Earning either an Associate of Applied Science or an Associate of Science degree can lead to a fulfilling career in two years or less. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the A.A.S. and A.S. degrees will help you choose the right fit for your own occupational goals. If you are eager to complete a practical training program and enter the workforce, you may prefer the A.A.S. On the other hand, if you enjoy school and are seriously thinking about earning a four-year degree now or later, then the A.S. program may make more sense for you.

Tip

The difference between an A.S. and A.A.S. is the added liberal arts requirement of the A.S. degree. The A.A.S. is a more vocationally oriented program of study, so the credits are often less likely to transfer if you pursue a baccalaureate degree.

What Is an A.S. Degree?

The Associate of Science degree generally encompasses the general education requirements of a four-year bachelor’s degree. Completion of the degree entails 60 credit hours over two years, including 24 credits in a particular program specialization, like nursing. The degree is similar to an Associate of Arts degree except an A.S. degree emphasizes math, science or technology.

Many two-year community colleges have articulation agreements with four-year institutions allowing students with an A.A. or A.S. to transfer seamlessly without loss of credits. Attractive, high-paying jobs can be found in many fields requiring only a two-year degree. The advantage of a typical A.S. degree is that you may work in your field for a while and complete your bachelor’s degree down the road when it is more convenient.

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What Is an A.A.S. Degree?

Students who are passionate about working in a field that is mainly offered at vocational schools, such as welding technology, prefer the Associate of Applied Science degree. The A.A.S. degree typically requires completion of 60 credit hours over a two-year program of occupational study. A few A.A.S. degrees in specializations like fashion design can be completed in just two semesters.

The purpose of the A.A.S. degree is to prepare students to directly enter the workforce in a high-demand field. Students can later apply to a school that offers baccalaureate degrees, but their A.A.S. credits may not count toward a college degree depending on the school they hope to attend. Colleges and universities follow different policies when evaluating the course equivalencies of transfer credits.

Compare A.A.S. vs. A.S.

The A.A.S. and the A.S. degree are similar in that they are intended for students who have a fairly good handle on what field they wish to pursue. Remedial classes may be required for students in either degree track who don’t have sufficient high school preparation for certain classes in the program. For example, you may be advised to enroll in a developmental math class if your college placement tests indicate a math deficiency. Typically, classes below the 100 level don’t count toward graduation. Other similarities include GPA requirements for graduation and financial aid eligibility. Students must maintain an overall 2.0 or higher for some programs, like nursing.

A.S. Degree Careers

The Associate of Science degree has the advantage of versatility, especially when the program has a written transfer agreement with a four-year institution. For example, a student can earn a 60-credit A.S. degree in alcohol and drug counseling at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota with the assurance that the 60 credits from RCTC will be applied toward the degree requirements of a Bachelor of Social Work offered at nearby Winona State University. Similar career tracks can be found in areas like accounting, art, dental assisting, computer information systems and environmental science. With an A.S. degree, you attain the skills to work in the field directly, or you can easily transfer and finish a bachelor’s degree with approximately two more years of study.

A.A.S. Degree Careers

An Associate of Applied Science degree is available in many career fields that can help you land an interesting job that complements your skill set. For example, if you like working with people and enjoy business courses, you may want to complete an A.A.S. in business management that will qualify you for entry-level jobs in banking, retail, insurance or sales. Additional education may be necessary for promotion to mid-management. If you are fascinated by technology but don’t see yourself spending four years in college, you may wish to consider an A.A.S. in automotive technology, computers, engineering or manufacturing technology. Other popular A.A.S. degree programs include accounting, nursing, culinary arts, dental assisting and law enforcement training.

About the Author

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.