Are you considering pursuing an associate degree? Are you wondering about the differences between an AA, AS, or AAS degree? This article will discuss all the details so you can make an informed decision about your education. 

Difference Between an A.A., A.S., and A.A.S.?

What Is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is a college degree you can pursue at any time in your life. However, this degree typically comes after high school but before a bachelor’s degree. Associate degrees generally take two years or less to complete. And you can pursue them from many institutions, including:

  • Community Colleges
  • Junior Colleges
  • Some Four-Year Institutions
  • Online Colleges

Associate degrees vary according to their intended use and their focus. They can lead to further study or directly to a career or occupation. Your choice of degree may differ depending on your goals. For example, if you also plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you might choose an academically focused program. On the other hand, if you want to enter the workforce quickly, your associate degree may focus on specific job skills. 

Some degrees are highly technical and offer real-world skills. Others are more consistent with subjects you might study at a four-year college. There is no wrong answer to the question, “which associate degree should I pursue? However, most students find it beneficial to learn about the differences between these degrees. That way, you can adequately prepare for your future education and career.

Related: 5 Popular Online Associate Degrees

The Associate of Science and the Associate of Arts

 Associate of Science vs. Associate of Arts Programs

What is an AS degree? And what is the difference between an AS and an AA degree? Associate of arts and associate of science degrees are both intended to lead to further study. As a result, the core courses usually interface with those required in four-year programs. You can transfer to a bachelor’s degree program once you complete your associate degree. Generally, this means you will enter at the junior level of your bachelor’s degree.

An associate of science degree and an associate of arts program usually consists of 60 credits or 20 courses. They have three elements: a general education component, courses in your major, and elective classes. They may also offer internships earlier than typical bachelor’s programs. 

Associate programs are becoming more popular with high school graduates for several reasons. First, you will learn how to study in a college atmosphere and manage your time. You will also have smaller classes, making your transition from high school easier. 

But one of the top reasons parents and students choose associate programs is to save money. In almost all cases, associate programs are less expensive than those in universities. This is true whether the courses are online or at a community college. In fact, a student who earns an associate and then transfers to a four-year program can save an average of $20,000 in tuition and other costs. The cost difference between AA and AS degrees can vary.

You may also like: How Long Does it Take to Earn an Associate Degree Online?

The Difference Between an AA and AS Degree

We’ve reviewed the similarities between associate of arts and and associate of science degrees. However, the difference between them lies in the focus of the programs. For example, an associate of science degree usually has a scientific or math focus. Students may take chemistry, algebra, or science courses. However, an associate of arts degree is more of a liberal arts program. Instructors may teach AA degree students design, performing arts, human services, and even culinary arts courses.

“Liberal arts” refers to the interdisciplinary nature of the associate of arts or associate of science degree. Liberal arts is a style of education where students are required to take classes in areas that might not be directly related to their major.

For example, a chemistry major in an associate of science degree program might have to take a class in English and another in history. Similarly, an English major in an AA degree program might need to complete a basic mathematics class or some science courses. This will be required even though they might not need to know much about math or science for their future writing career. The idea behind a liberal arts education is to provide students with a well-rounded view of the world. when it comes to an AA vs AS degree, both will typically have some liberal arts requirements.

What Are AAS and AAA Degrees?

The interdisciplinary focus within an associate of science or associate of arts degree program is different from the standard curriculum of an applied arts associate or AS associate’s degree. The latter are usually laser-focused in their curriculum and have fewer liberal arts requirements. Students in associate of science or associate of arts programs get all their general curriculum classes “out of the way” before their undergraduate degree programs. But the typical applied AA or ASA students will earn a degree with a narrower range of classes directly supporting their major.

See also: 5 Great Jobs That Only Need an Associate Degree

What Is the Primary Purpose of an A.A.A Or A.A.S. Degree?

difference between an  A.A.A Or A.A.S. Degree

Associate of Applied Science

What’s AAS stand for? It means associate of applied science. An associate of applied science is the degree to pursue if you want to enter the workforce directly after graduation. Like the other degrees, these are 60-credit programs. However, they do not emphasize general education courses. Instead, they offer a no-frills pathway to a career. These programs teach people specific skills and knowledge needed for a job. Examples of such careers may include:

  • Mechanical Drafter 
  • Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Radiology Technician
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Registered Nurse
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Mechanic

Associate of Applied Arts

In addition to an applied science associate, students can also pursue an AAA. An AAA degree means applied associate of arts. An associate of applied arts is similar to an applied science associate. However, this degree usually leads to an entry-level job in an arts and humanities field. Some common career options for those who earn an AAA include business administration or computer science. Other roles may include:

  • Paralegal
  • Graphic Designer
  • Music or Arts Teacher
  • Creative Assistant
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Preschool Teacher
  • Customer Service Rep

See Also: 5 High-Paying Jobs for Those with an Associate Degree

Other Differences Between AS and AAS Programs

Another big difference between associate of science programs and applied associate of science program is the number of credits awarded for different classes. For example, applied associate of science or applied associate of arts programs often have “laboratory” classes. These usually require a weekly commitment of classroom time, laboratory time, and home study. Students typically earn four credits at the end of these courses. Some laboratory classes even award four or five credits each. This is different from the traditional three credit-hour non-laboratory classes.

Accreditation and the Cost of an Associate Degree

The tuition costs for an associate’s degree program can vary considerably depending on the school you choose. AS, AA, AAS, and AAA degree programs can be slightly different.

However, while cost is important, so is accreditation. Non-accredited associate programs may be cheaper at first glance. However, employers are increasingly unwilling to hire applicants without accredited degrees. And they are paying attention to where the degree was earned. So, whether you choose an online school or a local college, always look for accreditation. The following chart shows a list of accredited schools offering online associate degrees.

CollegeYearly Tuition
Great Basin College$3,593
Southern Maine Technical College$2,880
Holmes Community College$3,510
Allen County Community College$3,080
Laramie County Community College$4,613
Clovis Community College$1,304
Barton County Community College$3,552
Albany Technical College$2,996
Arkansas Northeastern College$2,458
Great Basin College$3,593
San Juan College$1,618
Hutchinson Community College$3,240

Related: What Do Employers Think about an Associate’s Degree?

How To Choose Your Degree Path After You Start College

AS vs AA program

There are many decisions to make when you enter college, and your degree path is one of them. Now you understand the difference between an associate of science and an applied associate of science. However, you might be having trouble deciding on one or the other. 

The good news is that you can enroll in college and change your degree after a semester. For example, you might enter college pursuing an associate of science in Biology degree. Then, midway through the year, you change your mind and want to pursue an applied associate of science in Biology instead. This happens frequently.

If you are unsure which one to pursue, you can also give yourself even more freedom to change your degree plan. The easiest way to do this is to find general education classes the two degrees have in common and enroll in those classes at the start. For example, if Biology I is a requirement of both degrees, enter your first semester with that class on your schedule. Then, if you switch your degree plan at the end of the semester, you’ll still be ahead of the game. And you won’t need to take an extra class that is required for one degree but not the other.

Ask For Help

You may find it helpful to meet with one of your college’s student advisors, admissions counselors, or general education counselor at your high school. This will allow you to discuss your degree choices before graduating high school. Your advisor or counselor may have some helpful advice for you based on your future career goals and the major you want to pursue. They can also guide you toward enrollment at an online or community college. Additionally, they can also help you choose the best high school classes to help you get accepted into college. There is no cost to speak with these professionals, and they can help prepare students to make informed choices.

You may also like: Top 10 Online Associates Degrees

Why Not Just Enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree Program?

Enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program immediately after high school is an exciting step. However, it might not be the most economical decision a new college student can make. One of the benefits of associate degree programs is they can help students earn many of the credits required for an undergraduate degree. But they will earn them at a much lower tuition rate at a two-year college than what might be required at a traditional university.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost per academic year at a public four-year college is $9,400. And the cost for a year of study at a two-year college is $3,300. So enrolling in an associate degree program at a junior college or trade school might be the best way to save money on a more advanced degree. After all, your first two of study for general education classes may cost less than half the price of a traditional four-year university.

Additionally, many of the associate of science or associate of arts program classes are designed to transfer to nearby universities. In fact, many small colleges have partnerships with four-year colleges in the same state. And often, transfers are guaranteed for graduates who earn an associate of science or associate of arts degree with passing grades. 

See also: Are Online Associates Degrees Transferable to Traditional Universities?

If you want to be ready for a good-paying career in a short time, an applied associate of science or applied associate of arts program is something to consider. And if you want to save money on a bachelor’s degree, consider starting your education with an associate of arts or associate of science degree.

Associate Degrees for Older Adults

Different associate degree programs

According to Statista, more than 20 percent of community college students in 2022 are older than 25. Many students enter the workforce immediately after graduating from high school. And many start working long before they graduate. An associate degree is an ideal way for older adults to transition to a new career or augment their current skills. You could be a twentysomething who wants to return to school after working for a few years. Or you might be someone in your fifties who is finally ready to follow your dreams and pursue an AA, AS or another two-year degree.

Older adults who want to switch careers or move to positions of more responsibility may want to explore the benefits of an applied associate of science or applied associate of arts degree. And those others who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree may want to enroll in an associate of science or associate of arts degree.

Your Future After an Associate’s Degree

Virtually everyone knows that a college degree can increase your future earnings. But how do you decide whether to enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor’s degree after you finish your associate program? One important distinction for some professions is that an associate’s degree will usually qualify you for an entry-level job. However, a bachelor’s degree may help you jump into your career at a higher level than you might experience with a two-year degree.

A quick calculation may help you make a choice. First, look at a bachelor’s degree program where you might continue your education. Will your future job pay enough to warrant the extra years in school? Or will you be better served by starting the job hunt immediately after you receive your associate’s degree? Of course, the answer will vary based on your industry and personal feelings about continuing your education.

Related Resource: 5 Fields of Study for those Wanting an Associate Degree

You don’t have to earn a four-year degree to have a promising career. Lots of exciting and well-paying jobs are available to people with the right skills and knowledge. And you can prepare for many of these positions by earning an associate degree. 

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