If you have already completed your bachelor's degree but are unable to find a job or are unhappy in your current position, you may decide that it is time to go back to school to earn your master's degree. However, before you begin applying for a graduate program, you should consider whether an associate's degree might be more helpful in your particular situation.
More Job Opportunities
It may seem counter-intuitive at first to think that an associate's degree can open up more job opportunities for you than a master's degree can. However, master's degrees tend to focus your specialization, limiting your field of expertise, while an associate's degree can expand your job search into new fields. Unless you want to add an additional year of coursework onto your studies, you will have to continue in a field directly related to your bachelor's degree. Alternatively, with most associate's degrees, you will be able to use some of the coursework you have completed in your bachelor's program and pursue an entirely different major in a year of study. With a degree in two unrelated fields (your bachelor's and your associate's), your job opportunities should increase.
The annual cost of a two-year college in 2008 was $8,909, while the average cost of a graduate program for the same year was $29,000. This is a significant difference, and unless you are planning to receive large grants or scholarships for your graduate degree, an associate's degree will probably be less expensive for you to get. It is also important to keep in mind that most associate's programs have flexible schedules that may allow you to continue working. Master's programs often require you to take full-time courses with your cohort, which can limit your potential to earn money while attending school.
More Hands-On Experience
Most associate's degrees tend to be in technical fields such as nursing and mechanics. Master's degrees are often more theoretical, preparing you for entry into a doctorate program and building on your academic experience. Associate's programs tend to focus on real-world skills and problems, with experienced instructors as opposed to academic leaders. Instead of writing a thesis in a graduate program, you can spend your time learning practical skills in an associate's program that will prepare you for immediate entry into a new job.
As an added bonus, many associate's degrees will help you qualify for certifications that can be combined with your bachelor's degree to help you get a job. There are many reasons why, for some professionals, an associate's degree is as good as or better than a master's degree.