Medical assistants play a very valuable role, but they are NOT nurses !
Medical assistants play a very valuable
role, but they are NOT nurses !

Should I get an Associate’s Degree or Certificate in Medical Assisting?

When considering a medical assisting career, you have two degree choices: a certificate or an Associate degree. Many junior or technical colleges offer both. Medical assisting certificate programs are typically 9-12 months long, while an Associate degree program can be 24 months long. Before deciding on a program, be sure to weigh the benefits of both education types to see what best fits your needs and lifestyle.

How do you choose?

It can be confusing to figure out whether an Associate degree in medical assisting is better, or simply a certificate. Here are some questions to help:

  • How many months can you commit to an education program?
  • What is the job market like for MAs in your area?
  • Do local employers prefer one degree type over the other?
  • Do you plan to return to school to further your education within five years?
  • Do you plan to “try out” the medical profession to see if it’s for you?

Certificate Programs take just one year !

Medical assisting certificate programs are generally one year in length or less. This education type is very focused on the specific knowledge and skills you’ll need to work as a medical assistant. These programs are often very fast-paced and intense. You can expect to spend dedicated hours studying and completing externships.


  • You’ll complete school sooner so you can enter the job market quicker
  • A focused program that doesn’t make you take extra courses that you don’t need
  • Usually less expensive than an Associate degree program

One major drawback of a certificate program is that classes you’ve taken may not be eligible for credit should you choose to continue your education. Because many certificate courses are not recognized as college credits, you may have to repeat them when entering higher education programs.

AAS Degree could get you a higher starting salary:

Associate degree programs in medical assisting are a bit more in-depth than a certificate program. You’ll be required to take general liberal arts classes, as well as core clinical and administrative courses. You may be required to take language and writing courses, business communications and sociology or speech classes as part of your liberal arts requirement.

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General education classes may also be a requirement, including basic math and English courses. The foundation of an Associate degree in medical assisting is similar to those found at any college or university.


  • Your college credits are more likely to transfer to a Bachelor degree program or other higher education
  • Employers may view you as a more well-rounded and educated candidate for employment
  • You may receive a slightly higher starting salary, or be eligible for advanced employment
  • You may be more likely to land a job in specialty medicine as these jobs can require a higher knowledge base that general medicine.

If you plan to further your education—say to go on to a registered nurse program—an Associate degree in medical assisting is a great choice. You’ll have more college credits to apply to your education and may feel more academically prepared for challenging classes.

One drawback of an Associate degree is the cost. These programs can cost several thousand dollars in program, externship and graduation fees.

Expected Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that medical assistants typically earn about $28,000 per year. Depending on employer requirements for education, medical assistants with an Associate degree may make a higher yearly salary. The more education a medical assistant has, the more she shows her employer that she values her career and job. Overtime, medical assistants who also gain experience can expect to earn about $33,000 per year.

Article Written by Elizabeth Otto

Elizabeth Otto is a freelance writer specializing in medical and health articles. Otto has worked as a certified medical assistant in specialty practice since 1994 and is also a nationally registered emergency medical technician.

* Featured medical assisting schools

At UEI College, we want you to succeed. We’re like a family and we want you to be a part of it. From the moment you enter ourschool, to graduation and beyond, we are right there with you.


  • Medical Assistant (8-Month Diploma Program)
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Get allied health training with Ross Medical Education Center. We offer programs in dental assisting, medical assisting, medical insurance billing and office administration, and pharmacy tech.


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Experience the Rewards of Caring, With ECPI’s Medical Careers Institute, you can Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in 2.5 Years or Your Associate’s Even Sooner through Our Year-Round Schedule!


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For more than 35 years, Keiser University has provided student-centered, career-focused education in fields such as health care, business, criminal justice and information technology.  Our one-class-at-a-time schedules allow busy students to focus on their education and balance the demands of work and family.  Whether you choose to attend online, on campus, or both you will be part of a caring learning environment led by experienced faculty who bring textbooks to life with real-world challenges and solutions.  Our unique combination of a curriculum that is in pace with technology and the skills employers value along with our “students first” approach provides an outstanding academic experience. 


  • Medical Assisting, AS
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Get a hands-on education at Lincoln Tech. Designed for today’s tough job market, our in-depth programs cover many fields including: Health Sciences, Business and Information Technology, Hospitality, Automotive Technology, HVAC Technology and Electrical Systems Technology. Financial Aid is available for those who qualify. Programs vary by campus.


  • Medical Assistant
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Advance your career with an education from Provo College. We offer associate degree and diploma programs in health care, business, health and wellness, design and technology, and justice.


  • Diploma in Medical Assisting
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In response to the demand of Florida's rapidly growing population, City College is focused on, and committed to, providing the best in business and career education.


  • Medical Assisting
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Further your education at Rasmussen College.Choose from seven schools of study including programs in business, nursing, technology, and more. You could earn your bachelor’s degree in as little as 18 months and help advance your career through our AcceleratED program.


  • Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate
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Branford Hall Career Institute offers career-focused education that gives you the job skills you need to make the leap into some of today's hottest careers.


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Virginia College  continues the tradition ofgiving lives new direction, fulfilling our mission statement tostudents wherever they live and offering the chance to pursue adegree while maintaining commitments to work and family.


  • DIP - Medical Assistant
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Locations: Montgomery


4 Responses to “Should I get an Associate’s Degree or Certificate in Medical Assisting?”
  1. jazzy says:

    Hi im a 37 yr old, I reside in NY, I need some advice theirs a School near by called Sanford brown, they said I have to get my associates degree in medical assistant in order for me to go in to register nursing,but the medical assistant associate degree is about 20,000 is that exp to get in associates degree?

    • Sandra says:

      I’m confused as well the school I’m looking at is Santa Barbara business college and to get a degree in medical assisting cost 35,000 but don’t know if their are cheaper schools that offer the same degree for a lesser tuition fee don’t need to put my family in a bigger debt

  2. Ashley says:

    I really need help finding a LPN program in GA so I can finally move back to FL.

  3. mijba Ahmed says:

    medical assistant From where we can get higher education. plz About us

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