Is an Associate Degree Worth it?

student graduating with associate degree

In an uncertain economy, many people return to school to build their skills or earn a degree. The first thing many new students research is an associate degree, which allows you to further your education and possibly change careers. Those with an associate degree generally earn more than high school graduates and have better job security and opportunities.

One of the benefits of getting an associate degree is its relationship to a bachelor’s degree. It prepares you for a specific career while allowing you to then transfer credits to a bachelor’s degree program. Pursuing an associate degree may be a good option, especially if you have been out of school for some time or are looking to explore your career and learning options. The bachelor’s degree allows you to enhance the benefits of an associate degree. A bachelor’s degree is ultimately more marketable and opens the door to greater job opportunities and additional job security.

To understand how earning an associate degree can be made more valuable it is helpful to appreciate how it can lead to a bachelor’s degree.

What Is an Associate Degree?

Associate degrees are considered two-year degrees, although several institutions offer the option to move through the coursework at a slower or faster pace. Many people earning associate degrees must balance coursework with work and family obligations. An associate degree generally requires sixty credits of coursework, which is equal to around twenty classes. A bachelor’s degree program is usually about one hundred and twenty credits. This means that earning an associate degree gets you about halfway through a bachelor’s degree program; only two additional years are required to earn the higher degree. Starting with an associate degree first route will help you save money and earn your bachelor’s degree.

Turn Your Associate Degree Into a Bachelor's Degree

Earn the Right Type of Associate Degree

There are a few types of associate degrees. Transfer degrees, for example, are designed to allow you to transfer to a bachelor’s degree programs at a four-year institution. If you already have an idea of the bachelor’s degree you would like to earn, make sure you research what type of associate degree would lead to that end.

In pursuing the appropriate associate degree, it is best to complete your general education courses first, this will allow you to transfer more quickly. Once you transfer into a bachelor’s program, you will have approximately two years of courses to complete and these will likely be specific to your degree program.

Ask About Articulation Agreements

Many two-year and community colleges partner with outside institutions or offer bachelor's degrees themselves. Speak with your admissions counselor to find out about the pathways from an associate degree to a bachelor's degree. When you find out what institutions have an agreement with your two-year college, you can save the hassle of determining whether your credits will transfer.

Work Backward

If you already know where you would like to earn your bachelor’s degree, make sure they have an agreement to recognize and accept the credits from the two-year college that you plan to attend.

Using Your Associate Degree in the Meantime

You may not be able to start your bachelor’s degree program immediately on graduating with your associate degree. It is okay to take a break and put your associate degree to work for you while you figure out whether to earn a bachelor’s degree and what the best financial options might be for you and your family.

You can use your associate degree to learn a new skill set or improve your productivity at work. Many growing fields, including technology and healthcare, hire graduates with an associate degree. You can become a nurse in a two-year program and then, usually with the help of the hospital or clinic where you work, return at another time to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Grand Canyon University has articulation agreements with several community and two-year colleges to accept transfer students into bachelor's degree programs. We are eager to work with you on a meeting your career goals and turning your associate degree into a bachelor's degree and possibly more.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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