Associate Degree vs. Bachelor Degree

Wondering what is the difference between Associate and Bachelor's Degree? Explore 7 differences clearly detailing comparison with respect to various criteria.

Updated by Arpit Sachdeva on 3rd October 2020

Making a choice between an Associate degree and Bachelor's degree can be tough.

The basic difference is that the Associate degree is an academic program that lasts for two years whereas, Bachelor's degree lasts from three years to seven years depending upon the courses and institution. 

What is an Associate Degree?

It is an academic program at the undergraduate level, which is mostly the first stage after high school. This Associate degree aims to provide students with the technical and academic knowledge and skills that they need to go on to employment or further study in their chosen field.

These Associate’s degrees are usually offered in the US and in some parts of Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands. The UK offers similar programs by different names such as foundation degrees.

These Associate degrees helps some students in preparation for Bachelors degrees and for others, it’s a qualification by its own right, which helps graduates for entry-level work with basic knowledge and skill necessary for the job.

Learn More: What is an Associate Degree?

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

It is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges, universities, and educational institutions after completing the course which lasts for three, five or even seven years depending on the program and the institution.

In a few countries like Canada, New Zealand, and some European countries with qualification framework, Bachelor’s degrees are usually one of the major levels in the framework. 

This Bachelor’s degree helps out students in educating them with the knowledge and skills in a particular field that will lead them to professional and mid-level management jobs. General courses like liberal arts and specific majors like Biology, Mathematics, etc are required by the Bachelor’s degree.

As now we know what is an Associate Degree and a Bachelor’s degree, but still, there are some factors that come into consideration before you make a decision whether to choose an Associate degree or a Bachelor degree.

Learn More: What is a Bachelor's Degree?

Associate's degree vs Bachelor's degrees

These differences can help you make the right decision about post-secondary education.

1. Time to complete

The most obvious and important difference between the two types of degrees is the time it takes to earn each one

For a full-time student, an Associate degree program lasts two years, whatever the major be. A Bachelor's degree program, on the other hand, lasts from three to seven years depending on the specialization of the course or majors and the institution.

Both types of programs may take longer if a student chooses for part-time enrolment.

2. Level of Study

There are two approaches to getting an Associate’s degree.

One is to prepare for a career in a specific major by enrolling in a highly-skilled vocational or technical program, like Biology, Nursing, or Arts. The other approach is to go for general studies which allows you to earn transfer credits and an Associate’s degree simultaneously. This type doesn’t require a specific major.

Most Bachelor’s degree programs require that you choose a major and complete a final year project or training in that field.

Bachelor’s programs also provide options to explore elective studies, which can be formed into a minor that complements your major.

But before you get to coursework in your major, you’ll need to complete about 2 years of general education (that’s where an Associate degree plays it’s a role.)

3. Coursework

A Bachelor’s degree requires the completion of approximately 80-120 credit hours as a whole, though the credit hours may differ from one course to another, whereas an Associate degree, needs the completion of approximately 40 credit hours.

An Associate degree can be earned in half the time compared to the Bachelor’s degree.

4. Tuition/Program Cost

The exact cost per credit will vary from college to college, but generally, an Associate’s degree will be comparatively lower than the Bachelor’s degree.

This is mainly due to a smaller time investment, but many colleges that offer Associate degrees are less expensive than those that offer Bachelor’s degrees. 

However, you can get many financial aids like student loans and college scholarship opportunities if you enroll in an accredited college.

5. Career opportunities

Your decision whether to go for an Associate degree or a Bachelor’s degree mostly depends on the career opportunities that you get after completing the program.

If you are looking to kick start your career in a technical or skilled-labor industry.

In fields like accounting, finance, and business management often requires a Bachelor’s degree at a minimum, and also if you want to indulge in a career that requires a graduate study or to pursue a master’s degree, then you’ll definitely need a Bachelors degree.

6. Earning Potential

While an Associate degree cost less than a Bachelor’s degree, there’s a trade-off when it comes to the earnings potential of graduates from those two programs.

Recent statistics state that students with a Bachelor’s degree are less likely to be unemployed an the average salary is more when compared to the Associate degree graduate.

7. Financial aid 

Both associate and bachelor’s degrees are entitled to generous amounts of financial assistance. Transitioning from an associate education to pursue a bachelor’s degree can involve limitations, especially, in federal financial aid and student loans by the Government.  

An associate degree can help you land a job that caters to your development, meaning, the employer sponsors the employee’s bachelor’s education (when and if required).

Associate vs Bachelor’s degree: Which to choose?

If you are still confused about which type of degree to choose, then the best way to decide is to figure out your goals. Think about the direction of your career path and interest, and then look out what academic options available out there.

Many institutions extend both the options of associate and bachelor’s degrees. While some only concentrate on one degree and accordingly educate the students. The educational institutions of the USA do not require additional coursework fo transitioning from associate degree to bachelor’s degree. 

Conclusion

Both Associate and Bachelor’s degree has its benefits. To sum up, an Associate degree is a program of 2 years for entering into entry-level positions to restart your career without much wastage of formal education.

Bachelor’s degree is for 3-7 years and they provide the foundation required for attaining the majority of jobs.

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