It is difficult to decide between a diploma and a degree when an individual decides to become a medical assistant–and for good reason. Both a diploma and a degree have their share of advantages and disadvantages, and many accredited medical assistant schools offer either option for their students.

Whether one is “better” depends entirely on the individual and their situation, but let’s break it all down today in an effort to help you better understand which path may be better for you to take:

Degree or Diploma—Things to Consider:

Search for Your Medical Assisting Schools in VirginiaAn individual has many factors to consider when he or she is debating on which kind of degree to pursue in order to become a medical assistant. A diploma generally takes 9-12 months to achieve while an associate degree takes two years. Time is a very important distinction. If the individual does not think they can dedicate years to an education, a diploma is a good option.  But someone who feels that they can devote two years to earning a degree should go for an Associate Degree program.

Deciding to become a medical assistant can be a big decision and can be impractical if there is no call for the position in the person’s area. When deciding to pursue any type of degree, it is a good idea to find out the demand for the position either in his or her area. If they are planning to move, they should check the job market in their new city to find out if they can get a job in their field.

Lastly, it can help a lot for the individual to do some research on what it means to be a medical assistant and decide if it is the right degree for them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Diploma

To get a diploma, the student need only be in school for 9-12 months, which means that he or she can enter the job market a lot quicker than someone who stays in school for a degree. Because a degree takes a lot longer to achieve, it can be a very costly, especially because most universities have tuitions per year or per semester costs. A diploma is much less expensive because it takes a lot less time to get, which saves the student the headache of a huge student loan for schools.

A diploma is focused on the specific knowledge and skills that will be a requirement for certified medical assistant jobs without the necessity for prerequisites or enrollment complications. This program is known to consist of fast-paced, intense classes that require a dedication to study and for the student to complete externships.

For someone who is in great need of a good paying job, this type of diploma is the perfect solution. Instead of spending most of the school year taking extra, unnecessary classes, the student is given a more in-depth education that focuses solely on the skills they need to succeed in the field.

Diplomas also require no waiting lists for admission, multiple start dates throughout the year, and an ability to take classes that are offered around the work schedule. For those who are working around their busy schedules, this is an advantage because they can choose a start date that is preferable for their lives. Once they begin, diploma programs can offer classes that can be taken around any obligations he or she may have.

The diploma will open more than enough doors for the individual to get a job, but it can limit them if they try to branch out too. Many of the classes taken for a diploma may not be eligible for transfer, which means that if the student should want to continue for higher education, they may have to retake them. In order to branch out from the diploma, he or she may have to try to gain additional experience or certifications in order to advance in their field.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Degree

How Much Can a Medical Assistant Make in IdahoWhile they are a lot more work, a degree comes with its own set of advantages for those who are more able to spend the required amount of time to obtain one. Degrees are more in-depth than diplomas and will require more general liberal arts classes. Unlike a diploma, a degree is generally not limited to what classes will transfer into higher education, which means that if the student wishes to continue their studies, it is much easier for them to do so.

A student with a degree may be more likely to get a job over one who has a diploma because employers tend to see a degree and consider the candidate ideal for the job for their well-rounded and educated background. Degrees can also teach students additional skills such as critical thinking and analysis, which make the student invaluable for employers.

A degree student may even become a candidate for a specialty medicine jobs that can require a higher knowledge base for general medicine. Employers see a student with a degree as being more marketable and desirable for jobs beyond the entry-level positions. Individuals will degrees can receive more networking opportunities for their future career options and better job benefits such as retirement and insurance.

However, degrees also have a downside that can make it difficult for people to obtain them. To get a degree in the medical field, it will take anywhere from two to six years to obtain, depending on which level the student wants to aim for, which is a significant time investment for the individual. Degree programs can also be very expensive, even with financial aid and usually leave the students with loans that they will need to pay back over time.

Difference in Pay

Now that the advantages and disadvantages of each have been laid out, the question of cost and pay, come into play for the student. A student pursuing a degree will have to pay an enrollment fee as well as tuition per year that can include added costs depending on the state requirements. A diploma will be less costly because they are generally charged per credit, but a student may have a harder time finding financial aid to help them pay for their education.

A degree can also give you a significant leg up on someone that never went to college at all.  In fact, some employers will pay a degree student (over a student that only has a high school diploma) more money due to their additional education.  You also may be afforded more opportunities for advancement, as well, although this is primarily due to one’s commitment and dedication to their job, which is a huge bonus in the job market.

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, in 2014 medical assistants were paid $29,960 a year, or $14.41 an hour and the job outlook for 2014-2024 was 23 percent, which was much faster than the average occupation. Many people with diplomas are qualified for an entry-level job, while those with a degree may get an advanced job that pays and offers more for the student.

Online, Offline, and Hybrid Courses

There are a few options open for the individual that wishes to pursue a diploma or degree. Depending on the individual, it can depend on schedule, flexibility, and overall preference. These types of classes include online, traditional, and hybrid, which can make the diploma or degree easier to obtain.

Online courses are a growing trend in colleges and can make it easier for those who wish to go to college but for whatever reason cannot. Penn Foster College, for example, offers an online Associate Degree that is (at the time of this publication) a total of 65 credits, and will allow the individual to become eligible for a medical assistant job working with a physician. The downside of an online degree is the need for self-motivation to complete the assignments required by each class, and not everyone will have that sort of mentality.

For those who want a little mix of online and offline education, some colleges (such as the Douglas Education Center) offer hybrid courses, which give students the flexibility of learning at home on a computer with the practicality of meeting in-person lab sessions. Traditional classes or lab sessions may take more time out of the everyday busy schedule, but can allow for a more thorough and social experience that gives the individual hands-on experience that will be needed when they begin their career.


A medical assistant diploma or degree can help an individual gain a lot of ground in beginning their career—but like a lot of things in life, each has their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.

A degree can advance a student’s career, potentially help them to gain more money per year/hour, and be more impressive in the eyes of their employer.  It can also be costly and take a large time commitment to obtain.

A diploma does not take as much time or require as much money to obtain, but it may not open as many doors as a degree and some classes may not be transferrable if he or she should decide to continue to higher education.

Ultimately, whichever path you choose, you will be well on your way to a very rewarding career that helps save lives of your fellow citizens.

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