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.

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.

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.

9 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

      • Farrah Phillips says:

        Try Penn Foster online college they offer the associates degree in medical assisting it cheaper and you can make payments and go as fast or slow as yuou want . The faster it’s 4 semesters

  2. Ashley says:

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

  3. mario garraway says:

    Hello, I am a certified Pharmacy Technician, Nursing Assistant and Occupational therapy assistant. I am currently thinking of taking my Medical Assistant course and would like to know if Its a good Idea to go through the hassle of taking this course or should I go another route, My Plan is to one day Open A community resource Centre to provide care for people In need please advice!

  4. Cassandra says:

    Hi, need advise I am a Registered Medical Assistant for 25 years and find myself unemployed I can’t seem to find anybody that will even negotiate a wage with me. Could I test for an Medical Assistant Manager? Could I take a short course in billing and coding – I’m in dire need and willing to expand on my knowledge but I need some guidance .
    Thank You
    Cassandra Murphy RMA

  5. Sharmell Valentine says:

    I’m 57yrs old and I am a Certfied Medical Assistant, presently I working as Bus Operator, I’ve been at this company 25+ yrs I will retire in 2 yrs at the age of 60. I just got accepted at a University to get my Bachelor’s degree in 4yrs as Healthcare Administrator and when I finish I’ll be 61 should I continue to take MyCEU’s as CMA would it make since because in 8yrs I be 65yrs old the retirement age

  6. Katy Gomez says:

    I just graduated high school and going to college,i just don’t know if I’m making the right choice to get an associate degree in medical assistant or to get a certificate which takes less time than the degree I’m torn up what should I do

    • Jessica Clinton says:

      Katy, I am having the same struggle. I am not right out of high school so I have to take some of the basic math and science classes over or pass tests to place. it seems like its harder to place in a limited spot for the medical assisting program with the college, but I also feel like having an associate degree would hold more weight in the working field. At the same time I like how little time it takes to get the cert and that I dont have to take classes that dont deal with job related training. If you have gotten any advice or have made a choice , could you share? I am really torn.

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