If you are considering a career as a Registered Dental Hygienist you may be wondering if it really matters if you get a 2 year or 4 year degree. The answer is actually yes and no! It depends what your future career plans are.
As a dental hygienist working in private practice it honestly does not matter which degree level is obtained. It typically does not affect your pay and does not affect any professional duties that you will have in office. You must remember, however, that the dental hygiene program itself is a 2-year program. This does not include the prerequisite courses that are required for admission into the program. For many, there are approximately 4 semesters worth of prerequisite courses. Therefore, this associates degree will usually still take around 4 years to complete.
Advantages of 2-year degree:
Though it may actually take 4 years to complete there some advantages of pursuing the associates degree.
- Cost – Junior colleges and community colleges tend to have lower tuition and fee rates than Universities.
- Convenience – There are over 200 Associates level dental hygiene programs in the United States
- Most employers are more worried about the fact that you are licensed and competent than where you actually got your education. In most offices, this will not affect your ability to acquire a job.
Disadvantages of a 2-year degree:
You may work have for 4 years and still not have that Bachelor’s degree under your belt. If that is not something that is important to you, then there is really no disadvantage to having only the 2-year degree as long as dental hygiene is your passion and you have no plans to make a career change.
Advantages of a 4-year degree:
- More flexibility when it comes to careers outside of private practice. With a Bachelor’s degree you will be able to go into related fields such as teaching at a dental hygiene school, sales rep, public health, or administration.
- Allows you to pursue a graduate degree if you choose to continue your education.
- Personal satisfaction – I find that a lot of hygienists who return to college to complete a Bachelor’s degree often do so to reach a personal goal.
Some Universities that have a Bachelor’s of Science in Dental Hygiene degree also offer a bridge from the Associate’s level degree to the BSDH. So, even if you have gotten only your 2-year degree, it is never too late to go back!
Disadvantages of a 4-year degree:
- Availability – Less than 100 BSDH programs in the United States
- Cost – The University level course fees and tuition are much higher than that of a junior college or community college
When deciding which route to go with your education take into consideration your location, budget, and your long term plans. Find the educational institution that best fits your needs. Keep in mind also; if you are on the fence and considering both options, you will never regret getting a Bachelor’s degree.
In most offices, there will be no difference in the salary you will receive if you do indeed have a Bachelor’s degree. Your job description and responsibilities will be the same as the Associate’s level hygienist. Most employers will only care that you are currently licensed to practice in your state and current in all your certifications such as CPR, Nitrous, Jurisprudence, and HIPPA.