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Is an Associate's Degree Worth It? Five Things to Consider First

May 21, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 9 Comments

An Associate’s degree is appealing to students for numerous reasons. It only takes two years to earn one, so full-time students are out of the job market for a shorter period of time than they would be while earning a Bachelor’' degree. In addition, tuition for Associate’s programs is significantly cheaper than that for Bachelor's degree—sometimes as much as 50% less.

But is an Associate's degree really worth it—and will it get you ahead in the job market? The answer depends on the expectations of your industry—as well as on what other job applicants are doing. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before making the decision to apply for an Associate’s degree program.

What’s your competition doing?

Today's job market is highly competitive and flooded with highly qualified candidates—many of which have Bachelor's degrees and higher. If most of the people you’ll be competing with for jobs have Bachelor's degrees, you’ll have a hard time competing with an Associate's. In many industries, Bachelor's degrees are expected even for entry-level jobs. Check around and talk to some hiring managers or recruiters who work in your industry, or check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook. Search the database for the job you’re hoping to land, and find out what the typical education expectation is. If it’s a Bachelor’s degree or higher, you won’t get far if you stop at an Associate’s degree.

Will an Associate’s be enough to meet your goals?

Some employers will hire applicants with Associate's degrees for entry-level jobs, but even if you get hired, you might have trouble advancing without a higher degree. Talk to some people who have been in your industry long enough to advance, and find out what their expectations are for employees with increasing levels of responsibility. If you find yourself looking for promotions, you may have to go back to school at some point in your career.

Is this Associate's transferable to a Bachelor's?

Some Associate's degrees are designed to be applied to a Bachelor's degree program at a later date, while others are very difficult to impossible to transfer. Even if you don’t think you’ll want to go for a Bachelor's degree in the future at this point, you may change your mind later—especially if your industry expects Bachelor's degrees and higher for positions of increased responsibility. Be sure you know going in what type of program you’re signing up for. Talk to admissions counselors about your goals and be sure you’re getting an Associate's that can be transferred to a Bachelor’s degree program if needed.

Do you have industry experience?

If you have a large amount of experience in your industry, you may be able to stand out over less experienced candidates—even if they have a Bachelor’s and you have an Associate’s degree. Experience often goes a long way toward getting around education requirements in job descriptions, and even if a job description states a certain education requirement, you may still be an attractive candidate if you have a strong track record of success in the industry. However, if you’re planning on entering a new industry without prior experience after you graduate from college, you may have trouble competing against other candidates—especially if they have Bachelor’s degrees—for even entry-level positions.

Can you get around limits to getting a Bachelor's?

Some students decide to earn Associate's degrees because there’s some reason they feel they can't get a Bachelor's degree. For some students, tuition is the problem. For others, time off work and an inability to work and go to school at the same time can sink plans to earn a Bachelor’s degree. If you’re considering an Associate’s for this reason, think about getting a Bachelor’s degree in a nontraditional way—by going to school online, going part-time, or asking your employer about tuition reimbursement plans.

Associate’s degrees can be very appealing to many students—but they’re not for everyone. Before signing up to earn your Associate’s, consider what you want to do with it. If your industry expects a Bachelor’s for entry-level or increased-responsibility positions, it may be a good idea to consider applying your Associate’s credits toward earning a Bachelor’s degree at a later point.




Ckbusn Over a year ago

associates is half the amount of a bachelors??? ummm is that bc its half the schooling?? didnt think that one through did you?

Seriously Over a year ago

The author meant half the price in tuition per semester, which means that overall an Associate's degree ends up being 25% the cost of a Bachelor's degree.

Joann0916 Over a year ago

I need your input:
I an 46 years old and have been in the accounting field for over 22 years, mostly in A/P & A/R. I want to go back to school to ean my degree so I can have a more fullfilling job. My question is this - without being in school since 1984, and being 46 years old, would it be too late to earn my degree? I work full time in accounting now so I would really only be able to attend school part time. What about online schooling, is this something that the industry has inbraced and will accept an online degree as they would a standard drgree?
I would appreciate any advice I can get..
Thank you in advance

Ben Pfeiffer Over a year ago

Hi Joann, no it should not be too late for you to attend school online. In fact, online education might suit you incredibly well. A lot of programs are tailored to learners of all ages and enable you to complete your degree on your time. The other factor is that you are more mature and wise to learning, and have a much better chance of completing your degree as opposed to a 20-something who isn't as motivated to put the work in.

In response to your other question regarding companies and industries accepting online degrees. The good news is that most will accept them as long as they are regionally accredited (the highest form of accreditation in the US). Additionally, half of online schools these days are actually real brick and mortar universities that offer an online program. You get a degree from a well recognized university with a long history and name recognition.

Check out our listings of universities here, and you will most likely recognize many well known online colleges and universities with brick and mortar locations represented. http://www.distance-educati...

Germanna CC Over a year ago

Actually, a typical community college year costs ONE THIRD as much as a year at a public four-year college or university. So those two years worth of transferrable credits cost one-third as much as they would at a four-year school.

Jayde Over a year ago

Im 20 and I am in my last year,at a community college. I want to be in higher education as a teacher but at the,same time I still would like to work. Where do you suggest I look that has a legititmate school that works with my lifestyle? Right now I work at my college's bookstore

Ben Pfeiffer Over a year ago

I would look at some of the regionally accredited online universities that offer teaching degrees, which would allow you to pursue an education but at the same time offer flexibility for you to work during the day. This seems like it would be the best option for you. Are you completing your associates or bachelors?

You can check out available online teaching degrees and certification here:

RBS Over a year ago

What this article fails to mention is that an associate degree is an accomplishment and it shows your future employer that you've set out to do something and completed it. You can continue your education and having an associate degree increases your chances of a better job as compared to those who only have a high school diploma. In addition, it's a safety measure in case you don't finish your bachelor degree quickly. You might never get your bachelor degree but at least you'll have something to show for and feel confident about while you're reaching higher goals.

Nancy Katherine Over a year ago

I agree =) Some people can't commit to 4 years. That's a long time. Break it down into what you are going to excel at. Even if that means taking 4 years to get you assocciates lol. Seriously though I'd rather it take longer and me take fewer classes at a time and do AMAZING in my classes instead of taking on a full schedule, not having enough time for all of them, and working, family , etc. You can still do good in all of your classes but it wouldn't be as good as having more time to dedicate to those 2 instead of 5...? =p Good luck everyone in all your college adventures!!!

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