Associate Degrees (AA, AS, AAS, AAA)

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What Is An Associate Degree?

Associate degrees, (the AA, AS, AAS, AAA degree) are undergraduate degrees that can be completed in two years and generally require students to complete 60 semester credit hours. They are primarily offered by junior or community colleges and vocational schools. Some four-year colleges and universities also offer associate degrees.

Two Main Categories of Associate Degrees

Occupational Associate Degrees

Occupational associate degrees are designed to help students acquire specific knowledge and skills in preparation for a particular career path. These associates degrees include the Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) and Associate of Applied Technology (AAT).

As occupational degrees are intended to prepare students to enter the career field immediately following graduation, they tend to be much more hands-on and skill-based than transfer degrees.

Occupational degree programs still have several general education requirements, which include coursework in English, math, and communications. The associate credits earned via an occupational associate degree may still be applied toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college.

Transfer Associate Degrees

In contrast to occupational degrees which are very hands-on and skill development-driven, transfer associates degrees are more academic in nature and have a greater focus on general education and liberal arts. Transfer degrees are designed to prepare students to pursue a four-year degree at a college or university. Courses offered in transfer degree programs include mathematics, writing, literature, science, and English. Even though transfer degrees are not career oriented, many do allow students to pursue a specific major or field of study.

The two most common types of transfer associate degrees are the Associate of Arts (AA), a liberal arts degree, and the Associate of Science (AS), a liberal arts degree with a greater focus on math and sciences. Unlike the AAS degree, which is primarily an occupational degree, the AA and AS degrees are traditional tracks for students looking to transfer to a four-year college upon graduation. Other liberal art oriented associates degrees include Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT), Associate of Engineering Science (AES), and Associate of Fine Arts (AFA).

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How to Make Sure Your Associate Degree Credits Will Transfer

If your plan is to transfer to a accredited four-year college after completing your associate degree, you’ll want to make sure the community college where you earn your degree is regionally accredited. Most four-year colleges (which are regionally accredited) will only accept transfer credits from community colleges that are regionally accredited. Before enrolling in a program review your options with a college counselor.

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The Benefits of Earning an Associate Degree

The following are some of the benefits of earning an associates degree.

  • Increased Earning Potential – On average, a professional with an associate degree will earn $400,000 more during their lifetime than a professional with only a high school diploma.
  • Increased Employment Opportunities – Compared to those with a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is substantially lower for those with an associate degree.
  • Cost of An Associate Degree – The cost of earning an associate degree is typically much less than it is for earning a bachelor’s degree. Best of all, if you earn an associate degree at an accredited community college you can apply your credits toward a bachelor’s degree down the road.
  • Convenience – Associate degree programs at community colleges and vocational/technical schools are typically quite flexible. Many offer night-time, weekend and online classes tailored to meet the needs of working adults and students.
  • Additional Certification – Many associate degree programs allow students to earn a professional certificate after one year or less of study. This enables students to gain a valuable credential quickly, which can aid them in their current career.

Choosing a Junior College, Community College, or Online School

The school you choose to earn your associate degree can make all the difference in the world. The first thing you’re going to want to look at is accreditation. Is the school regionally accredited? If you plan on transferring to a four-year college after earning your associate degree, it’s imperative you earn your degree from a regionally accredited community college or vocational school. Most four-year colleges and universities are regionally accredited and will only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited institutions.

Other factors you’ll want to consider are curriculum, transfer rates, available degree programs and courses, faculty qualifications, academic facilities and support, career services, and graduation and job placement rates.

Associates Degree Abbreviations

  • AAAssociate of Arts
  • AE – Associate of Engineering or Associate in Electronics Engineering Technology
  • ANAssociate of Science in Nursing
  • ASAssociate of Science
  • AF – Associate of Forestry
  • AT – Associate of Technology
  • AAA – Associate of Applied Arts
  • AAB – Associate of Applied Business
  • AASAssociate of Applied Science or Associate of Arts and Sciences
  • AAT – Associate of Arts in Teaching
  • ABA – Associate of Business Administration
  • ABS – Associate of Baccalaureate Studies
  • ADNAssociate Degree in Nursing
  • AES – Associate of Engineering Science
  • AET – Associate in Engineering Technology
  • AFA – Associate of Fine Arts
  • AGS – Associate of General Studies
  • AIT – Associate of Industrial Technology
  • AOS – Associate of Occupational Studies
  • APE – Associate of Pre-Engineering
  • APS – Associate of Political Science or Associate of Public Service
  • ASPT-APT – Associate in Physical Therapy

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