Taking classes at community college in preparation for a transition into university is an increasingly popular option for students who hope to earn a bachelor’s degree. A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that completing an associate degree before transferring — as opposed to transferring credits after one year — did not positively or negatively affect the students’ likelihood of finishing a bachelor’s degree, but there are some good reasons for earning that degree before continuing on to a bachelor’s.
Associate vs. Bachelor’s Degree: What’s the Difference?
- An associate degree is a two-year postsecondary degree that usually consists of about 60 semester credits (20 classes). The three types of associate degree are: Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Sciences (A.S.), and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.).
- A bachelor’s degree is a postsecondary degree completed in three to four years, usually requiring 120 semester credits (40 classes). Standard bachelor’s degrees are Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Sciences (B.S.).
Because an associate degree is approximately equivalent to half of a bachelor’s degree (two years’ worth of general education and introductory major-specific coursework), it is possible for students looking to get a bachelor’s degree to transfer the credits they have earned to count toward their bachelor’s degrees.
Why Get an Associate Degree First?
- Credentials: Some students choose to transfer community college credits after one year, but there are benefits to having a complete associate degree when you transfer. First, having an associate degree under your belt means you will be able to apply for jobs requiring one during the rest of college, if you so choose. Second, it guarantees that your two years of hard work will take a visible and appealing form on your résumé, even if you decide not to finish your bachelor’s degree.
- Tuition: The monetary benefit of studying at community college before transferring to university is obvious: Taking two years of classes at community college saves you twice the difference between community college tuition and university tuition. That’s credits earned and money saved. Additionally, having an associate degree means you can put off finishing your bachelor’s degree if you want to; the credits you earned won’t depreciate in transferable value if they are locked into one unit (your degree).
- Accommodation: Community college is a good place to gain some academic confidence in a setting that offers smaller class-sizes and options for English-language learners.
Choosing to earn an associate degree before transferring is a decision that will require some planning ahead, but having worked hard to earn it, you will be able to enter your bachelor’s degree program with a safety net (money saved and added credentials) and, most important, with confidence.
By Annemarie Arnold