What Is an Associate of Arts Degree?

An Associate of Arts (AA) degree, usually attainable through a two-year program at a community college or via online courses, typically necessitates the completion of 60 credit hours. Upon successful completion of your AA degree, you have the option to either start working in your chosen field or continue your education by transferring to a bachelor's degree program.

In this article, we'll explore the subjects you can delve into while enrolled in an AA program and the potential career paths available to you once you graduate.

What exactly does an associate's degree entail?

An associate's degree is an educational program at the undergraduate level, which follows secondary school education. Its primary objective is to furnish students with fundamental technical knowledge, academic foundations, and transferable skills necessary for future employment or advanced studies in their chosen field.

While associate's degrees are predominantly offered in the United States, they can also be found in select regions of Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, and the Netherlands. Other countries offer similar programs under different names, such as foundation degrees in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, various types of institutions offer associate's degrees, including community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, affiliated colleges of universities, and university institutes. Typically, completing an associate's degree requires two years of full-time study.

What’s the difference between a bachelor’s degree and an associate’s degree?

Bachelor's Degree

Associate's Degree

Typically 4 years full-time (120 credit hours)

Typically 2 years full-time (60 credit hours)

Higher tuition fees and overall expenses

Lower tuition fees and reduced expenses

More competitive admission process

Less competitive admission process

May accept credits from associate's degree

Some credits may transfer to a bachelor's degree

Opens doors to a wide range of professions

Offers opportunities in specific fields

Longer time commitment to education

Shorter time commitment for education

In-depth study in a chosen major or field

Broad overview of general education subjects

Typically have earlier application deadlines

Often have later application deadlines

Emphasizes specialization and expertise

Focuses on foundational knowledge and skills

Types of Associate Degrees

There are four main categories of associate degrees: AA (Associate of Arts), AS (Associate of Science), AAA (Associate of Applied Arts), and AAS (Associate of Applied Science). The primary distinction lies in the applied courses, which focus on practical vocational skills, making graduates job-ready. 

In contrast, AA and AS degrees are tailored for students aiming to pursue a bachelor's degree, emphasizing readiness for higher academic studies.

Online associate degrees are gaining popularity due to their flexibility and cost-effectiveness. They enable individuals to work while pursuing their education, often at a reduced cost.

Career Opportunities with an associate’s degree

Potential career opportunities with an associate’s degree vary based on the type of degree and the major chosen.

 However, there are numerous well-paying and skilled professions accessible with an associate’s degree. Examples include dental hygienists, web developers, nuclear technicians, radiation therapists, and air traffic controllers.

Earning a bachelor’s degree may broaden your career options further, but it's essential to assess whether your chosen profession necessitates a bachelor's degree, particularly considering the high tuition fees associated with bachelor’s programs. 

You might be surprised to discover that many skilled roles only require an associate's qualification. Since many bachelor's degrees lean towards academic rather than vocational training, graduates often need additional professional training before entering the workforce.

Transferring from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree

Transferring from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree is typically straightforward. If your course credits align with the university's requirements for the bachelor’s degree, you can transfer and join the bachelor's program midway through, following the 2 + 2 format.

To ensure you have this option, it's crucial to research your chosen institutions and their specific requirements. You may need to complete certain classes or credit hours to ensure a smooth transition to the bachelor's program.

What can you pursue in an Associate of Arts degree program?

As previously mentioned, enrolling in an AA program allows you to delve into subjects within the realm of arts, humanities, or social sciences. 

Alternatively, you can opt for a general studies degree, which provides flexibility for those considering transferring to a bachelor's program later.

AA degrees encompass a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to:

  • Art history
  • Business
  • Communication
  • Criminal justice
  • Early childhood education
  • Economics
  • History
  • Journalism
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Public health
  • Sociology
  • Studio art
  • Theater

Why pursue an Associate of Arts degree?

There are several compelling reasons to consider earning an AA degree. Here are some key motivations:

  1. Cost Savings: Community colleges often offer more affordable tuition rates compared to public or private four-year universities. Completing a portion of your general education requirements through an associate program can be a cost-effective way to progress toward your degree.
  2. Enhanced Earning Potential: Earning an AA degree can serve as a valuable investment in your financial future. Statistics show that individuals with an associate degree tend to earn more over their lifetimes than those without any college education. On average, individuals with an associate degree earn approximately $938 per week, compared to $781 per week for those lacking a college education 
  3. Exploration of Majors: An Associate of Arts degree provides flexibility for individuals who are still uncertain about their desired career path or academic field. It enables you to continue your education without committing to a specific major. When you're ready to select a major, the credits earned during the AA program can often be transferred as credits toward a bachelor's degree. 
  4. Qualification for Non-Bachelor's Degree Jobs: Depending on your career aspirations, you might find that a bachelor's degree is not a necessary requirement. Many entry-level positions in various fields, such as occupational therapy assistants, medical assistants, and service technicians, only require an associate degree.
  5. GPA Enhancement: If your high school GPA falls short of the admission requirements for your target universities, attending a community college can provide opportunities to boost your grade point average. Smaller class sizes and additional support services commonly available at community colleges can help you improve your academic record.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Associate of Arts (AA) degree?

An AA degree is a two-year undergraduate program that covers various subjects in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

How many credits are required for an AA degree?

Typically, an AA degree program requires around 60 credit hours for completion.

Can I transfer credits from an AA degree to a bachelor's program?

Yes, many credits earned during an AA degree can be transferred to a bachelor's program, allowing you to continue your education.

Are associate degrees affordable?

Yes, associate degree programs, especially at community colleges, often have lower tuition costs compared to four-year universities.

What are the benefits of earning an AA degree?

Earning an AA degree can lead to increased earning potential, cost savings, and the exploration of potential majors.

How long does it take to complete an AA degree?

Typically, an AA degree takes two years to complete if pursued full-time, but part-time options are available as well.

Can an AA degree lead to job opportunities?

Yes, many entry-level jobs in various fields, such as medical assistants or service technicians, require only an associate degree.

What subjects can I study in an AA degree program?

AA degree programs cover a wide range of subjects, including art history, business, communication, psychology, and more.

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