College on a Fast Pass: Certificates & Associate Degrees

Fifty percent of American college students aren’t getting a bachelor’s degree. No, they’re not slackers. Actually, they’re learning skills in demand and positioning themselves for 21st-century careers, according to a recent study from Georgetown University.

And they’re doing it in half the time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree.

So what’s their secret? These undergrads are earning a certificate or associate degree before – or in place of – a bachelor’s degree. “A worker with an associate degree can earn more than a worker with a bachelor’s degree, and shorter-term credentials like certificates and certifications can out-earn associate degrees,” said Dr. Anthony Carnevale, lead author of the Georgetown University study.

Surprised? If you’re planning to get a well-paying job as soon as possible in your career field, read on.

How to choose the right certificate or associate degree

“Field of study matters most when it comes to certificates and associate degrees,” said Dr. Carnevale. Certificates and associate degrees in health care, engineering, law enforcement, fire technology, and management/marketing lead the pack in future earning potential, according to the Georgetown study.

Mount Wachusett Community College has certificates and associate degrees in all of these fields.

Imagine this scenario:

Let’s say you want to learn how to design websites and digital graphics. You do a little research and discover that your earning potential in this career is good and that your local community college offers a one-year certificate with hands-on training in design tools and principles. You decide to enroll.

Once you’ve completed your certificate, you get a paid internship with a marketing agency. You see that successful coworkers have advanced skills like developing motion graphics. Motion graphics and advanced web design courses are part of the associate degree curriculum you’d take if you studied at Mount Wachusett Community College for one more year. You decide to take the leap and enroll. A year later, you graduate with an associate degree in Graphic & Interactive Design, a professional portfolio, and a job-ready resume.

The price tag? Around $12,000 (even less if you’re eligible for financial aid).

Climbing the ladder

Educators use the term “laddering” to describe how you can increase your educational credentials step-by-step. You can complete a certificate program and apply your credits toward an associate degree, then apply the credits from your associate degree to a bachelor’s degree. At each step, you earn a higher credential and new job skills that prepare you to take the next step in college and in life.

Three questions to ask yourself

If you’re considering a certificate or associate degree, it’s a good idea to ask:

1) What is your future earning potential if you start a career in the field you like?
2) Will a certificate or associate degree prepare you for a job in that field?
3) Should you plan to earn a higher degree in the future?

Need some advice?

So who should you ask? How about talking to an expert who gives advice about college and career for a living? Someone who knows a lot, is nice, and actually enjoys hearing about your future plans? The enrollment counselors at Mount Wachusett Community College are here for you.

You can chat with us on Messenger, call us at 978-630-9447, or make an appointment on our calendar. Go ahead, we’re here for you.