Is an Associate’s Degree Worth It?

is an associate's degree worth it

Key Takeaways

  • Associate’s degrees offer affordable education and quick entry into the job market for career starters.
  • Consider long-term career goals and industry demand when deciding on pursuing an Associate’s degree.
  • While an Associate’s degree may limit earning potential, it can be a stepping stone toward higher education and success.

Introduction

An associate’s degree is an undergraduate program that provides students with basic technical and academic knowledge. It’s a perfect first step for students with limited time and budget who want to pursue higher education for career development purposes.

It’s also a step towards a bachelor’s degree.

This degree level often takes two years to complete. The earning potential with an associate’s degree is lower than a bachelor’s but higher than a high school diploma but. There are several associate’s degree success stories from individuals in technical fields.

Featured Programs

Related:

Here are the associate degree types:

  • Associate of Arts (AA) emphasizes liberal arts and humanities subjects.
  • Associate of Science (AS) is designed for students interested in the STEM fields.
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA) focuses on applied arts and creative disciplines.
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) emphasizes practical, job-specific skills training.

The answer to the question, ‘Is an online associate degree worth it?’ will depend on various factors such as the field of study, geographic location, and individual career trajectory. Knowing the pros and cons of an associate’s degree and what it can bring will help you determine whether or not this is the right path for you. 

Pros and Cons of Pursuing an Associate’s Degree

Benefits of an Associate’s Degree

There are several benefits of earning an associate’s degree. By knowing each one of them, you can determine if this educational path aligns with your current expectations.

Lower Cost and Time Commitment

In the debate of associate’s degree vs. bachelor’s degree, the former wins against the latter in terms of affordability and time commitment. Associate degrees are generally cheaper compared to bachelor’s degrees— even compared to online four-year programs. They also have a faster completion rate. 

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average annual cost of an associate’s degree in community colleges is $8,220 per year. It is much lower than the average yearly cost of a bachelor’s degree, which is $36,436. 

Additionally, because associate degree programs are shorter, you can finish your education and join the workforce sooner. This enables you to earn money and gain experience earlier in your career. 

Entry-Level Careers

Among the top associate’s degree benefits is increased access to entry-level job opportunities in various industries. These programs offer coursework that is directly related to the industry. Unlike a bachelor’s degree, you’ll only have one specialization to focus on. 

The practice-based and industry-relevant coursework of an associate’s degree allows you to focus on developing practical skills for a specific sector. As a graduate, you possess a solid foundation of practical skills and knowledge directly applicable to your chosen field. 

Transferable Credits to a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning an associate’s degree doesn’t mean you’re limited to only that level of education. In fact, a lot of bachelor’s degree holders have associate degrees. 

Two of the main reasons why students pursue an associate degree before a bachelor’s degree are to save money and test the waters of their desired path. This helps them evaluate whether they’re a good fit for the industry without dealing with stressful student loans. 

Transfer degrees, like Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS), are specifically designed to facilitate a smooth transition to four-year institutions. These two-year courses, typically requiring 60 semesters, offer a significant advantage. They are easily transferable to most universities. You can get half of the credits required for a bachelor’s degree to make your path to a higher degree more efficient.

Drawbacks of an Associate’s Degree

Limited Career Advancement

While you can pursue several entry-level positions, job opportunities with an associate’s degree are limited to that particular level. Many industries, particularly those that demand advanced skills or specialized knowledge, may have higher positions or responsibilities that specifically call for a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Although career advancement with an associate’s degree is possible, it’s recommended to pursue advanced education. 

Lower Earning Potential

An associate’s degree offers immediate employment opportunities and lower initial costs. However, it may not lead to the same long-term financial benefits as higher levels of education.

Entry-level positions typically offer low salary ranges compared to positions requiring higher levels of education. The Labor Statistics Bureau reports that people with an associate’s degree usually earn less throughout a lifetime than those with a bachelor’s degree.

Industry-Specific Demand

An associate degree is a great starting point for exploring a new career path. However, it will not offer the same level of knowledge you’d find in a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This is especially true in major fields like technology, healthcare, and finance, where skills and knowledge are becoming outdated more quickly. 

You’re also restricted from industries with regulatory requirements or professional standards that necessitate higher levels of education.

Factors to Consider Before Pursuing an Associate’s Degree

Career Goals and Aspirations

Is an associate’s degree valuable? Yes. However, it’s only valuable as you make it. 

The first thing you need to consider before deciding on an associate’s degree is your professional goals. What particular industries or employment responsibilities are you interested in? Will an associate degree correspond with the requirements needed for the position? 

Consider your long-term professional goals and if obtaining an associate’s degree will give you the starting point you need to progress in your chosen sector. This assessment will assist in ensuring that your academic goals and professional objectives align, pointing you toward a rewarding career.

While an associate’s degree is generally cheap and affordable, you should consider industry and job market trends before choosing a specialization. It’s best to pursue specializations that lead to rapid growth and high-paying positions.

According to official data, the fastest-growing occupations are in healthcare, information technology, renewable energy, and skilled trades. 

Transfer Options to Bachelor’s Programs

Exploring transfer options for associate’s degree holders can open up new pathways to advanced education and career opportunities. Community colleges offer associate degrees. Sometimes, four-year universities have them as well. Some of the most popular four-year institutions with associate degree programs include Liberty University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Purdue University Global.

If you’re planning on pursuing an associate’s degree at a community college for cheaper tuition, ensure that the college is accredited. Better yet, ensure that it partners with a four-year institution. 

Conclusion

Is an associate’s degree worth it? Yes. Associate degrees are short and affordable, making them a great starting point if you want to explore a new field. It’s also a strategic way of pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a lesser cost through transferring credits. 

Despite its benefits, however, an associate’s degree is not for everyone. For example, if you plan to pursue a field that requires a higher level of education or specialized training, you may need to jump directly into a bachelor’s degree. If you prioritize immediate earning potential or seek rapid career advancement, you’ll find higher levels of education better aligned with your goals.