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Should I get an Associate Degree or a Bachelor's Degree?

By Mary P. Ivy,
Staff Writer

Choosing between an associate and bachelor’s degree largely depends on students' immediate and long-term goals.

As students consider their post-secondary education plans, one of the first questions many face is deciding whether to get an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. Each degree has advantages-and a few drawbacks.

A two-year associate degree generally costs less and enables graduates to begin their careers much sooner, though advancement may be limited due to the type of degree obtained. But, while a four-year bachelor's degree may open more doors, provide higher salaries, and prepare one for graduate work, individuals will need to devote more time to school and may incur more debt. Ultimately the choice depends on the individual goals of the student.

Good career fields requiring an associate degree

MSN reports that four of the top ten fields for those with an associate degree are health-care related. Other fields represented in their Top 10 include computer specialists, fashion designers, paralegals and engineering technicians. Projected job growth is strong and median yearly earnings are impressive.

These jobs are usually labeled "assistant" or "technician," but don't let that fool you. Work experience in any of these fields can be invaluable if you decide to pursue an additional degree later on. For instance, veterinary technicians have a good working knowledge of animal physiology should they decide later to pursue a bachelor's degree in biology, animal science or even a veterinary degree.

If you are eager to begin your career and incur as little debt as possible, consider getting an associate's degree. This is such a popular strategy that many colleges and universities now offer a 2+2 program, allowing the credits earned for an associate degree to count toward a bachelor's degree later.

2+2 programs

There are endless combinations and programs available. A good example of 2+2 can be found at SUNY's College of Nursing. The RN to Bachelor's program allows students to apply to the college of nursing "at the same time they apply to an associate's degree nursing program."

Many community colleges partner with colleges and universities to ensure a seamless transition for students. Check with an advisor at your nearby community college to see what's available.

Career fields requiring at least a bachelor's degree

Many professional and administrative fields require a bachelor's degree as a minimum qualification, with preference given to those with advanced degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides detailed information on careers and salaries for those who hold this degree.

Certainly a bachelor's degree opens more doors for graduates. Many find great satisfaction simply in reaching this achievement.

Other things to keep in mind

· While those with a bachelor's degree (or beyond) may enjoy higher earnings, they may also accumulate substantial debt. According to FinAid, 61 percent of four-year public school graduates have debt averaging almost $20,000. Compare this to 37 percent of two-year public school graduates who have an average debt about half that or $10,444.

· Technology constantly creates new, high-paying jobs in fields such as alternative energy and health care. People with an associate degree in one of these fields could conceivably earn more than a person holding a bachelor's degree in a traditional or saturated field.

· Starting with either an associate or bachelor's degree may qualify you for financial aid from your employer later on. It's a good way to defray costs.

Choosing between an associate and bachelor's degree largely depends on students' immediate and long-term goals, along with their financial situation and commitment to education beyond high school.

Last edited: April 16, 2012, 4:10 pm EST
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