Now that you’re ready to pursue your career ambitions, you may be wondering if an associate or a bachelor’s degree is right for you. What are the differences? What are the similarities? And which one should you choose? Let’s start answering those questions.

Associate vs. Bachelor’s Degrees: What Are They?

An associate degree and bachelor’s degree both offer students a higher level of learning, potentially opening up additional opportunities for future growth and career advancement. But, each of these higher education degrees has different requirements and possible returns based on the time and effort spent. As you approach your decision to return to school, keep in mind the information below as you determine what degree is best suited for your goals.

What is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is typically a two-year program, though most programs are flexible enough to allow you to complete them at your own pace. There are many different types of associate degrees, but the four most common are AA (Associate of Arts), AS (Associate of Science, AAA (Associate of Applied Arts) and AAS (Associate of Applied Science).

The number of credits you must complete to earn an associate degree varies depending on the field of study but is generally between 60 and 70 credits. The degree is known for being a relatively quick and less expensive alternative to a bachelor’s degree and is often a popular choice for working professionals seeking a career change.

Associate degree programs are offered in a wide variety of studies, and may lead to more specific jobs in fields like digital animation, early childhood education, social work, information technology, culinary arts, and more.

Commonly, getting accepted into an associate degree program requires a high school diploma or its equivalent, but some community colleges offer open admissions, which means they welcome students of all ability levels.

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree usually takes about four years of study to complete. To complete a bachelor’s degree, students choose a major in a particular field, and need to complete around 120 credits of coursework. There are dozens of different kinds of bachelor’s degrees, including BA (Bachelor of Arts), BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts), and BS (Bachelor of Science) degrees.

To get accepted into a bachelor’s degree program, you will need to have at least earned a high school diploma or its equivalent. Credits earned in an associate degree program will often transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. That means that in many cases if you complete your two-year associate degree, you may already be halfway there to completing your bachelor’s. This head start is useful for students who balance work and education, and for those who take full advantage of online learning’s flexible schedule.

Associate Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree: Which One Should You Choose?

Which degree is right for you all depends on what personal and professional goals you have. In today’s competitive job market, standing out with the right skills and credentials is more important than ever. Job opportunities for holders of an associate degree are actually on the rise as the economy becomes more reliant on skilled workers.

An associate degree is a common choice for people seeking to become skilled workers in a specific area, whereas bachelor’s degrees are often launch pads for a wider variety of careers and master’s degree studies.

How to Use an Associate Degree to Pursue a Career in Education

Many individuals begin their careers in education by first completing an associate degree in early childhood education, later starting as preschool aides or caregivers.

The beauty of earning an associate degree in any of these fields is that it can serve as a jumping-off point for a bachelor’s degree. Remember, many bachelor’s programs accept transfer credit from completed associate degrees, getting you that much closer to graduating with a bachelor’s if you’re interested in pursuing one.

If you do choose a bachelor’s program, your list of potential job opportunities may expand dramatically. More and more industries require candidates to have bachelor’s degrees to be considered for employment. A growing number of hospitals around the country, for instance, only hire nurses with at least four-year degrees to keep up with changes in the healthcare industry.

How Much Does Each Degree Cost?

A degree program is a serious commitment, so you should take advantage of every resource available to help pay for it. At the end of a two-year associate degree program, you can likely expect to have paid between $20,000 and $25,000 (including room and board). Many students who enroll in associate degree programs work full-time or part-time jobs simultaneously, which helps mitigate costs while attending classes. You should also consider using federal student aid by filling out the FAFSA—Free Application for Federal Student Aid—to discover if you may qualify for financial support. Additionally, the internet is an ideal way to research potential scholarship opportunities you may want to apply for. There’s money floating out there in the form of scholarships for enterprising, qualified students to utilize.

Definitely take advantage of FAFSA benefits when it comes to paying for your bachelor’s degree as well. Calculating the cost of a bachelor’s degree is trickier, considering that everywhere from low-cost community colleges to private universities to online institutions offer them. According to Business Insider, the average yearly tuition while pursuing a bachelor’s is around $10,000. Depending on what program you enroll in, and what major you’re interested in pursuing, that number could rise, so be prepared to use every financial aid resource available to help tackle the cost of your education.

Keep these numbers in mind when you’re comparing the cost differences between associate programs and bachelor’s programs. Many students apply for scholarships, or take advantage of financial aid for tuition assistance. And, if we haven’t already said this enough: many associate degrees can transfer credits toward completion of a bachelor’s—so you could get your associate degree, potentially earning you a job at one of the starting pays above, and then work toward a bachelor’s in your spare time.

Now you know some of the fundamental differences in associate vs. bachelor’s degree programs. Both options are useful to students in their own way, and both are attractive to employers, depending on what career path you want to pursue. Whatever program you choose—crack open the books, study hard, and commit to your education. Earning either an associate or bachelor’s degree is the first step toward achieving your personal and professional goals.

Ready to embark upon your educational journey toward your desired degree? Take a look at the UAGC requirements and offerings to start your educational and professional path toward success.

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