Prospective students seeking an associate degree can choose from three types of degrees: the associate of arts (AA), associate of science (AS), and associate of applied science (AAS). In short, the AA focuses on liberal arts and general education, the AS targets scientific and business-focused subjects, and the AAS prepares students for immediate entry into the workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), associate degree-holders earned a weekly median salary of about $890 in 2019, making $140 more than those with only a high school diploma or equivalent. When multiplied over a 52-week year, the difference calculates to a significant $7,280.
On this page, readers can explore the differences between AA, AS, and AAS degrees.
Perhaps you might find this interesting: The 30 Easiest Online Associate Degree Programs in 2020
Take a look at our “Frequently Asked Questions” Section!
- What is an Associate of Arts degree, or AA?
- What is an Associate of Science degree, or AS?
- What is an Associate of Applied Science degree, or AAS?
- Which is better, an AA, AS, or AAS?
- Can I transfer my credits to a bachelor’s degree?
What is an Associate of Arts degree, or AA?
An AA degree provides foundational education in a particular subject, typically focused on the liberal arts. A program may emphasize general education credits for transfer to a bachelor’s degree or more in-depth focus on a liberal arts subject.
Graduates may qualify for jobs as childcare providers with an AA in early childhood education; athletic directors or personal trainers with an AA in physical education studies; and graphic designers or web publishers with an AA in graphic design.
Students can typically complete an AA in two years and about 60 credits. They take core courses like college readiness, English composition, math, history, and social studies. The program then adds major-specific courses and electives.
Learners who want to explore different study areas, particularly in preparation for a bachelor’s degree, can find options for individualized degree programs within the associate of arts. They still take a strong core of liberal arts courses but work with advisors to assemble a customized suite of electives.
What is an Associate of Science degree, or AS?
Learners pursue majors related to business, science, or math when working towards an AS degree. Specific examples include business administration, criminal justice, cybersecurity, health science, and more. Graduates can apply for jobs as database administrators, bookkeepers, staff accountants, web developers, and IT support specialists.
Some majors, like biological or engineering science, emphasize preparation for bachelor’s-level studies. Graduates in these areas may qualify for some entry-level careers, but these programs primarily aim to ready enrollees for future education.
Most associate of science programs require about 60-65 credits for graduation, and students can complete the degree in two years. Typical core courses include a college readiness seminar along with general education electives in areas like English, math, social studies, and art.
Students typically take introductory courses in their major area and round out the degree with electives. For example, an information science major might take courses in game design and development, while a student pursuing health science could choose wellness, nutrition, or human biology.
What is an Associate of Applied Science degree, or AAS?
Graduates usually exit an AAS degree program ready to enter the job market. Many AAS programs do not prepare students to proceed to bachelor’s-level studies. Instead, they focus on the practical skills their learners need to pursue careers right away.
Examples of AAS majors include accounting, nursing, marketing, law enforcement, hospitality, and graphic design. Graduates may qualify for corresponding jobs such as bookkeepers and accounting clerks, nurses, digital marketers, law enforcement investigators, housekeeping supervisors, and multimedia artists.
While these subjects overlap with those that an AA or AS may offer, the AAS usually requires fewer general education credits. The curriculum instead focuses on major-specific courses. College readiness and English composition often appear as staple requirements, but a business major would focus more on courses like financial accounting and statistics, while a criminal justice student takes classes in police administration and sociology.
The associate of applied science degree also tends to favor internships, capstone projects, and other experience-building requirements. Students can complete an AAS in two years and about 65 credits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, an AA, AS, or AAS?
The best degree is the degree that fits each student’s individual goals. No one specific degree type is automatically better than another, and learners must decide where their interests lie before enrolling in a program. The AA favors the liberal arts, while the AS leans toward science and math.
Can I transfer my credits to a bachelor’s degree?
Associate degree holders can usually transfer the credits they earn to a bachelor’s-degree program, as long as the degree they earn is accredited. Prospective students who plan to continue to four-year institutions should ensure that their associate degree program holds regional accreditation, as schools widely accept these credits.
Degree-seekers can typically transfer the most credits from an associate to a bachelor’s program when they seek out similar programs. In practice, this means that the optimal amount of credits transfer from an AA to a BA or from an AS to a BS.
A bachelor’s degree program may ask applicants to meet other requirements prior to enrollment in the program. For example, some expect a minimum GPA for all college-level credits. This can vary widely depending on the institution and the subject area. A school may also ask for admission materials such as standardized tests, essays, and recommendation letters.
Some associate degree programs funnel students directly into four-year programs. Sometimes, a two-year school accepts students for an associate degree if they failed to gain admittance to a connected four-year school. Other pathways can include dual admissions, which allow students to transfer credits seamlessly from a two-year college to a designated four-year partner institution.