Associate Degree

Most people assume they need a bachelor's degree when it comes to getting a college education. However, this isn't the only way to jumpstart your career with a college education. While a bachelor's degree has its benefits, an associate degree can be a worthwhile alternative. Here are just a few reasons to consider earning an associate degree:

Smaller time commitment. Unlike a four-year bachelor's degree, most associate degree programs only take two years to complete. This means you can jump into the work force that much faster and start gaining valuable, hands-on experience. This is a real advantage for students who need to start earning paycheck sooner rather than later. And, you may have the option to complete a bachelor's degree at a later date.

Less expensive. Associate degrees are also less expensive than bachelor's degree programs. The difference in cost is due in part to the shorter time commitment – students pay for two years of tuition instead of four years. In addition, annual tuition rates for associate degree programs tend to be less than that of bachelor's program tuition rates. Also, some associate degree credits can be applied toward a bachelor's degree down the road, making a future bachelor's degree more affordable. There's no doubt that cost is a major concern for students taking out loans to pay for school, or for those who are paying for their tuition out-of-pocket, so an associate degree may make more financial sense.

Convenience. Associate degree programs are often more accessible than bachelor's degree programs. While bachelor's and associate degrees are available at online colleges and universities, online associate degree programs may be more widely accepted than online bachelor's degree programs when it comes to transferring your degree later to pursue a higher one. Also, associate degrees are often offered at local junior and community colleges, whereas to earn an on-campus bachelor's degree, you must live near a major college or university.

Greater earning potential. Associate degree holders stand to earn more than those with a high school diploma or some college course work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Associate degree holders earn $785 per week on average, while those with a high school diploma earn $652 per week on average. This translates to about $400 more for associate degree holders each month in earnings. While bachelor's degree holders have even greater earning potential, it's important to weigh the additional time and financial expenses that come with the degree.

Job-specific training. You might be surprised by the number of careers you can pursue after earning a bachelor's degree. Many associate degree programs provide the education and training you need to enter a specific field. In some fields, a bachelor's degree is considered preferable, but an associate degree along with relevant experience will also get you the job. Research the qualifications for your desired field and you may find that an associate degree fits the bill.

Ultimately, your decision to pursue an associate degree depends on your current lifestyle and long-term career goals. An associate degree is adequate training lots of careers, and can be earned in less time and be less of a financial burden than a higher degree. Assess your circumstances and career goals to determine if an associate degree is the best path for you.