Associates Degree Programs | AA, AS, AAS Degree

Associates Degree programs, available at junior colleges, technical schools, community colleges and universities, offer undergraduate students the opportunity to either ...

prepare for a Bachelor’s degree or enter the workplace after graduation. Sometimes referred to as “2-year” degrees, an Associate degree is considered to be a more advanced level of education that a high school diploma or GED, but less than the Bachelor degree. In fact, many associate-level programs whether in the arts, sciences or applied sciences, commonly require the high school diploma or its equivalent from prospective applicants.

What is an Associates Degree?

As a postsecondary degree, the Associates degree is considered to open doors to careers, higher wages, advanced academics, and usually involves the completion of about 20 classes or 60 college credits[i]. In fact, an Associate’s Degree is a pretty flexible academic platform! Many programs include classroom learning but could also include internship opportunities

DID YOU KNOW? According to BLS, occupations in which workers often are required to have an associate degree are growing faster than occupations that require other types of training.[ii]

Prepare for a Specific Career

For students looking for a career without any further degree, some Associate’s programs might be a fantastic and interesting way to acquire specific job skills and prepare for potential entry-level roles in any number of professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning an associate’s degree “can be a relatively fast track to higher earnings: most of the high-wage associate’s degree level jobs don’t require on-the-job-training or work experience in a related occupation”.[iii] These jobs are often the ones where workers are required to have ‘some college’ while other occupations specifically require employees to have an associate’s degree as the entry-level job qualification. In fact, search for Associate’s degrees by subject to find these categories, many of which have sub-fields:

  • Associate in Criminal Justice
  • Associate in Business
  • Associate in Education
  • Associate in Fine Arts and Design
  • Associate in Health and Medicine
  • Associate in Public Affairs and Social Sciences
  • Associate in Technology

Prepare for a Bachelor’s Degree

If you are setting your sights on continued education, earning an Associate’s degree is equivalent (usually) to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. This works through what is called an “Articulation Agreement” which serves as a bridge between the two degrees. Many four-year colleges and universities offer articulation agreements to community college students which essentially guarantees that the student will be able to complete their Bachelor’s degree at a later time. This assumes that the student follows the stipulations (course requirements etc.) of the agreement. If you are someone who wants to earn an associate’s degree, start your career and then seamlessly transfer into a bachelor program later, check with your prospective school to see what the protocols are. A few transfer programs look past the Bachelor’s to a Master’s or Professional degree, where they correspond to the first year of a 6-year graduate program.[iv]

Types of Associates Degrees

You now know that that Associates Degrees do two things, but you also need to consider a few other factors before you head into your search. For one thing, it is always a good idea to verify what type of degree is actually required for entry-level jobs in your field. Healthcare is a perfect example. An Associate’s degree might be a great way to prepare for a career as a Dental Hygienist, but to practice as a Dentist requires a doctoral degree and state licensure.[v] The other thing to determine is whether your plans are more science and math oriented or more arts and humanities oriented. You then typically have three types of associates degrees to choose from, all with different course requirements:

  • Associate of Arts (AA) Degree
  • Associate of Science (AS) Degree
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree (also, Associate of Applied Arts, Associate of Applied Technology, Associate of Occupational Studies)

Associate of Arts

The Associate of Arts is a liberal arts degree, and a ‘transfer’ degree to a Bachelor of Arts Program. Arts degrees are known to have more social sciences, humanities and possibly, foreign language requirements; these and general education courses usually form the academic requirements. Associate of Arts degrees are also considered more broadly focused and ‘well-rounded’ so you get to learn about many subjects as well as take courses in your major area of study. For instance, you might look into some of the sponsored listings such as AA in Early Childhood Education or an AA in Graphic & Web Design.

Associate of Science

The Associate of Science is also going to include general education courses, but whereas the AA has more emphasis on liberal arts, the AS Degree tends to have more science, math and applied science courses (technology, business). As a ‘transfer’ degree, the Associate of Science is more technical and has less course requirements outside the major than the AA; it also prepares graduates for further education at the Bachelor of Science degree level. If you are leaning towards this path, you might look into some of the sponsored listings such as Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies or Associate of Science in Business Administration.

Associate of Applied Science

The Associate of Science is the ‘prepare for a career’ type of degree, meaning these programs tend to provide occupation-targeted education so that graduates may enter the workplace after completing their degree. In terms of course requirements, the AAS degree has more ‘applied’ course requirements which means they tend to be practical (you learn something that you can apply on the job) and they focus on a specific vocational field. If this is something that appeals to you, browse sponsored listings such as AAS in Veterinary Technology or AAS in Radiologic Technology.

Campus, Hybrid or Online Associates?

The other thing to consider about earning an Associate degree is that often they are available in campus or distance-learning formats (hybrid, online). If you are looking for the traditional college experience, you want to participate in extracurricular activities, meet people, take class in real-time, look for a campus program to refine your search. If you prefer to study from home or wherever you have Internet, possibly because you are working and can’t get to class during the regular hours, look for an online associates degree. Hybrid programs combine online courses with low residency on site visits (usually intensives) and they tend to be available in programs where interaction or live demonstration is key. These are sometimes called ‘blended online’ or ‘partially online’.

Accreditation & The Associate’s

There are a variety of accrediting organizations in effect today, some national, some regional, and some program specific such as ABET (for science, computing, engineering and engineering technology), the AACSB (business, accounting), or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and others. Post degree, if you go for any licensing qualifications, or for a job, this type of program accreditation is usually an important component.[vi]

Usually a college or university is accredited by different groups including at the National level by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). These agencies recognize different regional organizations.

Why does accreditation matter? In terms of transferring credits, and the “Articulation Agreement” previously mentioned, 4-year colleges typically only accept credits from a nationally or regionally accredited school.

Why Choose an Associate Degree?

For some, the cost of an Associate Degree is reasonable, and more attractive than heading straight to a 4-year program. Beyond that, classroom size may be small enough to get personal attention, and possibly catch up to improve any low high school grades. Plus, many students in the transfer programs benefit from taking career-oriented courses that might help them to pick a major once they start their bachelor’s degree[vii]. All in all, a degree to consider.


sources[i] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2002/winter/art01.pdf |[ii] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2002/winter/art01.pdf |[iii] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2012/summer/art03.pdf |[iv] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2002/winter/art01.pdf |[v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm |[vi] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm |[vii] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2002/winter/art01.pdf 

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