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Turning An Associate Degree into a Bachelor’s Degree

By Kristin Burnham
October 30, 2018

As individuals begin to consider advancing their education to achieve their career goals, it’s common for them to start their academic journey with an associate degree.

Despite obtaining an associate degree, however, many professionals still don’t have the education requirements needed to pursue their desired career path. It is at this stage many acknowledge the benefits a four-year degree can provide them.

No matter the field of study, advancing your degree level to at least a bachelor’s is often beneficial to your career aspirations, as it equips you with valuable skills that make you a desirable job prospect in your given industry. There are some basic differences between these two degree types that are important to keep in mind though. A bachelor’s degree typically requires twice the amount of time to complete compared to an associate degree, yet experts agree that the investment in your future is worthwhile. Earning a bachelor’s degree can improve your earning potential, open up several career opportunities, and increase job satisfaction.

Is an Associate Degree Enough?

To increase the chances of success, it is essential for individuals to choose the right degree program. Important elements to consider include, the time commitment required to pursue the degree, what educational courses are offered, and if there are future tuition fees you may encounter while advancing your education. Along with these elements, it is critical to determine if the degree is worth the investment. A bachelor’s degree is only valuable to individuals who need the extra education to advance in their career. By these standards, it is clear to see why pursuing a bachelor’s degree is considered valuable.

By acknowledging the key differences between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree, it is clear which option is right for you. An associate degree is a 60-credit post-secondary degree that most candidates earn in two years. A bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, typically requires four years of study and 120 credits. Graduates earn higher wages than those with an associate degree, amounting to $85,000 more over a five-year period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree extend well beyond compensation, though. Research shows that graduates with a bachelor’s degree are more marketable, have access to more job opportunities, enjoy more economic stability, are more satisfied in their jobs, and even experience higher self-esteem.

“The reality is that there are just more positions that require at least a bachelor’s degree,” says Evan Grenier, Northeastern University’s former director of enrollment. “In the past, associate degrees may have been enough to start careers in certain industries, but the expectation has changed. A bachelor’s degree is pretty valuable for someone to have on their resume.”

If you’re interested in taking the next steps to turn your associate degree into a bachelor’s degree quickly, experts recommend taking these five steps.

Download Our Guide to Transferring from Community College to a Four-Year University

Leverage our expert tips to navigate the transfer process and make a smooth transition.


5 Steps to Turn Your Associate Degree into a Bachelor’s

1. Know what kind of associate degree you have.

Not all associate degrees are created equal. Transfer degrees, for example, are designed to transfer easily to institutions that offer bachelor’s degrees, while others are not. If you know what academic program you want to study for your bachelor’s degree, Grenier recommends tailoring your course of study to its necessary requirements.

“Get as many courses as possible out of the way [in your associate program] in order to progress quickly [in your bachelor’s program],” Grenier says. “Northeastern, for example, accepts almost all credits from any accredited community college.”

Planning for your bachelor’s degree isn’t always possible, however, particularly if you’ve already completed your associate degree. More important than the credits that transfer, Grenier says, are applied credits—and it’s necessary to understand the difference between those and regular credits.

Applied credits are from courses that your bachelor’s degree requires to graduate. If you received an associate degree in English but want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in information technology, for example, your credits will likely transfer, but they may not be applicable to new program’s required courses. In that case, you will still need to take additional credits in the new subject area.

2. Research your current university’s articulation agreements.

Many four-year colleges also offer two-year associate degrees. If you’d like to continue on at your current university, speak to an admissions counselor to determine whether your college offers a pathway forward to help you turn your associate degree into a bachelor’s degree. This will eliminate any uncertainty surrounding whether or not credits will transfer. If they don’t, or you’d prefer to earn your bachelor’s from a different university, Grenier suggests looking into your institution’s articulation agreements.

“Most community colleges have articulation agreements that set easy pathways for credits from one institution to the next,” he says. “Those articulation agreements are maintained by the college advising office, and community college students can check in on their own campus to see whether they have relationships with four-year colleges.”

Northeastern University, for example, partners with over 20 community colleges across the nation to help you make the most of your associate degree.

3. Work with your prospective university to determine which of your credits will transfer.

Universities have the final say over whether or not they will accept your institution’s transfer credits, which usually boils down to the institution’s accreditation and its rigor of studies, Grenier says.

To expedite your path to earning a bachelor’s degree, it’s important to find a university or college that will accept as many of your associate degree credits as possible. Bachelor’s programs may need the description of the course and course materials—such as the syllabus and list of textbooks—to make this determination. Some colleges also limit how long ago the course in question was completed. Check with the college’s or university’s admissions office for more insight on transferring credits.

4. Test out of classes where possible.

If you spent time working in the field after completing your associate degree, it might be possible to test out of certain course requirements when earning your bachelor’s degree, Grenier says.

Some Northeastern University programs, for example, offer “prior learning assessments” (PLAs). This may be in the form of a test that demonstrates your proficiency on the topic or a portfolio that demonstrates your expertise; it depends on the course, Grenier says.

“The PLA shows that they’ve mastered skills in a particular class so they don’t have to relearn something they’re already an expert in,” he says. “Information technology, for example, might require that you demonstrate your expertise in coding to place out of a course.”

5. Leverage your academic advisor.

Once you’ve been accepted into a bachelor’s program, meet regularly with your advisor to ensure you’re on track to graduate as quickly as possible.

“Your advisor can really help define the clearest pathway to your bachelor’s degree,” Grenier says. “They’ll make sure your credit is transferring the way it should be, that you’re taking the appropriate number of courses, and that you’re keeping up with deadlines. They’re there to help you reach both your academic and professional goals.”

Next Steps Toward a Bachelor’s Degree

Because a bachelor’s degree is so important today in advancing your career, Grenier says that now is the time to begin exploring your options and setting yourself on the path to your bachelor’s degree.

“A bachelor’s degree is very valuable for your career and your earning potential. It’s not something you’ll regret pursuing.”

Curious about the next steps to turn your associate degree into a bachelor’s? Learn all you need to know about transferring from a community college in our free guide below.

Download Our Guide to Transferring from Community College to a Four Year University

About Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham is a content contributor for Northeastern University.