associate to bachelor degree

Many students decide to earn a two-year associate degree before moving into a four-year bachelor’s. While the path from a two-year college to a four-year university isn’t for everyone, it could be a good choice for you if you have the right plan in place.

Continue reading for information on how to maximize your associate degree credits to earn your bachelor’s quickly and affordably.

Beginning your educational journey at a two-year college to earn an associate degree, then transferring to a four-year institution to complete your bachelor’s, is one of the most cost-effective ways to earn a bachelor’s degree. Not only will you get a high quality education for the first two years, but you could spend much less than you would at a four-year university.

With that said, the success of starting with an associate degree and ending with a bachelor’s isn’t a sure thing. To accomplish your goals quickly, seamlessly, affordably, and efficiently, you need to be deliberate with the following three preparations:

  1. Transfer process.
  2. Transfer pathways.
  3. Course selection.

Together, these three important aspects will help inform your school choice and build the future you want for yourself.

Transfer Process

Before you start earning your associate degree, ask yourself if you think you’ll want to earn a bachelor’s degree at any point. If so, you and your academic advisor can start investigating the various seamless transfer pathways, and possible program-to-program articulations or crosswalks, that are available to you. This step will help you identify some of the best transfer options for your goals, and that starts with the associate degree you choose to earn.

The earlier you recognize if and why you want to transfer, the better.

In the past, students planning to transfer credits from their associate degree to their bachelor’s typically completed an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree. Both mostly comprise general education courses that are usually accepted in their entirety by four-year institutions. That seamless transfer makes it easy for students to earn 60 of the 120 required credits for a bachelor’s degree.

While A.A. and A.S. degrees have been largely recommended for simple transfer, not all associate degrees are created equal. Previously, it was not a good idea for someone with the end goal of a bachelor’s degree to invest in an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree.

Because the curriculum of an A.A.S degree is career and technically focused, with only a few general education credits mixed in, there are fewer opportunities to transfer that specialized credit to a four-year university. The A.A.S. degree was originally designed to be terminal to a two-year college because the majority of credits would not transfer.

Today, it’s still largely recommended that students wishing to transfer complete their A.A. or A.S. degree, but there are more options with seamless transfer pathways for students who have an A.A.S. degree.

Transfer Pathways

The earlier you recognize if and why you want to transfer, the better. Program-to-program articulations, or crosswalks, lay out a clear and simple path from your associate degree to your bachelor’s degree. These crosswalks identify certain courses that you’ll want to complete, possibly in place of others, to maximize applicable transfer credit -- especially if transferring with a specialized associate degree.

Seamless transfer pathways provide a road map for students to use their experience and education to earn a full degree. On-the-job training and established articulation agreements can provide a pathway to a degree via your employer. Some state universities have partnered with two-year colleges to allow students automatic transfer from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree.

These pathways have provided more opportunities for nontraditional or non-collegiate credit to be used toward degree completion. For instance, A.A.S. curriculum is becoming more applicable for transfer to a bachelor’s with alternative credit options like competency based exams (CBEs) and prior learning assessments (PLAs). These options give students the chance to prove their proficiency in a certain area in order to avoid course and curriculum redundancy. Nobody wants to put time, effort, and money into learning things they’ve already gained expertise in.

Now, students who have acquired a specialized, or career-specific skill set can find ways to transfer their hard-earned credit without having to start from scratch with prerequisites or general education courses.

Course Selection

Not only is the degree and transfer pathway important but so are the specific courses you elect to take at each institution. While the pathway you choose will help direct what’s best now and in the future, you may also be given course options, and your choices should be based on the future rather than the present.

For instance, if you’ve earned, or are earning an A.A.S. (Associate of Applied Science) degree, the curriculum requires you to complete either an English composition course or a technical writing course. A transfer crosswalk would recommend that you complete the English composition course because it will most likely transfer to fulfill a required general education course at a four-year university.

The technical writing course will most likely transfer as an elective course if it transfers at all. Identifying seamless transfer options and transfer crosswalks early on will help you determine which courses to complete during your associate degree versus your bachelor’s.

Regardless of the specific associate degree you’re pursuing, there are many transfer options available. Be open to the possibilities to maximize efficiency and start doing your homework about the process and requirements as early as possible. The earlier you identify your transfer options and start following a transfer pathway, the more likely you are to earn your bachelor’s degree quickly and affordably.