Questions on enrolling? We're here 9am-9pm ET Mon-Fri

Ashworth College Blog

What’s the Difference Between an Undergraduate Certificate & an Associate Degree?

Written by Lauren Ambrosio on Tuesday, 06 June 2023. Posted in Why Ashworth

Graduate with decorated cap.

Deciding on the right path for your education journey is crucial to shaping your future career. It's about finding the right balance between the time you can commit, the depth of knowledge you aim to achieve, and the career goals you aspire to reach. In this blog post, we'll delve into various educational pathways, including undergraduate certificates, associate degrees, career diplomas, and bachelor’s degrees. We'll explore what they entail, how they compare, and why each might be the right choice for different learners with varying career objectives. Your educational journey is uniquely yours - and understanding the differences between these qualifications can help guide you toward the most fulfilling path.

What is an undergraduate certificate?

An undergraduate certificate, sometimes referred to as a professional or career certificate, is a focused, short-term educational program that aims to equip students with specific skills or knowledge in a certain field. These programs are highly targeted toward particular career paths. They can be completed relatively quickly, often within a year or less, making them an excellent option for those seeking to jumpstart their careers or broaden their professional skill set.

Unlike degree programs, which cover a wide breadth of general education topics and a major area of study, undergraduate certificate programs zero in on the knowledge and skills you need for a specific job role or industry. Some programs may offer a broad overview of a field. In contrast, others could be highly specialized, focusing on a niche area of expertise.

These programs can be beneficial for:

  • Individuals looking to break into a new industry or job role, providing the foundational skills and knowledge needed to start.
  • Current professionals seeking to advance in their careers by gaining specialized knowledge or expanding their skill set.
  • Lifelong learners who wish to continue their education and learn about a new field for personal enrichment.

You can work towards an undergraduate certificate in a variety of fields, including but not limited to:

After earning an undergraduate certificate, many individuals pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree to further their education and career opportunities. You can make this transition seamless by transferring credits from your completed certificate programs to your chosen two- or four-year degree program. This way, you can continue to build on your knowledge and skills without losing your progress.

An undergraduate certificate is a quick, focused way to gain specific skills and knowledge, enhance your resume, and increase your employability. It's a practical step for those seeking to start or advance their careers or pursue lifelong learning.

What is an associate degree?

An associate degree is a two-year degree providing a broad academic foundation combined with specialized study in a particular field. Its purpose is to prepare graduates for entry-level positions in the industry or pave the way for further education.

It's known as a post-secondary degree, which is when you pursue more education after completing high school or its equivalent (like a GED). It involves attending classes (in-person or online) at a college or university. The term "post-secondary degree" includes associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master's degrees, and doctoral degrees.

Typical associate degrees include:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

Some associate degree programs you can pursue are:

General education courses for associate degrees

A well-rounded academic journey often begins with general education courses. These foundational classes cut across a wide range of disciplines, fostering a well-rounded knowledge base that students can build upon. It's important to note that each institution offers a unique set of general education courses tailored to its degree programs. You need to make sure you enroll in the courses that align with your desired degree plan.

Common general education classes may include:

  • Mathematics: College algebra, statistics, calculus I
  • Humanities: Introduction to Philosophy, world literature, art history I
  • Social sciences: Introduction to psychology, introduction to sociology. world geography
  • Natural sciences: General biology, general chemistry, introductory physics
  • English composition: English Composition I, English Composition II, creative writing

An associate degree is a comprehensive and valuable educational credential that blends general education with specialized knowledge, expanding your horizons and boosting your career prospects. It's a meaningful pursuit for those who want to delve deeper into their field of interest, enhance their employability, and open doors to a wide range of job opportunities.

An associate degree serves as a sturdy steppingstone toward higher educational pursuits or a gateway to entering the workforce with a competitive edge.

Undergraduate certificate vs. associate degree: Making the right choice for you!

When considering an undergraduate certificate or associate degree, it's crucial to compare key factors such as program length, cost, and potential entry-level salary. Below is a side-by-side comparison to help illustrate the differences:

Undergraduate certificate

  • Length of program: Typically completed within a year, depending on the specific program and individual student pacing.
  • Average program cost: Generally, less expensive than degree programs due to the shorter duration. The price can vary widely depending on the institution and specific program.
  • Average potential entry-level salary: Salaries for certificate holders vary greatly based on the industry and job role. However, in many cases, certificate holders can expect an increase in earning potential compared to those with no post-secondary education.
  • Focus of study: Highly targeted towards specific skills and knowledge within a particular industry or job role.
  • Career impact: Ideal for quick entry into the workforce or gaining additional skills in a specific area to advance a career.

Associate degree

  • Length of program: Generally, takes two years of full-time study to complete.
  • Average program cost: Usually more expensive than certificate programs due to the longer duration and broader scope of study. Prices will vary based on the institution and specific program.
  • Average potential entry-level salary: Tends to be higher than certificate holders, as associate degrees offer a broader education and are often viewed more favorably by employers.
  • Focus of study: Provides a broader education, including general education courses and specific courses related to the chosen major.
  • Career impact: This can lead to a wider variety of job opportunities and serve as a steppingstone to higher education levels, such as a bachelor's degree.

When deciding between an undergraduate certificate and an associate degree, it's essential to consider your career goals, the time you can dedicate to your studies, and your financial situation. Both educational paths can provide valuable opportunities for personal growth and career advancement. There's no wrong choice, just the best choice for you and your goals!

Undergraduate certificates vs. career diplomas

Both undergraduate certificates and career diplomas can provide valuable opportunities for personal growth and career advancement. The best choice will depend on your career goals, time to dedicate to your studies, and financial situation.

Career diplomas

Length of program:Career diplomas can often be completed in one to two years. However, this varies depending on the program and institution.

Average program cost:Costs for career diploma programs vary. However, they are typically less expensive than traditional degree programs due to their shorter duration.

Average potential entry-level salary:While typically lower than degree holders, career diploma recipients often see a significant boost in earning potential compared to those without a post-secondary education. Exact salaries will depend on the industry and job role.

Focus of study:Like certificate programs, career diploma programs are typically focused on providing skills and knowledge for a specific industry or job role. However, they may offer a broader range of coursework than certificate programs.

Career impact:Career diploma programs can provide a quick path into the workforce and are often favored in industries where practical skills are highly valued.

This type of program is a targeted, hands-on approach to learning that equips students with the practical skills and industry-specific knowledge they need to excel in their chosen field. It's an excellent route for those eager to enter the workforce swiftly, change careers, or enhance their skill set.

Some career diplomas you can pursue are:

A career diploma strikes a balance between focused learning and swift completion, enabling graduates to showcase their competencies and jumpstart their careers with confidence and credibility.

What is a bachelor’s degree?

Historically, bachelor’s degrees are considered a cornerstone of higher education and come with unique challenges and advantages. Here is a comparison of some key elements of bachelor's degrees:

  • Length of program: bachelor’s degree programs generally require four years of full-time study, although this can vary based on the specific program, the university, and the individual student's pace.
  • Average program cost: A bachelor's degree can significantly vary based on factors such as the institution (public or private), location (in-state or out-of-state), and the specific program. However, it is usually more expensive than an associate degree or an undergraduate certificate due to the study's longer duration and comprehensive nature.
  • Average potential entry-level salary: bachelor’s degree holders tend to have higher earning potential than those with an associate degree, undergraduate certificate, or career diploma. The exact salary will depend on the field of study and job market conditions.
  • Focus of study: bachelor’s degrees provide a broad education, including general education courses (like humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences) and specific courses related to the chosen major. This ensures a well-rounded education and deep specialization in a particular area.
  • Career impact: Earning a bachelor's degree can open doors to a wider variety of job opportunities and is often a prerequisite for advanced roles in many fields. A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum requirement for entry into graduate programs, such as a master's or doctoral degree.

A bachelor's degree can be a significant investment of time and resources. Still, it can also yield substantial rewards in terms of career opportunities and earning potential. It's essential to research and consider your career goals and financial situation when pursuing a bachelor's degree.

Some bachelor's degrees you may be interested in:

The four-year commitment to a bachelor's degree demonstrates a certain level of dedication and expertise, which can make a candidate more attractive to potential employers. Additionally, a bachelor's degree often forms the foundation required for advanced studies, such as a master's or doctoral degree, for those who wish to specialize in their field.

Salary examples at every education level

The earning potential for any career often increases with the level of education and training received, although this can vary significantly based on many factors. Here's a general ranking from highest to lowest earning potential using early childhood education and healthcare administration as examples:

Early childhood education career journey

Healthcare administration career path

Please note that these are estimated salary ranges as of 2023 and can vary based on various factors such as years of experience, geographic location, specific employer, the facility's scale in healthcare, and more. Moreover, salaries tend to increase with years of experience and continuing professional development. It's also important to remember that while earning potential is crucial, personal interest and job satisfaction should also play a significant role in career decision-making.

The importance of aligning education with career and life goals

Pursuing further education is an investment of time, effort, and resources. As such, your educational journey must align with your career aspirations. This synergy ensures that your hard work results in tangible benefits, such as landing your dream job, enhancing your earning potential, or fostering career advancement.

  • Clarifies your path: Understanding where you want to end your career can help determine the most suitable education pathway. For instance, a bachelor's degree in business might be appropriate if you're aiming for a managerial role in business administration. On the other hand, if you're looking to enter a specific tech field quickly, an undergraduate certificate in a specialized area like cybersecurity could be more appropriate.
  • Maximizes return on investment: Ensuring that your education supports your career goals can help you maximize your investment. You can avoid spending time and money on courses or degrees that don't significantly advance your career aspirations.
  • Helps in skill acquisition: When your education aligns with your career goals, you will likely acquire the skills that potential employers in your field value most. This enhances your competitiveness in the job market.
  • Boosts motivation and engagement: Studying a course directly related to your career ambitions can make your educational journey more engaging and motivating. When you can see the practical application of your studies, staying focused and committed to your coursework is easier.
  • Expedites career progression: By obtaining the qualifications that directly align with your desired career path, you can fast-track your progress toward that goal. For instance, if you wish to move into a higher leadership position, acquiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field could help expedite that process.

Looking ahead: your next steps in education

Whether starting with a certificate and aiming for a degree or jumping straight into a degree program, the journey doesn't have to be daunting. You can transfer certificate credits at Ashworth College into our associate and bachelor’s degree programs. If your goal is a college degree, consider one of our flexible and affordable associate degree programs as your steppingstone.

Get a jumpstart on your career with Ashworth today by calling our Admissions Advisor at 1-800-957-5412 or enrolling online.

Let's talk about your educational goals. Call 1-800-957-5412