrees can be pur­sued full-time or part-time. They can be online or on campus.

An asso­ci­ate’s degree is award­ed, usu­al­ly by a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege or a junior col­lege, after a two-year course of study has been com­plet­ed. In recent times, how­ev­er, four-year col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have been offer­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents to earn this type of degree while pur­su­ing and even­tu­al­ly attain­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree.

An Overview of an Associate’s Degree

At many schools, if an indi­vid­ual has com­plet­ed some col­lege cours­es but does not have a for­mal degree, they may be able to con­sol­i­date these cred­its into an asso­ci­ate’s degree. The degree may be grant­ed if the stu­den­t’s total amount of cred­its adds up to 60 semes­ter cred­its or 90 quar­ter cred­its. This is equiv­a­lent to the stu­dent tak­ing approx­i­mate­ly 20 class­es in a des­ig­nat­ed cur­ricu­lum draft­ed by the insti­tu­tion that is award­ing the degree. These cred­its are earned dur­ing the fresh­man and sopho­more years of college.

Some of the job oppor­tu­ni­ties open to you with an asso­ciate degree include:

  • reg­is­tered nurse
  • human resources manager
  • den­tal hygienist

Many stu­dents choose asso­ciate degree pro­grams at their local com­mu­ni­ty col­lege after high school. The career path of asso­ciate degree hold­ers don’t have to stop there, of course. The gen­er­al stud­ies course­work will often trans­fer to a four-year degree. You can use your cred­it hours and work expe­ri­ence eto meet the edu­ca­tion require­ments for enroll­ment at a four-year uni­ver­si­ty. Bachelor’s degree hold­ers see high­er week­ly earn­ings than those with a high school diplo­ma or asso­ciate degree. The cre­den­tial of a col­lege edu­ca­tion gives you a leg up on the job mar­ket, with high­er earn­ing poten­tial and greater career opportunities.

You can earn your col­lege degree full-time or part-time if you are also work­ing toward your career goals.

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

A two-year undergrad­u­ate pro­gram, often­times referred to as a voca­tion­al asso­ci­ate’s degree, pre­pares stu­dents to go direct­ly into the work­force for which they have been trained. Many well-pay­ing tech­ni­cal jobs and trades will accept an asso­ci­ate’s degree as a min­i­mum require­ment for an entry-lev­el posi­tion. Anoth­er type of asso­ci­ate’s degree, known as a trans­fer degree, pre­pares stu­dents to trans­fer into a uni­ver­si­ty bach­e­lor’s degree pro­gram for a more advanced study of a par­tic­u­lar major. At some insti­tu­tions, an asso­ci­ate’s degree is sim­ply made up of the gen­er­al edu­ca­tion cours­es required to suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete a bach­e­lor’s degree. This type of career path­way is known as a 2+2 program.

An A.A.S. or Asso­ci­ate’s of Applied Sci­ence, is usu­al­ly grant­ed to a grad­u­ate of a two-year voca­tion­al degree pro­gram. Degree lev­el pro­grams clas­si­fied as A.A., A.S., and A.F.A. are trans­fer degrees enti­tled Asso­ciate of Arts, Asso­ciate of Sci­ence, and Asso­ciate of Fine Arts, respectively.

Fields of study for both an asso­ci­ate’s as well as a bach­e­lor’s degree may be iden­ti­cal. How­ev­er, it is the depth of con­cen­tra­tion and advance­ment com­bined with the time it takes to com­plete a field of study that sets these types of degrees apart. There­fore, the amount of mon­ey it takes to earn an asso­ci­ate’s degree is usu­al­ly half the cost of earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree in the same field.

Com­mon bach­e­lor degree des­ig­na­tions include Bach­e­lor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.), Bach­e­lor of Arts (B.A.), Bach­e­lor of Archi­tec­ture (B.Arch.), Bach­e­lor of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion (B.B.A.), and Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence (B.S.). A bach­e­lor’s degree is award­ed after the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of 4 years of full-time study.

Time con­science career-chang­ers are increas­ing­ly pur­su­ing asso­ci­ate’s degrees instead of the tra­di­tion­al 4‑year bach­e­lor’s as a cat­a­lyst to acquir­ing a well-pay­ing job. In har­mo­ny with this time (and mon­ey) sav­ing trend, count­less online schools offer asso­ci­ate’s degrees. In the year 2009, it was esti­mat­ed that about half of all online degree pro­grams being offered were specif­i­cal­ly for the pur­pose of earn­ing an asso­ci­ate’s degree. That trans­lates to hun­dreds of thou­sands of indi­vid­u­als of diverse back­grounds gain­ing the edu­ca­tion­al back­ground and refined skills need­ed to launch or advance their careers while main­tain­ing work and fam­i­ly com­mit­ments. The more recent tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments made in online edu­ca­tion have enabled many stu­dents to achieve suc­cess in their pre­ferred career fields.


Bach­e­lor’s Degree vs Asso­ci­ate’s Degree: What’s Best For Nurses?

What Can I Do With an Asso­ci­ate’s Degree?