An associate’s degree requires 60 credits to complete and usually takes about two years to earn. An undergraduate or bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits and may take four or more years to finish. Typically, associate’s degrees are offered through community colleges.
Associate vs. Undergraduate
Technically, an associate’s degree is an undergraduate degree, but the term “undergraduate degree” usually is used to mean a bachelor’s degree. Some students start their secondary education at a community college and then transfer to a four-year college or university to complete their bachelor’s degree.
Both associate’s and bachelor’s programs have basic educational requirements, such as a general education requirement (usually English and mathematics), major requirements and electives. Often, class credits from an associate's degree may be transferred to a bachelor’s degree program. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for graduate school.
Types of Associate Degrees
Associate degrees are available in both art and science, as well as specialized occupational areas. The art and science degrees often are applied toward a bachelor’s degree, but an occupational degree usually is used to obtain employment in a specific industry.
Advantages of an Associate's Degree
Typically, the cost of an associate’s degree, per credit hour, is much less than a similar bachelor’s program. Community colleges, which offer associate degree programs, generally offer more evening and weekend classes than traditional colleges and universities in order to accommodate working adults. Many associate programs are also available through online classes. Entry requirements for an associate program are often less stringent than those for a bachelor’s program. Most associate programs are designed for a quick entry into the job market and focus on job-related skills.
Disadvantages of an Associate's Degree
The variety of majors available are sometimes more limited at the associate's degree level than at the bachelor's degree level. Students who transfer to a four-year bachelor’s program may find that some of their class credits aren't transferable, which means repeating classes and spending more time in class.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.