Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are the two kinds of undergraduate degrees in the US. This article, part of a series on academic degrees, explains how they differ from each other.

Associate’s Degrees

Associate’s degrees usually take at least 60 credits (2 years of full-time study) to earn. Community and technical colleges typically offer associate’s degrees as their only degrees. Other colleges and universities that offer higher degrees sometimes also have associate’s degrees.

An associate’s degree often requires some General Education classes, like writing and speaking. They also have a specific area of study.

Associate’s degrees are introductory degrees for many fields. This means they include some classes in their focus area, but not as many classes as bachelor’s degrees.

  • For example, at the University of Cincinnati, an associate of arts in English requires 5 literature classes, but a bachelor of arts in English requires about 11 literature classes.

You can see how the associate’s degree is more of an introduction to the area of study. Because of this, they sometimes include the prefix “pre-” in the description of their area of study, such as “pre-engineering”: the “pre-” shows that the degree is just a beginning. These introductory degrees often include the word “arts” or the word “science” in their name.

  • An associate of arts is often an introductory degree in the humanities (literature, history, arts, etc.)
  • An associate of science is often an introductory degree in the natural or social sciences (biology, chemistry, psychology, etc.)

Usually an associate’s degree is not considered training to work in a specific job; instead, people go on to complete a bachelor’s degree in the same (or a related) area.

In some technical fields, though, an associate’s degree may be enough to get a job; examples are medical technicians (radiology, for example). Often these degrees include the word “applied” in their names, like “associate of applied science.”

Bachelor’s Degrees

Bachelor’s degrees are what most people think of when they talk about a “college degree” or a “college graduate.” Bachelor’s degrees are the foundational degrees in most fields of study. Typically they require 120 or more credits (4 years of full-time study) to earn.

Nearly all colleges and universities other than community/technical colleges offer bachelor’s degrees; the exceptions are a smaller number of institutions that only have graduate degrees.

Bachelor’s degrees require more General Education courses than associate’s degrees do. They also include one or more academic majors, the special area of study.

Often people say they have a degree “in” their major — like a “degree in English” or a “degree in chemical engineering.” Bachelor’s degrees at many colleges can also have an optional minor in a second area of study.

There are several different kinds of bachelor’s degrees. The most common are the bachelor of arts (BA) and the bachelor of science (BS). The biggest difference is in General Education:

  • the BA degree has more breadth of learning and requires more General Education;
  • the BS degree has more focus/specialization in the major and requires less General Education.