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Associate Degree Vs Bachelors Degree- Key Differences & Top Colleges

Updated on 17 August, 2023

Sanjana MadishettiPragya Sharma

Sanjana, Pragya

Are you a recent high school graduate facing the dilemma of choosing between an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree? Gain valuable insights from the following narrative, showcasing diverse perspectives and helping you make an informed decision.

Two friends, Rahul and Sanjana, graduate from high school with big dreams and aspirations. Rahul decides to pursue an Associate Degree, eager to enter the workforce sooner and gain practical skills. On the other hand, Sanjana opts for a Bachelor's Degree, aiming to delve deeper into her chosen field and explore advanced concepts. As time goes by, they embark on their journeys, each presenting unique opportunities and challenges. But which choice will prove more beneficial in the long run? 

In this article we will explore what is an Associate and a Bachelor’s degree, their key differences, and all other important aspects which must be considered before making a choice.

What is Associate Degree

An Associate Degree is a two-year college degree obtained from various educational institutions, including community colleges, junior colleges, and online universities. It serves as an intermediate academic credential, bridging the gap between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. 

Some students use an associate degree to transfer to a bachelor’s program, while others choose to enter the workforce directly. It is also possible to earn an associate degree after gaining work experience, as it can help in career advancement and serves as the initial step towards a new profession. Academic institutions in the United States and Canada commonly offer associate degrees, while other countries may have similar programs but go by different names.

What is Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor's degree, also known as a college degree, typically requires approximately three to four years or a minimum of 120 credits to complete. It allows students to specialize in a subject of their choice, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge for specific professions. Universities provide diverse undergraduate programs for students to select from. While traditionally earned in-person on a college campus, institutions are now increasingly offering bachelor's degree programs online as well. A bachelor's degree can broaden job opportunities, expose individuals to new ideas, and enhance earning potential.

Key Differences Between Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree

Basis of Difference

Associate Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

Tenure

2 years

Mostly 3-4 years, depending on the subject opted

Average annual tuition

$3,860 (public in-district schools)

$10,940 (public in-state schools)

Credit requirements

60 Credits

120 Credits

Enrollment requirements

General Education Development (GED) or high school diploma

GED or high school diploma, letters of recommendation, GPA, standardized test scores

Program focus

They have a narrower program focus with a strong emphasis on career readiness.

They have a broader program focus, placing a greater emphasis on a specific field of study.

Median annual earnings of full-time employees (Passouts in 2020)

$50,076 

$69,398

Source: Official website of AACC- American Association of Community Colleges 

Types of Associate Degrees in the USA

There are many types of Associate Degrees available, but here are the four most common Associate degree programs:

  1. Associate of Arts (A.A.)
  2. Associate of Science (A.S.)
  3. Associate of Applied Arts (A.A.A.)
  4. Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)

Associate of Arts (A.A): The Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree provides a broad liberal arts education, focusing on literature, history, mathematics, psychology, and life sciences. 

Associate of Science (A.S): Associate of Science (A.S.) degree concentrates on scientific and technical fields, such as mathematics, physical sciences, computer science, and engineering

Associate of Applied Arts (A.A.A): Associate of Applied Arts (A.A.A.) degree focuses on practical skills in arts-related areas like graphic design, fashion design, or culinary arts. 

Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S): The Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree is a vocational program that prepares students for specific careers, like nursing, automotive technology, information technology, or criminal justice, by emphasizing practical skills and hands-on training. 

The main difference between the applied degrees (A.A.A. and A.A.S.) and the others (A.A. and A.S.) lies in the focus on practical skills and career readiness. Applied degrees are designed to directly prepare students for the job market, while A.A. and A.S. degrees are often used as a foundation for further studies at the bachelor's degree level.

Can You Transfer From Associate Degree to Bachelor’s Degree

Yes, it is possible to transfer credits from an associate to a bachelor’s program. Many colleges and universities have transfer agreements and pathways to facilitate the transition from an associate's degree to a bachelor's degree. These transfer programs allow students to apply the credits earned during their associate's degree toward their bachelor's degree program.

Transferring from an associate's degree to a bachelor's degree is often straightforward. If your course credits align with the university’s requirements offering the bachelor's degree, you can transfer your credits and seamlessly transition into the bachelor's program, following a 2 + 2 format. 

Researching your chosen institutions and their specific transfer requirements is essential. You may need to complete certain classes or credit hours to ensure you meet the prerequisites for the bachelor's program. It is advisable to consult with academic advisors or your preferred university’s officials to ensure a smooth transfer and maximize your preparedness for the bachelor's program.

Associate Degree in USA

An associate degree in the US is a two-year undergraduate degree offered by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, some four-year colleges, universities, and university-affiliated colleges. They are designed to provide students with marketable skills and the option to enter the workforce directly or transfer to a four-year institution to continue their education.

Top Colleges Offering Associate Degrees in USA

The US is renowned for its diverse and prestigious universities, which offer international students a wide array of degree programs. Among the various educational choices available, associate degree programs in US universities have gained popularity among students immediately after completing their secondary education. Here is a compiled list of highly regarded colleges offering associate degree programs in the US. 

Name of the College

Average Annual Tuition Fee

Foothill College

$9,720

Fox Valley Technical College

$8500*

Santa Barbara City College

$10,056

Las Positas College

$8,640

Craven Community College

$9,216

Coastline Community College

$12,360** 

 

Source: Official college website

*$283.35 per credit (as mentioned on the college’s website)

**$319 per unit + $42 (as mentioned on the college’s website)

The Annual Amount is calculated by taking 30 credits as the average credit required in a year, as whole degree programs, in most cases, are 60 units.

Associate Degree in Canada

Several nations, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada, provide commendable associate degree programs. Canada, recognized as one of the world's most educated countries, presents abundant employment and placement opportunities to students pursuing diverse degrees, fostering their knowledge and expanding their learning horizons. 

International students planning to study in Canada must possess a valid visa and other necessary documents associated with their university, course, finances, and stay, ensuring a smooth and trouble-free overseas experience.  

You can get the credits earned during an Associate Degree transferred to a four-year university program. Moreover, international students who complete an associate degree program in Canada may qualify for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This permit allows them to work in Canada for a designated period after graduation, allowing them to gain valuable work experience in the country.

Top Colleges Offering Associate Degrees in Canada

Canada boasts several esteemed colleges offering top associate degree programs. These institutions prioritize delivering high-quality education and equipping students with the skills necessary for successful careers. Some of the leading associate degree colleges in Canada include: 

Name of the College

Average Tuition Fee (Per Credit)

Alexander College

C$610 

University Canada West

C$2,018 (from the 2024 session)

LaSelle College

C$550 

Corpus Christi College

C$2,490 

Columbia College

C$585 (from September 2023) 

Northern Lights College

C$386 

Source: Official college website

Which is Better: An Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree

A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2022 revealed that the percentage of adults aged 25 and above with at least a four-year college degree has increased from 30.4% in 2011 to 37.9%. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts an 8.2% job growth rate for bachelor's degree holders by 2031.

Another report showed the unemployment rate for associate degree holders in 2021 stood only at 4.6%, signifying the increasing value and recognition of associate degrees. According to AACC, 877,240 associate degrees were awarded in 2020-21 compared to 25,023 bachelor’s degrees. But the median weekly earnings for bachelor's degree holders were $1,334, whereas associate degree holders earned $963.

It is crucial to note that the best degree choice ultimately depends on aligning it with your personal, educational, and professional goals. While an associate degree can lead to numerous career paths, pursuing a bachelor's degree may open up additional opportunities. However, if time constraint is a significant factor, an associate degree may be the most suitable option to meet your immediate needs. Evaluating your specific circumstances, including financial resources, schedule, and objectives, is essential to determine the most fitting degree for your situation.

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