Is An Associate’s Degree An Undergraduate Degree?

When wrapping up secondary school, one of the higher study options you will come across is an associate’s degree but you may wonder if it is an undergraduate degree or not.

An associate’s degree is usually earned in 2 to 3 years, often from a local community college. They are less costly and are great for starting off in a career you love.

If you’re unsure of what career path to follow, trying out a two years course of study in a community college is safer than plunging into the university unsure.

You can discover if what you’re studying is really what you want or whether to switch paths without wasting too much money or time.

This article gives details about an associate’s degree as well as what an undergraduate degree entails.

What is an associate’s degree?

Is An Associate's Degree An Undergraduate Degree

An associate’s degree is an academic award earned after the equivalent of two to three years of a college education. You can think of it as a degree that is higher than a high school degree but lesser than a bachelor’s degree.

In the US, associate’s degree programs are available at various colleges, from community colleges to junior colleges, technical colleges, affiliate colleges of universities, to four-year colleges and universities.

Some students enroll in associate’s degree programs to get firsthand knowledge of what to expect in a four-year degree program. For other students, it may be a way to get better jobs that a secondary school certificate cannot give them.

Whatever the case may be, associate degrees have some form of benefits because they are quicker to complete and less expensive than bachelor’s degrees.

Although associate’s degrees are more prevalent in the US, countries like the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, Turkey, and Denmark also offer the program.

What is an undergraduate degree?

An undergraduate degree is a degree awarded to students who have successfully completed a postsecondary academic program of study. It is usually offered at a college or university.

Undergraduate degrees include associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. In the US, a bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete while an associate degree takes approximately 2 years.

Differences between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree

Now that you know that an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree are undergraduate degrees, it will help to consider the differences between them.

Identifying the differences between them will help you know what to choose when considering which higher learning education to pursue after secondary school.

1. Program length

Although both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees are undergraduate degrees, it takes different time to complete them. Associate degrees require 60 credit hours or an equivalent of 20 classes to complete.

In the US, this translates to two years of full-time study. On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree requires 120 credit hours, two times more than an associate degree. This is equivalent to four years of full-time study.

For students who study on a part-time basis, the program length is usually longer than full-time. As such, it may take up to four years to complete an associate degree depending on how many courses you’re able to do per year.

Conversely, if a university decides to run its program part-time, it may take students five to ten years to complete a course of study depending on their time, motivation, and personal circumstances.

On the other hand, you can study during vacations to round off your degree within a shorter period.

Students who have successfully completed an associate’s degree can also transfer some relevant course credit to count towards their bachelor’s degree. This will shorten the time needed to complete their four-year degree program.

2. Entry requirements

The entry requirements for associate’s degrees are less stringent and competitive compared to bachelor’s degrees. You basically need a high school diploma or have passed a General Education Development test (GED) or an equivalent test, and be 18 years of age.

You also need to meet the GPA requirements but they are not as high as a four-year degree. So, if you’re unable to meet the entry requirements for a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree is a great alternative for you.

3. Cost

An associate’s degree is a cheaper undergraduate degree because it is faster to complete than a bachelor’s degree. The average tuition for one year in an associate degree program is $3,800 in 2021, according to the College Board.

Whereas it is $10,740 for public in-state schools, $27,560 for public out-of-state schools, and $38,070 for private nonprofit schools. In fact, bachelor’s degrees are two or three times costlier than associate degrees.

You can benefit from financial aid and federal grants when studying towards both bachelor’s and an associate degree. There are also tuition-free institutions like the University of the People for associate’s degrees in computer science, business administration, etc.

4. Career opportunities

An associate degree affords you better career prospects and pays compared to a high school diploma. In 2020, associate’s degree holders earn $836 weekly compared to $781 for workers with a high school diploma.

However, to really stand out and attract high-paying jobs you need at least a bachelor’s degree. Their median weekly earnings are $1,334 which sums up to $69,381 annually.

Moreso, more jobs in the US are beginning to require a bachelor’s degree or higher and the unemployment rate for BSc holders is lower than that of associates.

If you think about it, getting a bachelor’s degree is really much better than trying to save costs by settling for an associate degree. In the long run, you will save more with a bachelor’s degree than with an associate’s.

The good thing is if you have an associate degree, you can transfer relevant course credit to your bachelor’s degree and reduce the years you’d spend acquiring a BSc.

Types of associate degrees

There are majorly four types of associate degrees which include:

  • Associate of arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

The major difference between them is that applied arts and science are more focused on practical and vocational education, arming students with the skills for the workplace.

On the other hand, AA and AS prepare students for further studies. Hence, they place more emphasis on teachings and assessment and less on practicals.

In the US, the format for transferring from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree program is 2 + 2. That is, if your course credits are relevant and accepted by the University you apply for, you will join them halfway through, starting in year three (3rd year).

If you’re running an associate degree program with the goal of applying for a bachelor’s degree, in the end, it is best that you research your institution of choice to know the requirements and what courses or credit hours you need to qualify for transfer.

That said, online associate degree is becoming more rampant because they give students the flexibility of time and are cheaper than in-person learning.

Why choose an associate’s degree?

There are many reasons to choose an associate degree. First is that it is great for those who want to go into the workplace quickly. You will get the skills and knowledge with which you can work.

Secondly, if you’re unable to meet the requirements for a four-year course, you can enroll in an associate’s degree with fewer requirements and prepare for a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re not sure of your interest in a course, you could try out an associate degree so as to find out if you will enjoy a career in the field.


What is the difference between an associate degree and a diploma?

A diploma is an educational certificate for high school graduates while an associate’s degree is awarded to graduates of an associate education.

Can you transfer your associate degree credit to your bachelor’s degree?

Yes. As long as you have the relevant course credit for the course you wish to study for a bachelor’s degree, the University will help allow you to transfer it.


An associate’s degree is good and can help you land jobs with decent pay but a bachelor’s degree positions you for better job opportunities and a competitive salary.

So, if you have the opportunity to get a bachelor’s degree it is best that you maximize it. You should also consider the academic requirements for the career path you will like to follow.

If you have some financial constraints, you should research financial aid and scholarship grants from the federal government for students.

Finally, if your work is really demanding, you should consider getting a bachelor’s degree online.

I hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading.