Comparison Of Associate Of Arts AA Degree To Other Associate Degrees
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Comparison Of Associate Of Arts AA Degree To Other Associate Degrees

Choosing the right educational path is a crucial decision, and understanding the nuances of different degrees can significantly impact this choice. The Associate of Arts (AA) degree, a popular option for students seeking a broad-based liberal arts education, provides a unique blend of flexibility and foundational knowledge. 


This guide gives a detailed comparison of the AA degree with other associate degrees, highlighting their advantages, disadvantages, and career prospects. 

Overview Of An AA Degree

The Associate of Arts (AA) degree stands as a critical pathway for students aiming to pursue higher education or enter various professional fields.[1] Typically completed in two years, an AA degree offers a comprehensive liberal arts education, providing students with foundational knowledge in areas such as humanities, social sciences, and communication. This degree not only equips students with critical thinking and analytical skills but also serves as a stepping stone towards a bachelor’s degree. As of 2021, there were 730,760 individuals employed with a liberal arts degree, with a median annual wage of $54,000.[1]

Fast Fact

19% of individuals with a fine and performing arts degree, a category often overlapping with AA degrees, are employed in arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations.

Comparison To Other Associate Degrees

When comparing an AA degree to other associate degrees like the Associate of Science (AS) or Associate in Applied Science (AAS), it’s crucial to consider each program’s focus. The AA degree’s broad liberal arts curriculum contrasts with the specialized, technical, or vocational nature of other associate degrees.

Associate Of Science (AS) Degree

The Associate of Science (AS) degree is more focused on math and science subjects, tailored for students who plan to continue their education in scientific or technical fields. Unlike the AA degree, which is broad in scope, the AS degree offers a more specialized curriculum, preparing students for specific career paths or advanced studies in areas like engineering, computer science, or health sciences.

Associate In Applied Science (AAS) Degree

The Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree is designed for students seeking direct entry into the workforce upon graduation. This degree emphasizes practical, hands-on experience in technical or vocational subjects, such as culinary arts, automotive technology, or nursing. AAS programs are highly career-oriented, focusing on developing the specific skills required for various technical professions.

Associate In Applied Arts (AAA) Degree

The Associate in Applied Arts (AAA) degree, similar to the AAS, is geared towards students who wish to pursue careers in creative fields such as graphic design, fashion design, or interior design. This degree combines artistic theory with practical application, offering students a platform to develop their creative skills alongside a fundamental understanding of their chosen industry.

Other Associate Degrees

There are also other types of associate degrees, such as the Associate in Occupational Studies (AOS) and the Associate in General Studies (AGS), each serving unique educational and career objectives. The AOS is typically career-focused, similar to the AAS, but often concentrates on trade and technical skills. In contrast, the AGS offers a broader education, similar to the AA, but with a more flexible curriculum, allowing students to explore different fields of study.

Fast Fact

Holders of a liberal arts degree, which includes AA degrees, have a median annual wage of $54,000.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of The AA Degree Compared To Other Degrees

When exploring the realm of associate degrees, it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Here we delve into the advantages and disadvantages of an AA degree in comparison to other associate degrees like the Associate of Science (AS) or Associate in Applied Science (AAS):

Advantages Of The AA Degree Compared To Other Degrees

The Associate of Arts (AA) degree offers several advantages over other degrees. Key benefits include:

  • Short Duration: An AA degree typically requires 60 credits and can be completed in about two years, which is half the time required for a bachelor’s degree. This quicker completion time allows students to enter the workforce or continue their education sooner​​.

  • Affordable Education: As the shortest degree-granting, higher education option, an AA degree is often more cost-effective than longer programs. This affordability stems from fewer credits being required, leading to lower overall tuition costs​​.

  • Job Readiness: AA degrees prepare students to enter the workforce with foundational knowledge and skills needed for various positions. This degree is particularly advantageous for those seeking to start their careers promptly​​. AA degree holders find diverse employment opportunities, with a significant presence in educational, management, and arts occupations.[2]

  • Salary Increase Potential: Holding an AA degree can result in a significant salary increase compared to just having a high school diploma. Graduates with an AA degree often enjoy higher earning potential and lower unemployment rates​​. 

Disadvantages Of The AA Degree Compared To Other Degrees

While the AA degree has many advantages, there are also some drawbacks to consider:

  • Earning Potential: Compared to higher-level degrees like a bachelor’s or master’s, the earning potential for AA degree holders may be lower. This difference is particularly evident in fields where a bachelor’s degree or higher is the standard requirement​​.

  • Competitive Disadvantage: In the job market, those with an AA degree might find themselves at a competitive disadvantage against candidates with bachelor’s or higher degrees, especially in fields where advanced education is highly valued​​.

Considerations For Choosing An Appropriate Program

When choosing between an AA degree and other associate degrees, consider factors such as career goals, industry requirements, and personal interests. For example, if you are interested in a technical or vocational field, an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) or Associate in Applied Arts (AAA) might be more suitable. Alternatively, for those seeking a broad liberal arts education with options to transfer to a four-year college, an AA degree is ideal.

Career Outlooks For Different Associate Degrees

Career prospects vary significantly among different associate degrees:

  • Associate In Science In Nuclear Technology: Offers a career as a nuclear technician with an average salary of $99,340, although the job outlook shows a -12% decline​​.

  • Associate In Science In Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapists earn an average of $82,790, with a positive job outlook of 9% growth​​.

  • Associate Of Science Degree In Dental Hygiene: Dental hygienists, with an average salary of $77,810 and an 11% job growth outlook, provide oral care and hygiene services​​.

  • Associate In Applied Science (AAS) in Nuclear Medicine Technology: This field involves preparing radioactive drugs for treatment and imaging, offering an average salary of $78,760 and an 8% job growth outlook​​.

  • Associate Of Applied Science In Civil Engineering Technology: Civil engineering technicians, earning an average salary of $58,320, assist in designing and building infrastructure with a 2% job growth outlook​​.

  • Associate of Science Degree In Mechanical Engineering Technology: This degree leads to roles like mechanical engineering technicians, with an average salary of $60,460 and a 6% job growth rate​​.

  • Associate Of Applied Science In Occupational Therapy Assistant: Occupational therapy assistants earn an average salary of $61,520, with a strong job outlook of 34% growth​​.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve answered some of the most common questions about the Associate of Arts AA Degree and other Associate Degrees to help you better understand their comparison.

What is the primary focus of an Associate of Arts (AA) degree?

The AA degree primarily focuses on liberal arts education, offering foundational knowledge in humanities, social sciences, and communication.

How does an AA degree differ from an Associate of Science (AS) degree?

The AS degree is more specialized in math and science subjects, ideal for students targeting specific scientific or technical fields, unlike the broader scope of an AA degree.

Can an AA degree lead to further educational opportunities?

Yes, an AA degree serves as a stepping stone toward a bachelor’s degree and provides a solid base for further academic pursuits.

What are the career prospects for AA degree holders?

AA degree holders find employment across various sectors, including education, management, and arts, with a median annual wage of around $54,000.

Are there financial benefits to choosing an AA degree?

An AA degree is often more cost-effective than longer programs due to its shorter duration and fewer required credits.

What should I consider when choosing between an AA and other associate degrees?

Consider your career goals, industry requirements, and personal interests to determine the best fit between an AA degree and other specialized associate degrees.

Associate Of Arts AA Degree To Other Associate Degrees

Each associate degree type serves a distinct purpose, catering to different educational and career goals. The AA degree’s broad curriculum lays a solid foundation for further academic pursuits or diverse career opportunities. In contrast, AS, AAS, AAA, and other associate degrees provide more specialized education paths tailored to specific industries or career objectives.

Our detailed guide explains the differences between Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Science Degrees. Learn more by visiting Go Degree and exploring our comprehensive resources.