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What is the difference between Associates of Arts, Associates of Science, and Associates of Applied Science?

Associate degrees fall into three main areas.

  • Associates of Arts (AA)
  • Associates of Science (AS)
  • Associates of Applied Science (AAS)

Each of the above degrees is designed to be completed after two years of study as a full-time student and provided the student takes the degree as prescribed by the college. In addition, most every community college requires that every incoming student be placement tested before they register for their first semester (unless they fall into an exemption category). This test is not an admissions test and has no bearing on a student's acceptance to the college. In fact, most students have already been accepted to the school before they take the test. It is not a test that is passed or failed, but simply to determine whether an individual needs to take some refresher courses before entering college level coursework. This is to ensure the student has the appropriate basic skills to succeed at the college level.

The test is broken down into four parts; two parts English and two parts mathematics. The English includes grammar (sentence sense), and reading comprehension. The math includes computation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, fractions, square roots, and percentages), and the equivalent of a high school algebra I. If the student scores low in any these areas, then they will be required to enroll in the indicated remedial course/s starting with their first semester. Thus, the two year degree plan may turn into a two and a half year, or possibly a three year plan depending on how much remedial work is needed. To limit this time, students have the option to enroll in summer session courses.

Now let us look at the inherent differences between the degrees:

Associates of Arts (AA)

The Associates of arts is really designed as a fully transferable degree to a four year college or university for those pursing a Bachelors degree. It serves to complete most of the four year institutions general education cluster area, which amounts to the first two years of a four year program. It also serves to complete any perquisite courses needed for the four year institutions curriculum major and minor requirements. Students are admitted to Junior level status provided they have completed the matching associate's level degree. In other words, Business AA to Business BA, Engineering AS, to Engineering AS etc. Thus, within this degree students will be required to have a well rounded educational foundation to include, English literature, history, social science, laboratory science, humanities, math, communications, etc. These courses are in addition to the student's major field of study.

Associates of Science (AS)

Within the AS degrees a student will notice there are less general education requirements, and more career oriented course work. You will find this in curriculums to include, Nursing, Engineering, some Computer Science and Allied Heath fields. Still, these programs should be fully transferable to four year institutions provided the degree matches that of the four year college or university's program of study, as mentioned above under AA degrees.

Associates in Applied Science (AAS)

The AAS degrees are very career oriented and designed to give the student all the expertise needed for entry level positions upon completion of the degree. Therefore, the student will notice most of the AAS degree is made up of professional phase courses particular to a specific field, and a very limited number of general education courses. This has promoted the myth, that all AAS degrees are not transferable to four year colleges and universities. I will admit, as the degree was originally designed; transferability was not the original intent of this type of degree. Therefore many AAS degree fields of study did not transfer to four year institutions very well. In fact, in some categories it was almost like starting over. Today this is not so. Community Colleges today have what is known as Joint Admissions or Dual Admissions articulations with four year institutions, where if the student completes the agreed upon program of study successfully, the four year institution will take the degree full faith in credit and grant the student Junior level status. This includes AAS degrees. However, it is strongly recommended that a student who is seeking to transfer to a four year institution at a later date, make an appointment with a Transfer Counselor at the Community College for the pros and cons of AAS transfer as well as more detailed information.

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Q: What is the difference between an AAS and AGS degree?
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