What is the Difference Between Associate’s Degree Programs and Certificate Programs?

Finding the right path for education can be a difficult process, and one of the decisions that many prospective students have to make is what type of program is best for them. One of the choices is often between enrolling in a certificate or an associate’s degree program. Although often considered similar, there are differences to the two programs that could change a student’s choice on which to pursue after evaluating what the differences are between certificates and associate’s degrees.

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs focus on training for a specific industry or career position and are offered at most community colleges and vocational or technical schools. Popular certificate programs include medical billing and coding, various computer technology positions, and nursing and nursing assistant programs. Certificates typically take about a year to complete, and these programs are specifically designed to get students into the workforce quickly. The courses typically only include those that are centered on learning the skills and gaining the knowledge needed for a specialized position or industry.

Certificate programs are an excellent option for employees already in the workforce who are looking to enhance or learn new skills for promotions, resume building, and a variety of other reasons.

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After the Certificate

At many schools, courses earned while pursuing a certificate can often be applied toward an associate’s degree, allowing graduates with a certificate to enter the workforce quickly but return to school to continue toward a higher degree.

Other certificate programs are also designed to enhance a previously earned degree, typically at the bachelor’s or graduate degree level. Universities and some community colleges offer these types of certificates.

Associate’s Degree Programs

Associate’s degrees are designed to prepare students with not only the skills and knowledge for a particular position, but they also include courses in general education. Full-time programs are designed to be completed in about two years, and the programs are offered through community colleges. Students will take fewer general education courses than those required for a bachelor’s degree, with the primary focus of the curriculum on preparation for the professional workplace.

Associate’s degree programs take longer to complete than certificate programs, but the average salary is typically higher for those with an associate’s degree in comparison to a certificate.

The amount an associate’s degree holder can earn has increased recently. For a list of some of the highest paying positions that require an associate’s degree, review the article at http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/02/20/jobs-you-can-get-with-associate-degree/.

Types of Associate’s Degrees

There are several different possibilities for an associate’s degree, but three are the most common: Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.), and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.).

The A.A.S. is specifically designed to get student into the workforce as quickly as possible with fewer courses in general education than the other two associate’s degrees. The A.A. and A.S. also prepare graduates for immediate positions, but these options include more courses to prepare students for transferring into a bachelor’s degree program.

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Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris