Associate's Degrees vs. Bachelor's Degrees

Feeling the effects of a recession, more and more people have realized the benefits of having a solid educational background, especially in the face of economic crisis of this magnitude. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70.1 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities in October 2009.*

At the same time, not everyone has the wherewithal to spend five to seven years on higher education. For those who want to fast track into fruitful careers without compromising on college education, Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees offer the perfect start. Here is some information on both types of degree programs:

Associate’s Degree: This degree is the lowest in the hierarchy of post-secondary academic degrees. It is awarded to students who have completed two years of study in a particular field. The degree is usually offered by private, community, and technical colleges as well as some Bachelor’s degree granting colleges and universities.

Average Annual Income: $33,838**

Best Suited for: Associate’s degrees are best suited for entry-level jobs in a variety of fields such as nursing, respiratory therapy, graphic design, computer programming, medical specialties, and many other professions.

Pros & Cons: The biggest advantage of an Associate’s degree is the relatively short amount of time needed to complete it. This two-year college degree qualifies individuals for many white collared jobs that would not have been open to high school graduates. The other benefit of an Associate’s degree is that it is less expensive than a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Apart from saving on tuition fee, students also save money on boarding, fuel, car, books, etc. An Associate’s degree prepares the ground for future educational pursuits. Students have the option of applying their Associate’s degree credits to a Bachelor’s degree.

But Associate’s degrees have certain drawbacks when compared to Bachelor’s degrees. First, they put you at a disadvantage when you compete for the same jobs as baccalaureates. Second, your earning capacity is definitely lower than those who graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. Lastly, moving up the ladder to supervisory or managerial positions may be difficult without a higher degree.

Bachelor’s Degree: This is a degree awarded by a post-secondary institution to students who complete an undergraduate program that generally lasts for about four years.

Average Annual Income: $47,853**

Best Suited for: Bachelor’s degrees are best suited for careers in accounting, computer software engineering, healthcare administration, business management, and many other high profile, white collar jobs.

Pros & Cons: A Bachelor’s degree generally increases your job prospects, as some positions are only open to those who have this degree. Your earning potential also goes up with the level of your degree. Graduates who have a Bachelor’s degree find it easier than those who hold an Associate’s degree to rise up the ranks and take up roles with higher levels of responsibility in their respective fields. A Bachelor’s degree gives you a wide knowledge base and expertise in your area of study, and you are likely to be treated as a serious professional if you have completed a four-year degree as opposed to a two-year one.

The biggest disadvantage of a four-year degree is the cost, as a Bachelor’s degree tends to be more expensive than an Associate’s. Since it also takes a longer duration to complete, you end up spending a lot of money on rent, car, fuel, books, etc.

Both degree programs have their advantages and drawbacks, and one must make a decision based on their personal goals, expectations from education, and available resources.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook

**U.S. Census Bureau