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How to Transition from an Associate to a Bachelor’s Degree

Thursday | September 20, 2018 | by Colin A. Wiggins

associate to a bachelor's degree

In the United States, many students begin their postsecondary education at a community college, and then transfer to a university. Typically, they earn an associate degree in two years and then change schools in order to earn their bachelor’s degree. This allows students to save money, build confidence, complete their general education requirements, and seamlessly transition directly into their degree program of choice.

Why Study at a Community College?

A community college is a great place for international students to begin their higher education journey. Community colleges offer a range of programs, including associate degree, certificate, and diploma program. Students are also able to complete standalone courses.

Here are some advantages of studying at a community college:

  • More affordable tuition
  • The option for international students to take English language courses at the same time they are starting other coursework
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Athletic programs for talented students

Students who choose a community college have the opportunity to complete an associate degree. This academic degree is awarded upon completion of a course of study intended to be two years in length. They are divided into three degrees:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
    • Earned in the liberal arts, humanities, and social sciences
  • Associate of Science (AS)
    • Awarded in applied scientific and technical fields
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
    • Technical or vocational degrees

Generally, the first year of study in an associate degree program is focused on university-level general education coursework and the second year is focused on your academic discipline.

Transitioning From an Associate to a Bachelor’s Degree

The coursework completed through an AA, AS, or AAS degree can be counted toward a bachelor’s degree at other universities within the U.S. via articulation agreements. These agreements can be formal or informal recognition of the transferability of completed coursework and credits between one institution and another.

For example, a course like English 101 at Queensborough Community College will transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Both institutions recognize that the course at the community college meets the requirements to be equivalent to the same course at the senior college. Students will not have to take that class when they transfer to their new school. Now multiply that course by the 20 courses that students need to pass to graduate with an associate degree.

Because associate degrees are typically two years in length, students will transfer into a bachelor’s degree program with two years of general education and foundation-level coursework completed. Then, they will only need to take courses directly related to their bachelor’s degree. This means students who complete associate degrees will only have to spend, on average, two additional years to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Beginning your studies at a community college is a wonderful opportunity. These institutions offer small class sizes and affordable tuition. You will also have the option to move on and complete a bachelor’s degree after completing a two-year associate degree, without having to start over! English-language programs offer international students help with learning the language in a university setting while working toward their degrees. Now the only question is: There are 1,462 community colleges in the U.S.—which one will you chose?

Related Reading

Higher Education Options in the U.S.

Credentials to Support the Skilled Immigrant Workforce


Colin A. Wiggins

Colin A. Wiggins is the International Admission Specialist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/City University of New York.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).