How is an Associate’s Degree Different from A Bachelor’s Degree?

How is an Associate’s Degree Different from A Bachelor’s Degree?

What are the differences between an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree?

Is a bachelor’s degree better than an associate’s degree?

Is an associate’s degree worth it?

If you’re a recent high-school graduate, or even still in high school, you most likely have a million questions like these racing through your mind.

We’re here to give you some answers.

Associate’s Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree: An Overview

Both of these are undergraduate degree programs that you can apply for after secondary school.

An associate’s degree program exposes you to the fundamental aspects of a subject, which:

  • helps build the groundwork for your bachelor’s degree, and
  • Equips you with the knowledge and skills required for specific professions.

You can either take classes in general studies, or courses for a particular career path

Bachelor’s degree programs focus on a specific major such as economics, physics, or history. You will complete core curriculum courses along with other mandatory and elective courses related to your major.

Associate’s vs Bachelor’s degree: Numbers at a glance

 Associate’s DegreeBachelor’s Degree
Program duration (for full-time students)2 years4 years
Credit hours required to complete60120
Average Annual Tuition Fees (2020-2021)*$3,770 (2-year program at public colleges)$10,560 (4-year program at public institutions)
Average Annual Salary of Graduates (2020)**$54,527$62,712
Unemployment rate (as of March 2021)***  3.7%5.9%
Sources: *College Board, **, ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Ready to dig into the major differences between associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs?

Let’s go.

Types of colleges offering Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree

For an associate’s degree, you can enroll in:

  • Community colleges
  • Junior colleges
  • Technical schools
  • Vocational schools
  • Universities and their affiliated colleges

You can register for a bachelor’s degree in:

  • Universities (Private and Public)
  • Community colleges
  • Liberal arts colleges

Types of degrees awarded

1. Associate’s degree

They are usually of 2 types:

  • Occupational or vocational degrees: Perfect if you want to learn specific skills or train for a particular profession. Finish your degree and dive right into your dream job!
  • Transfer degrees: A great option if you want to earn college credit and later transfer that to your bachelor’s degree.

A vocational degree program awards you with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree.

While a transfer degree program, awards you with any of the below degrees:

  • Associate of Arts (A.A.)
  • Associate of Science (A.S.)
  • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA)

2. Bachelor’s degree

The 3 most commonly awarded degrees are:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Career Paths

Aspire to be a paralegal?

Dream of being an airline pilot?

Once you figure out your career goals, pursue your degree accordingly.

There are dozens of jobs out there that only require an associate’s degree, including:

  • Dental hygienist
  • Police Officer
  • Computer network specialist
  • Bank teller
  • Registered nurse

A bachelor’s degree can land you plenty of jobs including:

  • Financial manager
  • Accountant or Auditor
  • Petroleum engineer
  • Airline pilot
  • Actuary

Job Market and Earning Potential

So, a Bachelor’s degree still gets all the hype mainly because of its higher earning potential.

But, if you think an associate’s degree can’t land you a high-paying job, you couldn’t be more wrong.

According to Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author and Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) director, when it comes to an associate’s degree, nothing matters more than your field of study.

Also, in certain fields, associate degree holders have a higher earning potential as compared to their bachelor’s degree counterparts.

Don’t believe us? We’ll let the numbers do the talking.

  • Median earnings between $50,001 and $60,000 per year – That’s how much workers with associate’s degrees in engineering earn. Compare that to $30,001 – $40,000 per year, which is the amount that workers with a bachelor’s degree in education earn.
  • Professionals with associate’s degrees in chemical technology in Texas earn more than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees! The former have median earnings of $75,500, while the latter earn around $50,600.

Wondering what the highest paying jobs in the current job market are? Take a look.

Top 5 highest paying jobs for Associate’s degree holders

Job TitleEmployment growth rate (2019-29)Projected Employment 2029Median Annual Wage
Air Traffic Controllers1%24,500$130,420
Radiation Therapist7%19,900$86,850
Nuclear Medicine Technologists5%19,500$79,590
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist7%41,400$74,690
Aerospace Engineers and Operations Technician7%12,700$68,570
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top 5 highest paying jobs for Bachelor’s degree holders

Job TitleEmployment growth rate (2019-29)Projected Employment 2029Median Annual Wage
Computer and information systems managers  10%509,200$151,150
Architectural and engineering managers  3%203,200$149,530
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers  6%333,700$141,490
Natural sciences managers  5%74,800$137,940
Petroleum engineers  3%34,400$137,330
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Financial Aid

Let’s face it. College is expensive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of grants and scholarships for both types of degrees that’ll help you sail through.

Here’s what you need to do.

1. Complete the federal financial aid form

Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Check the eligibility requirements before you fill out the form and ensure you stick to their deadlines.

You could be eligible for various grants when you fill out the FAFSA, including:

  • Federal Pell Grant – Exclusively for undergrad students in dire financial need, this grant doesn’t need to be repaid.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant- Operating on a first-come, first-served basis, this is for students with extraordinary financial need.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants – Applicable for those who have lost a parent in active-duty military service after September 11, 2001.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant – Applicable for those who are enrolled in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program at a participating school, and who agree to teach in a Title 1 school for at least 4 years.

2. Explore State grants

You can do this by contacting your state grant agency.

A few states even have grant programs especially for minority students, first-generation students, children of public servicemen, and international students.

3. Apply for federal student loans

Filling out the FAFSA also makes you eligible for federal student loans. These loans come at a lower interest rate and don’t require you to have a cosigner, unlike private loans.

4. Scout for scholarships

  • Check with your college’s financial aid office.
  • Browse through the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool (
  • Keep your eyes peeled for scholarships offered by private foundations, school endowments, local businesses, community-based organizations, and professional associations related to your field of interest.
  • Scan through scholarship websites like Fastweb, Cappex, The College Board, and Peterson’s.

5. Consider private student loans

Tapped out all of the above options and still don’t have enough to cover your tuition?

Hunt for private student loans. Research your options extensively and compare:

  • Interest rates (fixed or variable, any additional fees)
  • Cosigner and other eligibility requirements
  • Repayment terms

Sallie Mae, College Ave, and SoFi are a few of the private student loan lenders that you could consider.

Planning to transfer to a bachelor’s program after earning your associate degree? You will still be eligible to file a FAFSA.

Note: There are limits to the amount of federal financial aid you can get every year. The Federal Pell Grant, for instance, is available for a maximum of 12 semesters.

Associate’s Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree: Which one is better?

Neither. It all comes down to what you plan to do after your degree. So, chalk out your career goals and research thoroughly, before you zero in on your degree.

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