Associate of Arts vs. Associate of Science

college student raising his hand in class

An associate degree is an entry-level, 60-credit program that some people choose to pursue after earning their high school diploma or GED. The main transfer-orientated degrees are Associate of Arts (AA) or an Associate of Science (AS). Through an associate degree program, students can prepare to advance in their career field and increase their salary compared to what they would earn with only a high school diploma. Oftentimes, students transfer credits earned through their associate program to a bachelor’s degree program. In order to decide between an AA and an AS it is important to know the similarities and differences between the two.


The Associate of Arts Degree and Associate of Science degree are both general study programs that are comparable to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. When it comes down to it, AA and AS degrees both prepare students for the next step in their lives, whether they wish to enter the job market or further their education upon completing the program. Each type of degree typically requires around 36 credits in general education, with the other 24 credits completed within the student’s program of study.

Associate of Arts Degree

An Associate of Arts degree contains courses in the social sciences and humanities. The degree provides a general education in the liberal arts, with students gaining knowledge in a variety of fields such as literature, history and performing and digital arts. Since an Associate of Arts degree program is the most general post-secondary degree, it is also the most transferable in most cases. A student interested in transferring credits to a bachelor’s degree program after graduation may wish to pursue an AA over an AS. With an AA, you can become a:

  • Preschool teacher
  • Engineering technician
  • Industrial designer
  • Paralegal
  • Human resource manager
  • Librarian
  • Interpreter

Associate of Science Degree

An Associate of Science degree is geared towards students interested in math or science. While the required general education credits will still provide students with some background in the liberal arts, the rest of the credits will be focused in an area such as biology, chemistry or mathematics. With an AS, you can become a:

  • Clinical lab assistant
  • Medical laboratory technician
  • Certified nursing assistant
  • Physical therapist assistant
  • Registered nurse

Associate of Applied Science

The Associate of Applied Science (AAS) differs from the AA and AS because it is not intended to transfer into a bachelor’s program. A category of degree within the AS, these programs prepare students to enter skilled occupations after completion of the two-year program. Some Associate of Applied Science programs are considered terminal degrees since they can be the highest level of education available in a certain area. An AAS can prepare you to work as a:

  • Dental hygienist
  • Administrative assistant
  • Electronics technician
  • Mechanic
  • Licensed practical nurse

Which Degree Is Right for Me?

Deciding whether to complete an AA or an AS is dependent on what you wish to do with your degree. In most cases, the best program for you will be determined based on the field of study, if you prefer to focus on the liberal arts or sciences, the career you wish to pursue and whether you plan on transferring credits to a bachelor’s degree program.

If you wish to transfer credits from an AA or AS, be sure to contact the university you wish to attend for your bachelor’s degree. Acceptable transfer credits vary between states and schools, so it’s important to do your research before making a commitment.

Make the most of your transfer credits and learn more about transferring to Grand Canyon University. Visit the GCU Transfer Center or click the Request Info button on this page to get started. Grand Canyon University's online and evening programs offer the flexibility you need to get ahead while providing a quality education to help you thrive in today's complex world. Check out GCU’s degree options today to find the right program for you.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.