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Non-Traditional Post-Secondary

What’s the Difference Between an Associate’s and Bachelor's Degree?

4 min readaugust 24, 2021

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Alisa J


College Degrees: Differences and Meanings🧑‍🎓 

Most of high school you have probably been focusing on getting your high school degree. And while you should DEFINITELY still be focusing on that, as you near the end of high school, you should start thinking about what kind of college degree you want. 🤔 If you’ve started looking at the different degree options post-high school, you’re probably aware of how confusing and overwhelming different degrees can be. I mean, what do BS, BA, AA, and AS mean?  Even if you haven’t considered which degree you might want after high school, don’t worry! We’re here to break it down for you!
Learn more about choosing a college major to get your degree with these articles on discovering college majors and how to choose your major.
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Courtesy of GIPHY

Associate's Degrees 📜

Associate's degrees are typically earned at community colleges but can often be earned online or even at some 4-year universities! They take about 2 years to complete for a full-time student and are often cheaper to earn, as you are taking less credits. You may also have the ability to stay close to home, eliminating typical dorm or apartment costs. In some states, community colleges that offer associate's degrees may even be free! Additionally, there are many different fields you can go into with an associate's degree.
However, keep in mind that associate's degrees may be considered less prestigious or comprehensive by employers. Also, other candidates competing for the same positions as you may have bachelor's degrees, which can work against your favor. 

Types of Associate's Degrees 🎨🔬

Associate's degrees come in two flavors: Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Sciences (AS). The difference is pretty simple! AAs focus on the more liberal arts aspect of a subject. AS’s focus more on the specific science and math aspects of a major. Whichever you pick is simply up to personal preference; both degrees will provide job opportunities outside of college! For example, you can get an AS in Environmental Science, in which your course load will be mostly science and math classes centered around the environment. On the other hand, you can get an AA in Environmental Studies that includes the social, economic, and political aspects of energy policies and technologies.
Often, associate's degrees are earned to transfer to a 4-year college and pursue a bachelor's degree. These degrees are the Associate in Arts for Transfer (AA-T) or Associate in Sciences for Transfer (AS-T). This means that at the end of your 2 years, instead of receiving an Associates degree, you’ll receive a transfer degree. Then you can use your credits earned in community college to transfer to a 4-year college for a bachelor degree program!

Bachelor's Degrees 🏫

Bachelor's degrees are typically earned at 4-year institutions or online through accredited institutions. Full-time students complete these over the course of 4 years, though it is possible to complete them over a longer or shorter period. Employers tend to see these degrees as more comprehensive than an associate's degree, and 4-year universities tend to provide more access to post-college resources and connections than community colleges. However, 4-year universities can often be very expensive as they often require purchasing meal plans, dorms, and tuition. These costs can often add up for many families. Luckily, there are scholarships and grant opportunities to help with college costs, some of which you can find here! You can also explore financial aid opportunities to help with college costs. Learn more about financial aid here!  

Types of Bachelor's Degrees 🎭🔭

Bachelor's degrees also come in the following two kinds, similar to associate's: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), which focuses on the more humanities side of a subject (they don’t actually mean an art class!); and Bachelor of Science (B.S.), which focuses on math and science subjects. Whichever you pick is, again, just personal preference and based on your strengths as well as what type of job your looking to get. If you tend to be better at English, history and writing consider a Bachelors of Arts. If you tend to be more passionate and better at math and science, consider a Bachelors of Science! It’s also worth noting that occasionally some jobs within STEM fields (think Computer Science or Engineering) will prefer to see a Bachelors of Science. However, for the most part, employers will value them both equally.   

To sum it up…🤗

Both Associates and Bachelor's degrees have ups and downs. Community college degrees can take less time and money but may not provide the college experience or job opportunities you may be looking for. To learn more about the financial side, check out this guide on financial aid and how to calculate your personal financial needs. On the other hand, 4 year degrees are more desirable by employers and typically provide the college experience but take much more time and money (possibly causing you to take out large student loans). Deciding which to pursue or deciding to pursue transferring is a big choice that is unique and personal to each student. Remember not to compare yourself to your peers and their decisions, and pick what is best for you and your family!
Associate's (Community College)Bachelor's (4-Year)
Often much cheaper 🤑More expensive 💸
Can stay closer to home 🏡Is the typical “college experience” 👯
Can eventually transfer to a 4-year 🏃‍♀️May have better post-graduate connections 🤝
May miss out on the typical “college experience” 😔Bachelor’s degrees are often more desirable to employers 👔

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