Is an associate degree worth it in today’s competitive workforce? How can you choose between an associate or bachelor’s degree? Find out!
Getting a college education can be a key step in launching a successful career. Whether you are just carving out your career path, or are looking to change careers completely, pursuing a college degree will provide many benefits. With a degree in hand, you can qualify for more jobs, increase your earning potential, and stand out to prospective employers – all while gaining knowledge and experience in your desired field. The question is, which type of college degree makes the most sense for you?
Many people looking to advance their education will come to a crossroads, asking, “Should I pursue an associate degree or bachelor’s degree?” You may be wondering, “Is an associate degree even worth it in today’s competitive workforce, or will I need a bachelor’s degree to succeed?”
It is not uncommon to think that, in order to be successful, one must have a bachelor’s degree. Somewhere along the way, it became ingrained in us that a four-year college education is the ticket to a great career. However, as we revealed in a recent article, there are many incredible jobs available – and in-demand – for those with an associate degree or even certificate in hand.
The Associate Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree Debate
Of course, bachelor’s degree programs do have many benefits. Some jobs, for example, require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for entry. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degree holders make more, on average, than those with an associate degree or less. This makes sense, as these graduates have invested more in their educational programs. However, there are many high-paying jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree, and the pay for these roles is increasing. According to new surveys, average salaries for skilled trades jobs are expected to increase 2.8% in 2022.
However, associate degree programs also have great benefits. Associate degree programs prepare you to enter the workforce in two years (or less!), offering a fast-track, alternative option to the traditional degree program. Additionally, many respected and high-paying careers only require an associate degree. So, is an associate degree worth it, with these factors considered?
Well, that depends on your goals and needs.
There is much to consider when deciding on a college degree and, more specifically, whether an associate degree is worth it to you. Below, we break down the top questions to ask yourself when weighing an associate or bachelor’s degree program.
Is an Associate Degree Worth It? Ask Yourself:
- What are my career goals?
When weighing your degree options, your first and foremost consideration should be your professional goals. What do you want to do with your career? In which field do you want to work? Certain fields require a certain level of education—but not all require a bachelor’s degree. Below are some examples of careers where an associate degree is the standard for getting started:
- Dental Hygienist
- Registered Nurse
- Respiratory Therapist
- Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Safety or Security Officer
- Probation Officer
- Case Manager
- Corrections Counselor
- Job Coach
- Youth Worker
- CNC Machinist
- Quality Manager
- Histologic Technician
- Funeral Service Director
Before taking a step forward with your education, be sure to do your research. If there is a certain field that you’d like to pursue, research the qualifications needed for the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as your state’s Department of Labor, can be great resources when seeking to understand the educational requirements for prospective jobs.
- How much time can I commit to school?
One of the most common reasons people consider an associate degree is the level of time commitment involved. Associate degree programs, on average, take two years to complete – versus the traditional, four-year bachelor’s degree. Some associate degree programs take even less time, with accelerated course options. As you consider whether an associate degree is worthwhile, consider how much time you are ready to invest in college. Ask yourself:
- How quickly do I want to get into the workforce, or advance my career?
- How much school can I afford, from a time and cost perspective? (More time in school, in turn, means more tuition costs.)
If you are looking to enter the workforce quickly, and you can qualify for your dream job with a two-year degree, an associate degree is a great alternative. It is also a smart one, as you can save time and expense, and start earning a salary faster than traditional students.
- Why am I pursuing a college degree?
Ultimately, this question is critical to your decision. Ask yourself why you are looking to go to college, and potentially earn an associate degree, at all? What are you looking to accomplish from your degree program?
If you are looking to qualify for a job, an associate degree can get you there. As noted above, there are many respected, rewarding, and high-paying career outcomes that require an associate degree.
If you are looking to advance your skillsets, an associate degree can also get you there. The right degree program – at any level – will teach you valuable and versatile skills that can transfer to any career: good communication, problem-solving, decision-making, critical-thinking. These are skills that employers are looking for. Additionally, an associate degree can enhance your skillsets in specific, specialized areas of study. If you dream of becoming a nurse, for example, an associate degree in Nursing can provide you with the technical skills needed to provide excellent patient care, and pass the nursing licensing exam.
If you are looking to advance your salary potential, an associate degree can also get you there. While it’s true that bachelor’s degree holders earn slightly more than associate degree holders, based on national averages, associate degree holders still have promising pay levels. The Bureau of Labor Statistics proves this: In 2018, workers with a high school diploma earned a weekly salary of $730, on average. However, those with an associate degree earned $862 weekly (18 percent higher per week). While $132 may not seem like a lot per week, consider this: An associate degree can increase your pay by $6,864 per year.
If you are looking for job security, an associate degree can provide that to you, too. At the end of the day, employers want to know that applicants have put some time into learning about their field. Not only this, but the risk of unemployment is also much less. According to the BLS data cited above, unemployment rates were much lower for those holding an associate degree, compared to those with a high school education or less. Specifically, the unemployment rate for high school graduates (with no college education) was over 4 percent in 2018. However, this shrinks to 2.8% for those with an associate degree in hand.
If you are simply looking to pursue a college degree because your heart is telling you to, there are also many benefits that an associate degree can provide. Earning an associate degree can show current or future employers that you are dedicated to your field of work, and highlight your competencies within it. It can also make you stand out amongst the crowd in fields where the job market is not saturated by college degree holders. That means if you are considering a career that does not require a formal college education, earning an associate degree can provide you great leverage – for position and for pay – when applying for jobs.
Is an Associate Degree Worth It? Conclusion
Is an associate degree worth it? While this is in no way a simple answer, an associate degree is worth it for many people, particularly those who wish to advance their education without spending years in school, and who desire to work in a field that doesn’t require a four-year degree. If your priorities are in alignment with this, then an associate degree can be an excellent next step. An associate degree is worth it to those who:
- Need or desire a shorter alternative to the traditional, four-year degree.
- Are seeking a career that requires an associate degree or some postsecondary education.
- Desire to advance their skillsets in a specialized field of work.
- Wish to increase their earning potential.
- Need more job security or leverage than in their current role.
Rather than asking yourself, “Is an associate degree worth it?”, it’s important to ask whether an associate degree is right for you. Does it align with your career goals? Will it get you where you need to go? Will it allow you to apply to advanced opportunities down the road? Are there associate degree programs available that fit within your scheduling needs? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you have your answer: An associate degree is worth it for you.
To learn about the associate degree programs available at Goodwin University, please do not hesitate to call 800-889-3282. You may also explore associate degree options online here.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.