Difference Between an Associate Degree and Bachelors Degree

A bachelor's degree program is often an extension of an associate's degree program. A bachelor's degree program typically takes twice as long to complete and opens the graduate up to more possible career opportunities. This article details further differences between associate's and bachelor's degrees.

Differences Between Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees

Associate's degree programs are 2-year programs that may provide career preparation or ready students to transfer to a bachelor's degree program. Bachelor's degree programs are usually 4-year courses of study available at colleges and universities that provide more advanced study in a particular major. While most individuals do not need both, an associate's degree can be counted toward the first half of a bachelor's degree program.

Associate's Degree Overview

Associate's degree programs commonly take two years to complete and are usually dedicated toward a specific career. However, general studies may be taken at this level as a jumpstart toward a bachelor's degree program. The student earning his or her associate's degree can do so at a community college or state university by taking about 20 classes within a specific curriculum designed by the school.

Types of Degrees

Types of associate's degree programs include occupational or vocational degrees - which train students in a specific skill - and transfer degrees, which are for students looking to get into a 4-year college or university. The coursework completed in either type of program translates to universities all over the country; often, junior colleges are directly linked to local 4-year schools, ensuring smooth transfers. Vocational degree programs usually award graduates with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS), while transfer degree programs may award an Associate of Arts (A.A.), an Associate of Science (A.S.) or an Associate of Fine Arts (AFA).

Courses of Study

Programs at the associate's degree level are similar to those at the bachelor's degree level. They may include studies in fields such as art and design, business, communication, digital animation, dental hygiene, culinary arts, automotive repair, electronics, social work and health information technology.

Career Preparation

Although many students earn an associate's degree as a stepping stone to a 4-year degree, several jobs only require applicants to have an associate's degree, especially those in the healthcare technician and medical assisting fields. Paralegal and other specific trade jobs also typically only require an associate's degree.

Bachelor's Degree Overview

Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years, or approximately 120 credits of coursework, to complete. They are considered the minimum level of education needed to work in many fields, such as teaching and engineering.

Types of Degrees

Sample degrees conferred at this level include a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). Popular fields of study at the baccalaureate level that are offered by most colleges and universities include business, science, education and humanities.


Bachelor's degree programs often require students to spend up to half of their credits taking the general education courses that are required by all students at the college or university. Some of these courses may include philosophy, languages, theology, math, science, fine arts, history, English and Western civilization. Subject-specific courses are often referred to as the core curriculum. Other classes are known as electives; these allow individuals to explore themes that pique their interest and offer interdisciplinary perspective to their studies.

Students may also tailor their elective courses to compose a minor - a set of classes that, taken together, amount to a recognized specialty in an area that often complements the major. For example, a major in business administration may be paired with a minor in accounting.

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