Skip to main content

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

It pays to advance from an associate degree to a bachelor's degree because a bachelor's degree is more desirable, and often required, by many employers. That reality is reflected in a lower unemployment rate and higher average wages for those with a 4-year degree, compared to those with an associate degree.

Business professionals in a meeting looking at a whiteboard

While beginning your higher education with an associate degree can provide career opportunities and can provide a great base of general education, it is only the beginning of the college degrees you achieve. While many 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 to a bachelor’s degree.

The Difference Between Bachelor’s and Associate Degrees

infographic with the text Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs Bachelor’s degrees are typically 4-year programsThe most basic difference between a bachelor’s degree and an associate degree is the time it takes to complete the degree program. 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.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) student, Chase Thomas '19, 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’s 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.”

Chase Thomas with the text Chase ThomasBecause of the shorter timeframe, associate degrees are often more affordable than bachelor’s degree programs. If you're just beginning your higher education journey, an associate degree can serve as an introduction to higher education and provide a key stepping stone to a 4-year 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 career advisor Grace Donahue. “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.”

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 SNHU career advisor Peter Bartell.

This competitive edge is especially important in today's highly educated workforce, as more U.S. workers are earning 4-year degrees than ever before and more jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Should I 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.Peter Bartell with the text Peter Bartell

Whether you decide to get your associate of science degree or an associate of art degree, an associate degree is a cost-effective way to begin your education before pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

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 before a bachelor's degree can allow you to cut your time roughly in half by transferring in your other credits, ultimately lowering costs as well.

Blake Venable with the text Blake Venable SNHU student Blake Venable knows the importance of advancing towards a bachelor's degree. Having achieved his associate from a community college over 10 years ago, Venable is working towards his bs in accounting to improve upon his already successful accounting career.

Having already finished his associate, Venable was able to transfer all of his credits and transition into his bachelor's with ease. "All of my credits transferred, so I got to start off about halfway through my bachelor's degree program," he said. 

Not only can getting your associate degree save you time and money, but it can also prepare you for advancing towards your next college degree.

Advancing Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree

According to a 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report, 39.4% of American adults have a 4-year college degree - the highest level ever measured by the bureau and a sharp increase from the 28% of Americans who had a college degree just 10 years earlier.

Similarly, a growing number of U.S. employers are looking for workers with a 4-year degree. By 2020, 65% of all jobs require postsecondary education, with 35% requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a report from Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

In 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 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (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.

Laura Swedberg with the text Laura Swedberg

Unemployment rates for workers with an associate’s degree were 7.1% in 2020, compared to just 5.5% for workers with a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS. Median weekly earnings were also higher for bachelor’s degree holders, at $1,305 compared to just $938 for associate’s degree holders - a difference of more than $19,000 over the course of a year.

Laura 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 continue on 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 BS 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?

Transferring an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree can be a daunting prospect, especially if you work full-time and balance family obligations. If you want to make the move from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree, there are a few things you should consider first.

Grace Donahue with the text Grace Donahue“Absolutely do your research,” Donahue said. “The internet offers us access to so many tools that can help you as you explore possible degrees and outcomes. Explore tools like LinkedIn, Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net and Glassdoor. 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.”

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. Online bachelor’s degree programs allow you to 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. "Once (an employee is) on board, it’s easier for department managers to justify promotions for someone that has a bachelor’s degree versus someone that has less... I always recommend a bachelor’s degree, at least just for monetary and job prospect purposes."

By earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be on your way to advancing your career and boosting your earning potential throughout your lifetime.

“Taking that little extra of time to get a bachelor's degree, will make a difference for the rest of your professional life,” said Swedberg. “You won’t regret it, and you will always be thankful that you did it."

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Explore more content like this article

A student sitting at a desk taking notes off a laptop

What is an MA Degree?

What is a master’s degree, exactly? A master's degree is a graduate degree that you typically pursue following the completion of a bachelor’s degree. These degrees come in various lengths and specializations and can better prepare you for a career in your field of study.
An educator earning her MEd and helping a student.

What is an MEd Degree?

MEd stands for Master of Education and is a master's degree for those working in education. With an MEd, you can advance your educational leadership skills and teaching career by gaining insights into new approaches and technologies that inspire learners and transform students.
A student working on his Bachelor of Arts degree on his laptop while on a phone call with his advisor.

What is a Bachelor of Arts Degree?

If you want a strong foundation of general education and career-ready soft skills, then earning a Bachelor of Arts (BA) could be right for you. Ready to get started toward your ideal career? Explore the types of BA degrees available, how to earn one and what it can do for your career long term.

About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, institutionally 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.