When deciding that you want to continue your education, a lot of questions come up that need to be addressed. What do you want to study? Do you want to go to a big or small school? Are you willing to relocate for your education? With all these questions to sort through, one big factor often gets overlooked: Is an associate degree or a bachelor's degree the right fit for you?   

Most people think that the biggest factor when deciding whether to get an associate or bachelor's degree is the amount of time the degree is going to take to complete. While this is important to consider, so much more needs to go into the decision-making process.   

If you are trying to decide between an associate or bachelor's degree, make sure to take some time and think through these key questions:   

What are your career goals?

This is one of the first and most important questions that you need to ask yourself when deciding between degrees. This is because there are many trade-related careers out there that only require you to get your associate degree. Jobs such as police officer, registered nurse, computer network specialist, and dental hygienist are all well-paid, and well-respected careers that only ask for an associate degree, so receiving additional education will often be unnecessary.   

With that being said, there are also several career paths that require you to achieve a bachelor's degree, or maybe even higher. Jobs such as engineers, doctors, and lawyers all require at least a bachelor's degree before you can enter the field.   

Are you unsure of what you want to do?   

Maybe you don't know exactly what your career goal is. That's OK! There are two main types of associate degrees that students can choose from: vocational course work, which is often the path that students take when they want to get into a specific career or trade post-graduation, or general studies. If you are unsure what exactly you want to do post-graduation, the general studies option will give you the ability to take a wide variety of courses, which can often be used as credits down the road if you end up wanting a bachelor's degree.   

Matthew Miller, an admissions counselor at Penn State World Campus, advises that students genuinely think about their personal goals when choosing the kind of associate degree they want.  

"If you are unsure of what your career goals are, going with a more general route at the associate level can have its benefits in helping explore their goals and arrive at a choice that is clearer," Miller said. "If you know what you want to do after they graduate, career-wise, pursuing that specialized associate degree can be beneficial, as they can then roll into their BA/BS more efficiently."  

How much time are you willing to sacrifice?   

As previously mentioned, there is a time commitment difference between how long it takes to complete an associate degree and how long it takes to complete a bachelor's degree.   

On average, associate degrees are approximately 64 credit hours in length. This typically takes full-time students two years, or four semesters, of 15 or more credits to complete the degree.   

A bachelor's degree, on the other hand, is double the time commitment. On average, the typical bachelor's degree requires 120 credit hours. This takes a full-time student four years, or eight semesters, of 15 credits or more to complete the degree. Are you willing to put in the extra years of work?  

What is your return on investment?  

The old saying "it takes money to make money" holds true when talking about receiving a college education. In addition to thinking about how much time you can invest, it is essential to ask yourself how much money you can invest in school.  

While the cost per credit remains approximately the same between the two degrees, it is important to take into account the fact that to receive a bachelor's degree, you must take double the credits of an associate degree. This often means that you will end up paying double the amount of money for a bachelor's degree than you would for an associate.   

It is then necessary to consider what your return on investment will be for receiving your degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of someone with a bachelor's degree is $61,000 a year, compared to the median salary of someone with an associate degree being $43,000 a year. That means that someone with a bachelor's degree typically makes 40 percent more a year, which over time will make their return on investment greater than someone with an associate degree.    

As you can see, there is no easy questionnaire that you could fill out to determine which degree is the right choice for you. There are many key factors that are important to consider when deciding between going to school for your associate degree or your bachelor's degree.   

These questions don't always have to be answered on your own, however. If you are still unsure which degree is right for you, try reaching out to an admissions counselor. They would be happy to help put you on the right track for a successful future. 

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June 22, 2021 / 8:00 pm (EDT) 9:00 pm (EDT)