Are you stuck trying to decide between earning an associate’s degree and aiming for your bachelor’s degree? The best choice for you will depend on how much time and money you are willing and able to invest in your education, as well as your individual career goals.

The Difference Between an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s

An associate’s degree typically requires two years of college, which includes general studies and some career-specific courses, depending on what type of associate’s degree you decide to work toward. You can earn an associate’s degree at a junior college, community college, or technical school. It is also possible to earn an associate’s degree online.

A bachelor’s degree requires four or five years to complete and includes general education courses, along with in-depth study in your area of interest. After earning a bachelor’s degree, you can begin your career or pursue a graduate degree (a master’s or a doctorate). You can earn a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university.

Which of these two degrees is the best choice for you? Consider the following factors.

Career Possibilities

The most important consideration in deciding between an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree is what career you plan to pursue. While most jobs are open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree, a candidate with an associate’s degree will have more limited options.

With an associate’s degree, you can become a dental hygienist, a paralegal, a preschool teacher, a registered nurse, a technician in many different fields, an air traffic controller, a physical therapist assistant, or a computer support specialist, for example.

However, if you are interested in a career in management, engineering, teaching (other than preschool), journalism, accounting, architecture, insurance, personal finance, or federal law enforcement, you will need a bachelor’s degree.

Whatever career you are interested in, find information about the requirements to be hired in this field. If you can be hired with an associate’s degree, completing two years of college and going straight to the workforce may be a great choice for you.

Future Salary

As you can imagine, with more career opportunities comes more money—usually. Over the course of a career, the typical bachelor’s degree holder will earn $335,000 more than someone with an associate’s degree.

Of course, this is not always the case. It is certainly possible for someone with an associate’s degree to earn more than someone with a bachelor’s degree, depending on the career. In fact, recent studies have found that an increasing number of individuals with two-year technical degrees are out-earning four-year college graduates.

The bottom line: It all depends. If you’re concerned about your earning potential, look into various career fields that interest you, both careers that require a bachelor’s degree and those that will accept an associate’s. You can find high-paying jobs in both categories.

Time and Money Required

A final consideration when deciding which degree to pursue is the amount of time and money each degree requires.

You can earn an associate’s degree in half the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, gaining faster entry to the workforce—and the world of steady paychecks.

You will also spend much less money on tuition if you decide to stop after your associate’s degree. First of all, you will only need to pay two years of tuition instead of four, which will obviously cut costs drastically. In addition, classes at community and junior colleges are much more inexpensive than classes at most four-year colleges and universities. And the faster you begin working, the faster you can pay off any student loans.

Still, depending on your future career plans, putting the extra time and money into earning your bachelor’s degree may be a worthwhile investment.

In the end, it all depends on your individual goals. Will hiring managers in your desired career accept an associate’s degree, or is a bachelor’s degree required? What is the expected salary in this career field, and would you earn more money with a higher degree? Are you willing and able to spend four years in college, as well as a large sum of money on tuition? Do your research, weigh your options, and make the decision that is right for you.