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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.

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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 to a bachelor’s degree.

The Difference Between Bachelor’s and Associate Degrees

Chase Thomas with the text Chase ThomasThe 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.

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 4-year degree.

infographic with the text Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs Bachelor’s degrees are typically 4-year programs

“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 Peter Bartell, an employee relations partner at SNHU  .

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.

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 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.

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.

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 bachelor's 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. 

Achieving your associate degree can prepare you for advancing toward your next college degree. And if you transfer your associate credits to a bachelor's, it can also save you time and money.

Advancing Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree

According to a 2022 U.S. Census Bureau report, 37.9% of adults ages 25 and older have at least a 4-year college degree — an increase of 7.5 percentage points from 30.4% in 2011.

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 8.2% by 2031 — faster than jobs for workers without a college degree.

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 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.

Infographic with the text BLS reports 2021 unemployment rates were:  4.6% for workers with an associate degree  3.5% for workers with a bachelor's degree

Unemployment rates for workers with an associate degree were 4.6% in 2021, compared to just 3.5% for workers with a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS. Median weekly earnings were also higher for bachelor’s degree holders, at $1,334 compared to just $963 for associate degree holders.  

Laura Swedberg with the text Laura Swedberg

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 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?

Balancing your work and personal life can make transferring from an associate to a bachelor's degree seem daunting. But if you want to make the move, you should consider a few things 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."

She also suggested using tools like LinkedIn, the U.S. 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,” said Donahue. 

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.

Peter Bartell with the text Peter Bartell"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 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."

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

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. 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.