If you are thinking about earning an associate degree instead of a baccalaureate, you should know the differences between the A.A., the A.S. and the A.A.S. Associate degrees vary according to their intended use and their focus. They are usually offered at community colleges or online, and can lead to further study, or directly to an occupation.

The Associate of Science and the Associate of Arts

Both of these degree programs are intended to lead to further study. Because of that, the courses you will take in either degree usually interface with courses required in four-year programs. That means you can transfer into a baccalaureate degree at the junior level upon completion of the associate degree program. Both programs contain 60 credits, or 20 courses. They have three elements: a general education component, courses in your major and electives. They can also offer internships at an earlier stage than the typical bachelor’s program. These programs are becoming more popular with high school graduates for several reasons. You will learn how to study in a college atmosphere and manage your time. You will also have smaller classes and your transition from high school will be easier. The top reason many parents say they are enrolling their kids in associate degree programs, though, is that they save money. The programs, offered in community colleges or online, are less expensive than those in universities. In fact, a student who earns the associate degree and then transfers to a four-year program can save $20,000 in tuition and other costs. Those are the similarities in the two degrees. The difference is in the focus of the programs. Associate of science degrees usually have a scientific or math focus while the associate of arts programs teach courses found in culinary schools, design or preforming arts and in human services degrees.

The Associate of Applied Science

This is the associate degree you would earn if you want to go directly into a job after graduation. Like the other degrees, these are 60-credit programs. They do not emphasize the general education courses, however. They are intended to be no-frills pathways to a career. They teach specific skills and knowledge. There is also an associate of applied arts degree that leads directly to an assistant or entry-level position in design, human services and other arts and humanities fields. While the A.A.S. degree is sometimes devalued by educators, it can lead to lucrative jobs. Most graduates earn twice what they would have made with only a high school diploma. The BLS lists these surprising median wages for people with an associate degree level:

• Mechanical drafter, $50,360

• Cardiovascular technician, $52,070

• Physical therapist assistant, $52,160

• Radiology technician, $54,620

• Respiratory therapist, $55,870

• Registered nurse, $65,470

• Dental hygienist, $70,210

These careers are mainly in the high-demand medical field, but there are many other jobs that pay well after earning an associate of applied science or associate of applied art. Air traffic controllers, for instance, can earn $122, 530 with experience.

Cost of an Associate Degree

An associate degree program at a community college can cost less than $10,000. Online programs may cost more because they require more credits, and their tuition is based on credit hours taken. One program, with a requisite 90 credit hours, costs more than $35,000. If you intend to pursue an associate degree, cost is important, but so is accreditation. Employers are increasingly willing to hire applicants with associate degrees, but are paying attention to where the degree was earned.

You don’t have to earn a four-year degree to have a good career. Many exciting and well-paying jobs are available to people with the right skills and knowledge set. You can prepare for these positions by earning an associate degree. The two-year program may be just what you need whether you pursue an associate of science or associate of arts and transfer on to a four-year school, or get your associate of applied science or art and start your career immediately after graduation.

Related Resource: Top 10 Online Associates Degrees