Associates or Bachelor's Degree First?

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If you’re thinking about earning an associates degree, you may be wondering whether just two years in college (as opposed to four in a bachelors degree program) are enough to pursue your ideal career. First, it’s important to understand the distinction between an associates degree and a bachelors degree. Some colleges and universities offer an associates to bachelors degree program, where you earn both degrees. Choosing a bachelor or associates degree is an important first step in your academic pursuit.  If you're already ready to pursue an associates degree, browse our online associate degree programs, otherwise read on!

Bachelor or Associates Degree

Bachelor or Associate Degree

So, what is an associates degree? An associate’s degree is granted after a two-year course of study, usually by a community or junior college. It can act as a stand-alone degree or serve as a stepping stone to the next level of your college education: a bachelor’s degree, which is typically a four year program. If you decide after earning your associate’s degree that you’d like to continue your education, you can typically transfer many of the credits you earned during the two-year program to a bachelor’s degree program.

So how do you decide whether you want to earn an associate’s degree only, or earn your associate’s degree and then transfer those credits to a bachelor’s degree program?

Why Get an Associates Degree and Finish with a Bachelors?

There are several reasons why you may want to earn a two-year associate degree and then continue on to a bachelor’s degree program.

Careers That Only Need an Associates Degree vs Bachelors Degree

Maybe you haven’t determined which career you want to pursue and are still weighing your options. If you look for two-year programs with a focus on general education, you could sample the coursework in various liberal arts subjects, including philosophy, psychology, writing, art, history, computer science, and more. Many associate’s degree programs can also put you in touch with instructors and advisors who can help you identify your strengths and talents. Finally, you may have more flexibility to transition into a specific major or technical program after starting with a shorter program.

Your Financial Situation is Less Than Stable

If you're having money problems, you may not want to sign on for a four-year degree right now. When choosing a bachelor or associates degree you may decide that completing a shorter degree (perhaps at a community college, where tuition rates are typically much lower than those at four-year schools) may help you expand your opportunities in the job you have now, even if you plan to pursue a different career later in life. You don't have to forget about your long-term career goals – just consider taking a break between these stages of your studies to work towards a more solid financial footing before going back to school to finish your bachelor’s degree.

You Want a Bachelors Degree From a Selective College, But Your High School Grades or SAT Scores Were Low

You likely can't get accepted into a top-notch college if your high school grades were mostly D's. And these days, even state schools are quite competitive. If you want to earn a bachelor's degree from a name brand college or your state’s well-known university, you may need to prove yourself in an associate's program first. As an associate's student, you could use your newfound passion and determination to rewrite your educational track record. Schools may look more favorably on the improved grades you earned during your associate’s degree program and be more willing to overlook poor performance during high school.

Reasons to Earn an Associates Degree

Your career goal only requires a 2-year degree.

Many of today's in-demand careers only require two years of college education as an entry-level credential. The following list represents just a few of them[i]:

Job Title

Entry-Level Education Requirement

2012 Median Pay

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Associate's Degree

$35,000 to $54,999

Registered Nurses

Associate's Degree

$55,000 to $74,999

Computer Network Support Specialists

Associate's Degree

$55,000 to $74,999

Radiologic Technologists

Associate's Degree

$35,000 to $54,999

Nuclear Technicians

Associate's Degree

$55,000 to $74,999

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Associate's Degree

$55,000 to $74,999

Physical Therapy Assistant

Associate's Degree

$35,000 to $54,999

You Don’t Want to Devote Too Many Years to Schooling

Not everyone has the necessary interest level or the attention span to complete a bachelors degree. This has very little to do with being more or less intelligent. Research shows that human beings are more likely to enjoy tasks that they are naturally good at. For example, athletic people enjoy playing sports. Mechanical people enjoy tinkering with engines. Verbal people enjoy reading and writing, which happen to be two skills that are frequently utilized in a bachelor's degree program.

If you're not naturally a verbal person, you can still learn how to read and write, but you probably won't want to spend three or four years — beyond high school — doing these exercises at an advanced level. For you, a bachelor's degree may not be the best option. Instead, you should try to determine your natural strengths and which of those would lend well to an associate’s degree program. Maybe you have excellent fine-motor skills, which could help you become a talented electrician or mechanic. An associate's degree can help prepare you with the knowledge you need to pursue your ideal career, and you could start doing what you love that much sooner.


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