These days, it’s become more and more common to see “bachelor’s degree required” or bachelor’s degree preferred” on a job posting.
If you already have an associate's degree, you may be wondering how going back to school and earning a bachelor’s degree may impact your career, and if the cost and time of earning such a degree is worth the potential boost to your salary.
Let’s explore how converting your associate's into a bachelor’s degree can impact your salary.
An associate's degree is a post-secondary educational program which prepares students with the basic knowledge and skills needed for a particular occupation. An associate's degree fulfills the entry level educational requirements for certain occupations, so many students choose to pursue it with a particular career in mind, like dental hygiene or medical imaging.
Most full-time students can complete an associate's degree in two years, however, online and flexible learning options can allow students to complete the program in a shorter window of time.
In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median weekly earnings for those with an associate's degree was approximately $862 per week, or $44,824 per year, compared to a median weekly salary of $932 per week, or $48,464 per year for all workers.
The same report showed that this group experienced unemployment rates of about 2.8 percent, in comparison to 3.2 percent for all workers.
Unlike an associate's degree, which takes approximately two years to complete, a bachelor’s degree is typically a four-year program focused on developing a more advanced understanding of a particular field of study. (Shorter, accelerated programs do also exist.)
The demand for four-year degrees is rising. In 2016, more than 21 percent of occupations required a bachelor’s degree for entry-level employment. Between 2014 and 2024, the number of occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree is expected to grow by 8.2 percent.
Median weekly earnings significantly increase at the bachelor’s degree level—according to the same BLS report that measured weekly earnings for associate's degrees, bachelor’s degree holders earned approximately $1,198 per week, or $62,296 per year.
Unemployment rates also fell from 2.8 percent for associate’s degree holders to 2.2 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree.
The impact of obtaining a bachelor’s degree can vary by occupation. For example, a survey conducted by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) found that radiologic technologists who have earned their bachelor’s degree earn an average of $5,591 more per year compared to those who hold an associate's degree. Over the course of a 40-year career, this increase equates to nearly a quarter of a million dollars more in salary and wages.
For students that have already completed an associate's degree that want to advance their education and career, bachelor’s degree completion programs offer a solution. At Regis College, for example, students can use the credits that they have already earned to convert their associate's degree into a bachelor’s degree. Doing so allows students to complete their studies in much less time, and more affordably, than starting a bachelor’s degree from scratch.
If you’re deciding whether or not to complete a bachelor’s degree, your first step should be to ask yourself what your goals are.
Gary L’Abbe, Program Director and Assistant Professor for Regis College’s BS in Medical Imaging advises students who are considering a degree completion program to think first about where they would like to see themselves in three to five years.
Although this can be a difficult question to answer, doing so can help students understand their motivation for going back and earning their degree, he says.
“I ask students what they want out of their careers—do they see themselves happy as tech staff? Or do they see themselves in a position at a different level?” L’Abbe says.
While the example may be specific to the medical imaging field, it generally rings true across many professions. An associate's degree can fulfill the educational requirements for entry-level positions in various fields, but advancement to more senior roles is typically easier with more advanced degrees which demonstrate your skills and leadership abilities.
If you’re still unsure whether a bachelor’s degree is worth the investment, you should consider other benefits of advancing your education in addition to increased earning potential.
“Above all, advancing your education provides opportunities for future growth and the ability to land a position that you’re really looking for,” L’Abbe says. “It allows you the flexibility to become eligible for positions that you wouldn't have been eligible for before.”
Ultimately, the decision to convert an associate's degree into a bachelor’s degree is a personal one, depending on your specific goals. Going back to school may not be for everyone, but doing so can help you bring your career to the next level.
In addition to your personal and career goals, you should also consider other factors when deciding to pursue a degree completion program, including:
Understanding how each of these factors impact your ability to reach your goals will help you determine whether or not you should finish your bachelor’s degree. If you do decide to convert your associate's degree into a bachelor’s degree, the next step is finding the right program to help you do so.
Regis College offers various bachelor’s degree completion programs designed to develop the skills, expertise, and qualifications needed to advance your career. In addition to the medical imaging program, Regis offers degree completion programs in:
Each of these programs are designed to be flexible, allowing students to complete their degrees in ways that fit with their professional and personal lifestyle.