By Ellen Bremen, M.A.
Many students enter community college to get those pesky core credits out of the way. They transfer on or transition out, perceiving the Associate’s degree as an unnecessary stop-gap for what they really want: a four-year degree or job.
As a former community college attendee, I felt this way. In fact, I did not pursue an Associate’s degree, but “accidentally” fell into one.
I’ll explain: I completed some lower-level classes at my junior college while simultaneously working on a Bachelor of Science degree in post-secondary education at my university. I started college as a traditional student, but then took an unexpected six years off, and returned as a non-traditional student. Needless to say, I racked up a number of disjointed community college credits along the way.
When I was admitted into my undergraduate program, I transferred in my 100-level classes and didn’t give my community college credits another thought. When I applied to graduate school, however, a problem surfaced with my community college transcript. I went straight to the Registrar there, and as we fixed the issue, he asked, “Why aren’t you getting an Associate’s degree? You have almost enough credits.”
My response was consistent with a non-two-year degree seeker: “I can’t take any extra classes and I’m already in my undergraduate program.”
The Registrar replied, “If you’ve taken any 100- or 200-level classes at the university, those may transfer back here, you know.”
I skeptically asked, “Does the Associate’s degree really matter at this point?”
The Registrar smiled and said, “Can an extra degree be a bad thing?”
Long story short, my university transcript was evaluated and sure enough, I was able to “back-transfer” enough credits for an AA transfer degree in General Studies.
Granted, I earned my two-year degree by non-traditional means, but I am proud to have this credential. Now as a professor and adviser of countless students, I know why the Registrar gave me the advice he did. I’ll start with the obvious:
Getting Your Associate’s: The Extra Degree Is Not a Bad Thing
I feel prideful about my additional degree; I proudly mention it in tandem with my undergraduate and my Master’s degree. For students whose end-point is a Bachelor’s degree, an Associate’s degree shows that you had the fortitude to finish an additional major program of study. In a vicious job market, having not one, but two degrees, elevates your credibility.
The Whole Degree Transfers as… the Whole Degree
Articulation agreements between community colleges and universities can mean more seamless transferability of credits. When students transfer in an entire degree, rather than a smattering of classes, this reduces the risk of retakes. Then students can jump into the 300- and 400-level courses.
Associate’s Degrees Are Cheaper All the Way Through… and a Little Beyond
Let’s face it: Biology, Calculus, and English Lit cost far less at a two-year college. Multiply that savings by 90-120 credit hours required for the Associate’s degree. Many students don’t realize the savings can continue: Often, a university will accept a certain number of credits above the two-year degree, which can go toward electives or other lower-level Bachelor’s degree requirements. So, consider picking up a summer class or two at the cheaper cost, and get a head start on your four-year degree.
Convinced that the benefits of an Associate’s degree shouldn’t be overlooked? Great! Go talk to an academic adviser at the community college, and even put a call into one at your intended university. Knowing the classes you need to fulfill both programs will enable you to smartly chart your path on your way to being a dual degree holder! If you are already in your four-year degree program and were thisclose to getting a two-year degree, have your university evaluate your community college transcript. You may become an “accidental” Associate degree holder, too!
Ellen Bremen is a communications professor. She helps college students connect with professors for better student-professor relations, higher grades, and improved skills. You can follower her on Twitter @chattyprof and read more on her blog.