Key Differences between an Associate Degree and an Undergraduate Degree

For the records, there are key differences between an associate degree and an undergraduate degree. However, students who just completed high school education might become confused as to what degree they should go for or what suits their career field.

An undergraduate degree, popularly called bachelors’ degree requires that you spend 4 years or more to earn it while gathering a total of 120 credits. An associate degree, on the other hand, requires just 60 credits and within a maximum of 2 years. Unlike a bachelors’ degree, an associate degree can be offered by most colleges especially community colleges.

 So… An Associate Degree or an Undergraduate Degree?

Not to get confused, both a bachelors’ degree and associate degree are undergraduate degrees but most times, the term ‘undergraduate degree’ is used to mean a bachelors’ degree.

It is only right to know the difference between both degrees before you can make the right decision. Here are the key differences between an associate degree and an undergraduate or bachelors’ degree.

Tuition Charges

The tuition charges for an associate degree and an undergraduate degree is quite different. Note that different colleges or universities charge differently for their tuition fees but on the general perspective, an undergraduate degree is going to cost more than an associate degree. It might be because of the shorter duration of the associate degree program, however, colleges that allow for associate degree tend to be less expensive than those that allow for bachelors’ or undergraduate degree.


Getting a bachelors’ degree generally requires more time investments than an associate degree. As a full-time student, an associate degree normally takes 2 years to earn while an undergraduate degree takes 4 years. However, a part-time student will spend a longer time to obtain either an associate or undergraduate degree.

If you are a student gunning for an associate degree and still wishes to get an undergraduate degree, you can transfer the points you earn from the former to the latter. You should check your institution’s policy on credit transfer. With that, you can successfully obtain your bachelors’ degree in 2 years against a proposed 4 years.

Area of Study

Some folks undergo an associate degree program because they want to achieve a high level of expertise in vocational studies of their chosen career path. Such career paths may include culinary skills, nursing, construction management and more. Such students pick their fields and major in it.

On the other hand, some students undergo an associate degree program because of the transferable credit points to take to the bachelors’ degree program. Such study is basically based on general studies which would mean that the students would only need to pick a major and complete a project in the bachelors’ degree before earning the certificate.

Career Opportunities

Having an associate degree has its perks.  If you have chosen a career path and want to start working earlier, you might want to consider doing an associate degree program. With an associate degree, you can compete with bachelors’ degree holders for jobs like cosmetologists, dental assistants, computer programming, Licensed Practical Nurse and other skilled-labor industry.

However, bachelors’ degree holders are considered more attractive and qualified by most employers. Jobs in areas like business administration and management, finance and accounting require that you have a bachelors’ degree at least. Some employers really don’t worry much about a prospective employee’s field of study as long as he/she has that four-year degree.

Additionally, for a student who wants to go onto to acquire masters or doctorate degrees, it is paramount to have a bachelors’ degree. Without it, you cannot apply for these graduate studies.

Earning Potential or Unemployment Rate

A data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that bachelors’ degree holders are less likely to be unemployed and earn more than associate degree holders.

The case is getting worse as statistics from a Pew Research in 2014 shows that the gap between bachelors’ degree holders and associate degree holders’ earnings is getting wider with each generation.


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