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Why It Pays to Advance from an Associate to Bachelor’s Degree

Advancing from an associate to a bachelor’s degree can lead to new job prospects and opportunities to move toward your goals. You can often transfer the credits you earned during your associate degree into a bachelor's program, placing you halfway through the 4-year degree.
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Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

While beginning your higher education with an associate degree can provide career opportunities and a strong general education base, it's only the start of the types of college degrees you can achieve. While some students decide to end their higher education journey at an associate, many others move on to a bachelor’s degree as they find it can open more doors for them.

In today’s competitive workforce, a growing number of jobs require an advanced education. If you're looking to further your career and boost your earning potential, it pays to advance from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree.*

Associate Degree vs. Bachelor's Degree: What's the Difference?

The most basic difference between a bachelor’s degree and an associate degree is the time it takes to complete the programs. Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs, while bachelor’s degree programs are typically 4 years and delve more deeply into the area of study.

Chase Thomas '19 '21G, a 2019 SNHU graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) graduate and adjunct, Chase Thomas '19 '21G, finished his Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts in 2018 and knew he wanted to move forward with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services, which he completed in 2019.

“An associate degree provided me the flexibility and a chance to get a broad, yet succinct educational background to jumpstart my career," said Thomas. “I wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree to further my education and level of competence.”

Because of the shorter timeframe, associate degrees are often more affordable than bachelor’s degree programs. If you're just beginning your college journey, an associate degree can serve as an introduction to higher education and provide a key stepping stone to a bachelor's degree.

“A bachelor’s degree can provide a greater depth of knowledge in a field, alongside general education courses that teach students transferable skills,” said SNHU military career advisor Grace Dugan. “Certain careers and employers place an emphasis on a bachelor’s degree rather than an associate because it can offer greater long-term flexibility for students and show that they have the ability to learn new skills over time.”

Peter Bartell, an employee relations partner at SNHU

While there are many job opportunities available for workers with associate degrees, a bachelor's degree can certainly give a job applicant a competitive edge, said Peter Bartell, an employee relations partner at SNHU .

This competitive edge is especially important in today's highly educated workforce. Nearly 2 in 5 adults ages 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report.

Similarly, a growing number of U.S. employers are looking for workers with a 4-year degree.* The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for bachelor’s degree holders will grow 6.7% by 2032 — faster than jobs for workers without a college degree.*

Find Your Program

Is It Good to Get an Associate Degree Before a Bachelor's?

An associate degree is a great opportunity for students who are still exploring what they want to study, or for students who have a game plan but want to ease into their higher education.

Whether you decide to get your Associate of Science degree or an Associate of Arts degree, an associate degree is a cost-effective way to begin your education

A few different types of associate degrees to consider are:

An associate degree is typically 60 credits, translating to 20 classes, while a bachelor's degree is 120 credits. Getting an associate degree first can put you halfway through a bachelor's program if you attend a transfer-friendly university.

Can I Transfer My Associate Degree to a Bachelor's?

Whether you start at a four-year university or a community college to earn your associate degree, transferring from an associate degree program to a bachelor's at a four-year university can be simple.

For instance, at SNHU you can begin your transfer journey by following these easy steps:

  1. Complete the free 5-minute online application. There’s no obligation after filling it out.
  2. Get your transcripts requested — for free. Chat with an admission counselor, and we'll request your transcripts on your behalf.
  3. Receive your free evaluation. Soon after all your transcripts are in, you'll get your official evaluation. It will show you what was transferred in—and what classes you need to complete. 

SNHU graduate Blake Venable '24 knows the importance of advancing toward a bachelor's degree. Venable set out to earn his bachelor's in accounting more than 10 years after achieving an associate degree from a community college. His reason for advancing? To improve upon his already successful accounting career.

Advancing Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree

infographic with the text Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs Bachelor’s degrees are typically 4-year programsIn this competitive hiring environment, many workers are finding that it pays — literally — to advance from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree.* According to data from BLS, workers with at least a bachelor’s degree experience lower levels of unemployment and have higher weekly earnings than those with an associate degree.*

Unemployment rates for workers with an associate degree were 2.7% in 2023, compared to 2.2% for workers with a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS.* Median weekly earnings were also higher for bachelor’s degree holders, at $1,493 compared to just $1,058 for associate degree holders, BLS reported.*

Laura Swedberg, a 2021 graduate from SNHU with a bachelor's in business administration with a concentration in human resource managementLaura Swedberg '21, who finished her Associate of Science in Marketing in 2019, had no intention of continuing to her bachelor’s degree. She was inspired to move forward knowing it would only benefit her. "I made the decision to get my bachelor’s degree because I knew that there would be more avenues and career paths to choose from,” said Swedberg.

Finishing her bachelor's in business administration with a concentration in human resource management in 2021 has given her a new edge within her career. "Not only have I taken what I learned in my courses to help me within my current role, but I am qualified for positions and career paths that I would not be if I did not have my bachelor's degree," said Swedberg.

I Have My Associate Degree: Now What?

If you're ready to advance into a bachelor's degree program, there are a few things to consider first.

“Absolutely do your research,” Dugan said. “The internet offers us access to so many tools that can help you as you explore possible degrees and outcomes."

She also suggested using tools like:

Grace Dugan, a military career advisor at SNHU"Most importantly, I recommend that all students speak to as many people as they can about their possible interests and complete informational interviews with family, friends and co-workers to understand what pathways are recommended for certain career outcomes,” said Dugan.

Luckily, there are many options in today’s higher education world that make moving from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree easier.

Many associate degree credits transfer directly to a bachelor’s degree program, fast-tracking your ability to earn a four-year degree. SNHU even partners with community colleges around the country to seamlessly transfer credits from associate and bachelor degree programs.

You can also choose to attend an online college so you can work at your own pace and complete your coursework around your schedule at work and at home.

"There are definitely more opportunities for graduates with a bachelor’s degree," said Bartell.*

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU bachelor's degree that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. She started her career working as an education reporter for a daily newspaper in New Hampshire, where she reported on local schools and education policy. Gagnon served as the communications manager for a private school in Boston, MA before later starting her freelance writing career. Today, she continues to share her passion for education as a writer for Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.