Associate’s Degree Vs. Bachelor’s Degree: Similarities & Differences

Feb 12, 2021

What is the difference between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree? In this article, we'll compare the two types of degree levels, including courses of study, how long they take to complete, and the different types of associate's and bachelor's degrees.

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Associate Degree vs. Bachelor Degree

The biggest difference between associate's and bachelor's degrees is the length of study involved in each degree. For those comparing associate's vs. bachelor's degrees, it's important to note that associate's degrees offer many opportunities in vocational studies, while bachelor's degrees offer more opportunities in research.

Degree Level Associate's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Program Length 2 years 4 years
Credit hours to Complete 60 credit hours 120 credit hours
Average Annual Tuition Fees (2020-2021) $3,770 (public, 2-year colleges)* $10,560 (public, 4-year institutions)*
Average Salary of Graduates (2020) $54,527** $62,712**
Degrees Conferred Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
Associate of Arts (A.A.)
Associate of Science (A.S.)
Associate of Fine Arts (AFA)
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.)
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Sources: *College Board; **

What is an Associate Degree?

Associate's degree programs are two-year programs that may prepare students for a career or to transfer into a bachelor's degree program. Students can take courses in preparation for a specific career, or they can take classes in general studies. Credits earned for an associate's degree can be counted toward completion of a bachelor's degree as well. A student can earn an associate's degree at a community college or state university by taking about 20 classes, which is about 60 credit hours, within a specific curriculum designed by the school.

An associate degree is a common form of post-secondary education that focuses on occupational and vocation studies.
associate degree

Degree Types

Associate degree programs are available as occupational or vocational degrees, which train students in a specific skill. Students can also complete associate's transfer degrees with the goal of transferring to a four-year college or university. The coursework completed in either type of program can be transferred to universities all over the country, and many junior colleges are directly linked to local four-year schools. Vocational degree programs usually award graduates 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

Associate's degree programs 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 four-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. In fact, there are a number of careers which are suited for those who only wish to acquire an associate's degree, as seen in the following list:

  • Law enforcement
  • Paralegal
  • Hospitality
  • Medical assistant
  • Mechanic
  • Engineering technician
  • Occupational therapy assistant

What is a Bachelor's Degree?

Bachelor's degree programs are usually four-year courses of study available at colleges and universities that provide more advanced study in a particular major. Bachelor's degree programs require approximately 120 credits of coursework to complete. A bachelor's degree is considered the minimum level of education needed to work in many fields, such as teaching and engineering.

Degree Types

Some bachelor's degrees include the 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). Business, science, education, and humanities are popular fields of study offered by most colleges and universities at the baccalaureate level.

Courses of Study

During bachelor's studies, students are required to choose a major, which determines the main course of study of a given degree. Thus, those pursuing a Bachelor of Science can major in a variety of scientific fields, including chemistry, astronomy, biology, physics, mathematics, astrophysics, and geology. Students may also add additional majors to their primary major and can therefore double major or even triple major. For example, a student majoring in physics could add a secondary major in astrophysics and thereby become a double major in physics and astrophysics. Double or triple majoring is difficult, and a majority of students thus choose one major.

Bachelor's degree programs often require students to complete general education courses required for all students at the college or university. These classes are referred to as the core curriculum, and may include philosophy, languages, math, science, fine arts, history, and English. Other classes that allow students to learn about a specific area of interest are known as electives, and they add an interdisciplinary perspective to the chosen course of study.

Students may also tailor their elective courses to complete a minor, which is a set of classes taken together that amount to a recognized specialty that complements the major. For example, a major in business administration may be paired with a minor in accounting. Just like with majors, multiple minors may be chosen by a student.

Career Preparation

There are many career fields which require the attainment of a bachelor's degree, so it is important to know the requirements for your interested line of work. Some careers may even need education beyond the bachelor's level. A number of prominent jobs that require a bachelor's degree include:

  • Architect
  • High school teacher
  • Petroleum engineer
  • Software developer
  • Financial manager
  • Human resources manager

As this article has shown, both associate and bachelor's degrees can prepare students for a career or more education and can be completed in a variety of different areas of study.

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