Can you obtain a 'BA' or 'BS' without an 'AA' or 'AS'?

Yes you can. Many (maybe even most) students pursue the bachelor's degree directly. However, read the following before you make that decision.

Associates (Community College Level) vs. Bachelors (Four Year College or University)
Community or Junior College Level

An Associate degree (two year community college) is designed as a two year program of study as a full-time student provided the student takes the degree as prescribed by the college. Evidently it would take longer as a part-time student. Within the United States, the associates typically falls into three main categories; Associates of Arts (AA), Associates of Science (AS), and Associates of Applied Science (AAS). An associates of arts (AA), and associates in science (AS) degrees are typically designed for transfer to a four year college or university. Therefore, these degrees have a strong liberal arts emphasis and include a good balance of humanities, social science, and written communication along with the exact sciences especially in higher level math. They also have the foundational course work needed as prerequisites for the higher level courses at the four year institution. The AAS was typically designed as a terminal degree giving the student all the expertise needed to enter the workforce after completion of the degree. However, today, many AAS degree are transferable to four year institutions, but the student should meet with the transfer counselor for appropriate direction when it comes to the AAS degrees. Depending on the program of study and state mandates, the associates can take anywhere from 60 to 64 credits to complete. Some programs of study (usually within the health related fields) may take a bit more in credits.

Four Year College or University Level

The bachelor's degree (four year college or university) is designed as a four year program of study provided the student takes the degree as prescribed by the college or university. Again, part-time students will take longer to complete the degree. How long it would take depends on the credit load taken per semester. Basically, within the United States there are two common categories; Bachelors of Arts (BA), and Bachelors of Science (BS). It depends on the institution and department within the school as to which focus they prefer.

The BA often (but not always) has a broader scope, with a strong emphasis on the humanities, theoretical and general knowledge in a recognized discipline, interdisciplinary field, or of a professional study.

The BS is more of a focused approach (again, often but not always) with a science base to include a balance of liberal arts, technological knowledge, math and computer oriented skills, and practical skills needed for a particular discipline within the field.

The exact curriculum is usually up to the individual departments at each school (though there may be external factors, such as a national professional organization in that field setting minimum standards for them to recognize the degree), so sometimes the difference between the BA and BS degrees is minimal, and in at least a few cases the only distinction is the wording on the diploma, with the curricula for the two being identical.

The number of credits required depends on the specific school and program of study. In general, for colleges and universities that operate on a semester system, the bachelors can take between 120 and 128 credits to complete. Some programs of study may take more. For example, architecture. The following are some differences between community colleges, and four year colleges and universities.

Community College

Many individuals start at the community college level for a variety of reasons to include:
  • Community colleges are often much less expensive. You can cut the cost of a four year degree almost in half by starting at a community college first, and then transferring to four year college or university to finish up the last two years.
  • There are typically smaller classroom sizes at the community college with a better professor to student ratio, which means more individualized attention.
  • Some students do not meet the entrance requirements of the four year college or university, thus they start at the community college first, then transfer later.
  • The community colleges are typically more family oriented, with a strong sense of community.
  • Some students like to be close to home, thus they start at their home county community college.
  • Some careers only require an associate's degree.

Four Year Colleges and Universities
  • Four year institutions are usually larger, with a number of activities not offered at the community college level. For example, fraternities, and sororities, college football, etc.
  • Some colleges may have top name lecturers, within large lecture halls which are preferred by many students.
  • Some individuals like the four year institutions environment (the university atmosphere).
  • There are students who can major in special program curriculums not offered by the community college.

In the end, it is a matter of preference. Do you like being a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond? Whichever you choose, you must be happy with your school, its offerings, the services provided, and environment. If you're not happy, you will not fare as well.

Note that even if you opt to start at a junior or community college or even a less prestigious four year college and then later transfer to another school to obtain a bachelors' degree, you don't have to get an associate's degree from the first school; the second school will be accepting (or not accepting, so it's good to talk with counselors at both schools as early in the process as possible to make sure the particular courses you're taking will transfer) individual course credits from the first, and whether they happen to add up to an associate's degree or not is less important than whether they fit in to the second school's bachelors' program.