While earning a four-year bachelor’s degree tends to be the standard result of a college education, it is possible to earn lesser recognition, such as a minor, in a particular study, or to earn a two-year degree, such as an associate’s degree. However, the two should not be considered synonymous. The differences lie in their purpose and function.
An associate's degree is given to graduates of a two-year educational program, which typically covers the basic courses all college students are required to take (economics, a math course, a science course, English, etc.).
A minor represents specialization in a particular field. After basic courses, or prerequisites, have been completed, a student can choose a certain number of courses from a predetermined group of electives to complete a minor.
An associate's degree can be earned as a transfer degree, which in some states gives the student the right to transfer to a state university, or as a technical trade degree, which signifies a specific set of skills have been learned and signals that the graduate can be hired in that trade.
A degree cannot be earned in a minor, though many fields of study that are offered as degree programs also are offered as minors. There is essentially a near-endless number of potential minors that can be earned.
Community colleges are the primary givers of associate's degrees, often for the purpose of transferring to a university or college to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree. Such institutions do not offer minors because they are focused on providing basic courses rather than higher-level electives.
Minor programs are offered at four-year institutions, typically associated with a bachelor's degree program. If you choose to get a minor, the field of study typically goes along with your major. For example, if you are majoring in business, you might get a minor in economics. Or if you are majoring in education, you may want to pursue a minor in math.
An associate's degree represents completion a of certain higher-education level. A student with such a degree ideally can find employment in fields such as automotive, information technology, culinary arts, manufacturing and welding, nursing, medical transcription, sonography, graphic arts and design, dental hygiene, respiratory therapist, computer networking and cybersecurity.
A minor is commonly used to develop a secondary specialty in addition to the main field of study in which the bachelor’s degree was earned. For example, a student may earn a bachelor’s degree in government with a minor in economics. This would give a potential employer the impression the applicant is ready to work in a government field and possesses the ability to understand economic concepts and related numbers.