An associate degree in business or a bachelor's degree in business can put you on the right path toward a career in the industry. However, the two degrees differ greatly in their requirements and expectations. Both offer instruction in accounting, finance, business management and economics, but a bachelor's degree carries more weight and has a stronger academic reputation. If you aren't sure which path to take, most associate degree courses in business transfer to bachelor's degree requirements, so you haven't lost much time or money if you later decide to go for the advanced degree.

Twice as Long, Twice as Much

One of the main differences between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree in business is the amount of time they take to complete. Most associate business degrees take two years, and most bachelor's degrees take four years to finish. For example, Penn State World Campus offers an online 60-credit-hour associate degree in business administration. Their Bachelor of Science degree in business is a four-year program that requires 120 credit hours. You can also expect the cost of your education to double when you opt for a bachelor's degree versus an associate degree, especially if you attend a university that offers bachelor's degree programs and graduate programs. Most community colleges offer associate degree programs, and their tuition costs are generally less.

Earning the Big Bucks

There's a big difference in average lifetime earnings for those who earn associate degrees compared to those who earn bachelor's degrees. Even though the average applies to all professions, it certainly includes those who pursue careers in business-related fields. A worker with an associate degree earns an average of $1.7 million over a lifetime, but those with a bachelor's degree earn $2.3 million, according to The College Payoff, a report by Anthony Carnevale, Stephen Rose and Ban Cheah conducted by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The Daily Grind for Associates

Graduates with an associate degree in business often find beginner and supervisory jobs in the industry. Jobs such as insurance sales representative, real estate assessor, accounts receivable coordinator, casino manager, compliance officer, business administrator and business services manager are common, according to Penn State World Campus. Daily work tasks often include creating financial reports, budgeting, managing business operations, assessing claims and supervising bookkeeping activities. An associate degree in business shows employers that you have a strong foundation and understanding of business practices.

Advanced Degrees at Work

Workers with a bachelor's degree in business often qualify for management positions and analytical roles that graduates with only an associate degree might not be qualified to handle. Employment opportunities such as accountant, internal auditor, real estate manager, business marketing manager, financial analyst, loan counselor and financial strategist are available to those with a bachelor's degree, reports Penn State World Campus. Job responsibilities often include financial planning and consultation, public or private accounting in compliance with government regulations, marketing and management of company operations.

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