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Associate's or Bachelor's? Choosing Your Online Degree

Nov 16, 2007 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you’re considering going back to college, you have a lot of options.  One of the choices you’ll have to make is in the type of degree you choose.  Associate's degrees take two years to complete, while Bachelor’s degrees take four.  Which one is right for you depends on a number of factors.  Here’s a look at the things you should take into account when deciding whether an Associate's or Bachelor’s is right for you.

Your Budget

Associate's degrees are generally much less expensive than Bachelor’s degrees.  If funding is an issue for you, at first glance an Associate's degree can seem like the best choice.

However, the issue of funding is often more complex than it looks.  You may be able to earn a Bachelor's degree at a community college for much less money than you'd spend to earn an Associate's degree at a private college.  You may also be eligible for grants and scholarships through your state or the federal government, your college, or private funding sources.  It's often difficult to compare prices on different degrees and programs until you've gone through the application process for each one, because many colleges use your application to decide if you're eligible for their grants.

Your Time Limits

There's no getting around this one: you can earn an Associate's degree in half the time it takes to earn a Bachelor's.  If you want to get a degree quickly, an Associates is the way to go.

Before you choose either one, however, consider the reason why you need to get your degree quickly.  If it's because you can't afford to sacrifice a full-time job to become a full-time student, you may be able to get around this by taking classes online.  Online degree programs allow students to study at home on their own time, instead of making time during the day for in-person classes.  These schools have improved in drastically in quality over the past decade, and they go a long way toward making higher education more accessible to working adults.

Your Goals

Are you looking for a job or career that requires a Bachelor's degree?  Do you need a certain degree to get promoted within your current company?  Some jobs require Bachelor’s degrees, while others don’t ask for more than an Associate's.  If you want to become self-employed, an education can help you learn the ropes of owning a business—but it’s not a requirement.

Your Industry

Some industries accept entry-level applicants with both Associates and Bachelor’s degrees—but the road is easier if you have a Bachelor’s.  Nursing is a prime example.  As a nurse, you can easily find work with either degree.  But you have more options with a Bachelor’s degree.  More careers within nursing are open to you, and you are usually eligible for higher pay with a four-year degree.  Take a look at your industry and talk to some people with work experience to find out how each degree is viewed.

The School You Choose

Some students choose to get an Associates degree at a less expensive community college, and then transfer to a more prestigious school to earn a Bachelor’s.  If the second school will accept your transfer credits, you could earn a Bachelor’s degree in half the time and for a lower cost by transferring than you could have if you spent all four years at the second school.

This can be a great way to save money on a Bachelor’s degree, but it takes some planning.  Some schools have partnerships that allow students to get an Associates degree at one college, then easily transfer to the other to complete a Bachelor’s.  Other colleges may not allow you to use your Associates credits from certain schools toward a Bachelor’s degree.  You’ll have an easier time making this strategy work if you research schools to see which have Associates-to-Bachelor’s partnerships.  If you have your heart set on a certain school, talk with their admissions department about your plan.

There is no “right” choice when it comes to choosing the degree to pursue—your answer depends on your situation.  Consider your industry, goals, and limits carefully before choosing a program that works for you.




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