Key Highlights

  • The AA degree provides a broad base of knowledge in liberal arts and sciences that not only fosters critical thinking, communication, and analytical skills.
  • An AA degree offers you the flexibility to explore various fields of interest before committing to a career path.
  • An AA degree can be invaluable if you are looking to enter the workforce directly. The degree can open up opportunities for entry-level positions in various fields, such as education, business, social services, and more.
  • One of the most significant advantages of an AA degree is that the programs are designed to facilitate transfer to a four-year college or university – a good option to have in case you choose to pursue further education instead of entering the workforce right after graduation.

After graduating from high school, you may be asking yourself the question: do I study with the goal of starting my career as soon as possible, or do I study to pursue further higher education? The good news is that with an associate’s degree, you don’t have to decide right away.

If you are keen on pursuing a career or further studies in the liberal arts, humanities, or general education, then an Associate of Arts degree provides you with the flexibility to make up your mind after graduation. It’s a win-win scenario you cannot afford to ignore. 

An Associate of Arts (AA) degree is a type of undergraduate degree that typically requires two years of full-time study to complete. AA degree programs are often focused on liberal arts subjects such as humanities, communication, social sciences, and fine arts. Specific coursework, however, can vary depending on the institution and your personal goals.

An AA degree prepares you for immediate entry into certain career fields. It provides you with the foundational knowledge and skills required for various positions, particularly for jobs that do not require a four-year degree.

An AA degree is similar to quite a few other types of associate degrees, each designed with different educational and career objectives in mind. Here are some of the most commonly pursued ones.

  • Associate of Science (AS): Like AA, the AS degree typically requires two years of study. However, AS degree programs focus more on science and math subjects. This degree is ideal if you are looking to pursue a career in fields like engineering, biology, or computer science directly after completing your associate’s degree.
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS): The AAS degree provides vocational or technical skills in specific career fields such as nursing, culinary arts, or information technology. The curriculum is less focused on general education courses and more on providing hands-on experience and specialized training for a particular job.
  • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA): The AFA degree is similar to the AA but is specifically focused on the fine arts, including disciplines like music, theater, painting, and sculpture. Earning this degree lets you pursue a career in the arts or continue your education in a bachelor’s program related to the study of the arts.
  • Associate of General Studies (AGS): This degree offers a broad curriculum without a specific focus on arts or sciences. It is designed to help you gain a broad educational foundation, especially if you have not yet decided on a specific career or educational pathway. An AGS degree allows for a more personalized program of study, which can include a wide range of subjects based on your interests.

You can obtain an Associate of Arts degree from a variety of educational institutions, regardless of whether you are attending classes in person or online.

Where can you get an AA degree?
  • Community Colleges: These are public institutions that offer two-year programs leading to an AA or other associate degrees and certificates. Community colleges are a popular choice for students due to their affordable tuition rates and flexible scheduling options.
  • Junior Colleges: Similar to community colleges, junior colleges will offer you two-year associate degree programs. The main difference is that some junior colleges are private, and offer a wider range of academic and vocational programs, including the AA degree.
  • Technical Colleges: These institutions focus on providing vocational education and technical skills training. While they are more commonly associated with AAS degrees, many technical colleges will also offer you AA degree programs, especially in fields that require a foundation in liberal arts subjects.
  • Online Colleges: Many online institutions offer AA degrees, providing the flexibility you need or prefer to have in order to study on your own schedule. An online program can be ideal if you are a working professional, have family responsibilities, or live far from a physical campus.
  • Four-Year Universities: While less common, some four-year universities and colleges offer AA degrees, particularly as a pathway to related bachelor’s degree programs. If you are not yet ready to commit to a four-year degree or need to build up your academic skills before pursuing more advanced studies, then these AA degree programs might be exactly what you need.

Associate of Arts degree programs offer a wide range of majors, letting you pick one that caters to your specific interests and chosen career path. AA programs typically include a core curriculum of general education courses in addition to major-specific courses.

Here are some common majors offered by institutions for their AA degree programs.

  • Liberal Arts: This broad major covers various subjects, including literature, history, philosophy, and social sciences. It’s designed for students seeking a well-rounded education or planning to transfer to a bachelor’s program in the humanities or social sciences.
  • Business Administration: With a business administration major, you get to learn foundational business concepts, including accounting, management, marketing, and economics, preparing you for entry-level positions in business.
  • Psychology: This major provides an introduction to psychological theories, practices, and research methods. It’s ideal for you if you are interested in pursuing a career in psychology, counseling, social work, or any other related field after further education.
  • Education: An AA in Education focuses on the basics of teaching methods, educational psychology, and curriculum development. It’s a starting point for those looking to become teachers or educational administrators, though further certification and degrees will be required.
  • Communications: You will learn about various communication theories, public speaking, mass media, and digital communication. This major is ideal for careers in journalism, public relations, marketing, and media.
  • Fine Arts: Covering areas such as painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography, this major is for students aiming to pursue careers in the arts or looking to transfer to a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program.
  • Criminal Justice: This major offers an overview of the criminal justice system, including courses in law enforcement, criminology, corrections, and forensic science, preparing you for a career in public safety and law enforcement.
  • Computer Science: Although more technical and sometimes offered as an Associate of Science degree, some institutions provide an AA path for computer science, focusing on teaching you the basics of programming, software development, and information technology.
  • Environmental Science: You will learn about environmental issues, conservation, and sustainability. This major can help you get started with a career in environmental policy or conservation as soon as you graduate.
  • Health Sciences: This field covers the foundational knowledge needed for careers in healthcare, such as nursing, physical therapy, or public health. Note that specific career paths, like nursing, will often require specialized degrees and certifications beyond the AA.

When choosing a major for an AA degree, it is very important to consider your interests, career goals, and whether you plan to pursue further education.

While pursuing an Associate of Arts degree, you can expect to take a mix of general education courses as well as courses specific to your chosen major or area of focus. Here are some general education courses, designed to give you a broad educational foundation across various disciplines, that you might encounter.

  • English Composition and Literature: Courses in writing, research, and analysis will help you develop your communication skills and literary understanding.
  • Mathematics: Basic college math, statistics, or algebra will allow you to develop your quantitative reasoning skills.
  • Natural Sciences: Classes in biology, chemistry, physics, or environmental science, often including lab work to help you understand scientific methods and principles.
  • Social Sciences: Courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology, or economics to give you a foundation in exploring human behavior and social structures.
  • Humanities: Studies in history, philosophy, art history, or music appreciation teaches you how to engage with cultural and philosophical aspects of society.
  • Fine Arts: Practical or theoretical courses in art, music, theater, or dance foster creativity and artistic appreciation within you.

Depending on your chosen field of study, you will also have to take courses that delve deeper into subjects relevant to your major. These may include:

  • Business Administration: Generally includes courses dealing with an introduction to business, accounting principles, business law, microeconomics, and macroeconomics.
  • Psychology: These courses cover general psychology, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, and social psychology.
  • Education: Includes courses that cover the foundations of education, educational psychology, and introduction to special education.
  • Communications: Public speaking, mass communication, interpersonal communication, and media writing courses will train you to become a well-rounded communications professional.
  • Criminal Justice: These courses generally include an introduction to criminal justice, criminology, corrections, and criminal law.

You  will also have the opportunity to take elective courses, which can be chosen from a wide range of subjects that interest you or complement your major. These electives will allow you to explore other areas of interest, gain additional skills, or meet any prerequisites for advanced study in your chosen field.

Careers with an AA degree

Armed with an Associate of Arts degree, you can apply for a variety of entry-level positions across multiple industries. The job options available to you can vary widely depending on the specific major or focus of your AA degree. Here are some examples of roles, along with approximate salary data.

  • Administrative Assistant: As an administrative assistant, you will perform clerical and administrative duties in various office settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for this position is $44,080.
  • Preschool Teacher: Preschool teachers educate and care for children younger than the age of 5, except for children with special needs, who have not yet entered kindergarten. The median annual wage for preschool teachers is about $35,330, but this can vary significantly with the employer (public or private school) and geographic location.
  • Graphic Designer: As a graphic designer, you will create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers. The median annual wage, according to BLS, is  $57,990.
  • Paralegal and Legal Assistant: Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. The median annual salary for a paralegal in the U.S. is $59,200.
  • Computer Support Specialist: Providing help and advice to computer users and organizations is what computer support specialists do best. Their median annual wage is $55,510, according to BLS.
  • Web Developer: Web developers design and create websites. You will be responsible for the look of the site as well as its technical aspects. According to BLS, the median annual wage for a web developer is approximately  $80,730. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is required for web developer positions. However, some employers are more than happy to consider those with an AA degree.
  • Radiologic Technologist: As a radiologic technologist, you will perform diagnostic imaging examinations on patients. The median annual wage for radiologic technologists in the U.S., according to BLS, is $67,180. Note that to become a radiologic technologist, specific certification and training is required, which can be pursued alongside or after obtaining your AA degree.

Remember that no matter what career path you choose, the salary can vary greatly depending on location, experience, specific employer, and the overall job market.

Many employers value graduates with an Associate of Arts degree for several reasons, recognizing that these individuals bring a strong set of skills and knowledge to the workplace. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Specialized Skills and Knowledge: An AA degree program will provide you with specialized knowledge in your field of study, along with practical skills that are immediately applicable in the workplace. This is particularly valuable for positions that require specific expertise but may not necessitate a bachelor’s degree.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Abilities: The general education courses required for an AA degree will help develop your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Employers value these skills highly as they are essential for effective decision-making and innovation in the workplace.
  • Communication Skills: AA programs include courses in English, communication, and sometimes foreign languages, helping you develop strong written and verbal communication skills. Employers look for candidates who can express ideas clearly, work well in teams, and interact effectively with clients and colleagues.
  • Adaptability and Lifelong Learning: The broad-based education received by AA degree holders instills a foundation for lifelong learning. Employers will see you as someone who is adaptable, can learn new skills as needed, and is open to ongoing professional development.
  • Cost-Effective Hiring: For certain positions, employers find that hiring AA graduates is cost-effective while still meeting the skill requirements of the job. This can be particularly appealing for roles that require postsecondary education but not necessarily a four-year degree.
  • Preparedness for Diverse Work Environments: The diverse course offerings and student body of many community colleges and institutions offering AA degrees exposes students to a wide range of perspectives. You will enter the workforce with an appreciation for diversity and an ability to work in varied team dynamics.
  • Technical and Digital Literacy: Many AA programs include courses on computer skills and digital literacy, preparing you to navigate today’s technology-driven work environments effectively.
  • Flexibility for Advancement: Employers also recognize that AA graduates have the foundation to pursue further education in the future, which can be beneficial for advancing within the company. Having someone like you who is capable of growing and taking on more responsibility over time is a valuable asset.

Overall, as an AA graduate you will be valued by employers for your well-rounded education, practical skills, and the potential you will bring to adapt and grow within your new role.

It is often possible to transfer credits you have earned during your Associate of Arts degree program towards a Bachelor of Arts (BA) program.

This process is a common pathway for students who start their postsecondary education at a community college or similar institution with the goal of obtaining a four-year degree. It is also a great pathway for working adults who entered the workforce after earning their AA degree and want to study further in their chosen field.

Here are something you need to keep in mind and look out for if you do want to eventually pursue a bachelor’s degree.

  • Articulation Agreements: Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four-year colleges and universities. These agreements specify which courses or credits will transfer directly toward a bachelor’s degree, often allowing students to enter the four-year institution as juniors. This can save time and money by reducing the number of courses needed to complete a BA.
  • Transfer-Friendly Institutions: Some four-year colleges and universities are particularly transfer-friendly and have streamlined processes to evaluate and accept credits from AA degree programs. They may offer dedicated transfer advisors to help students navigate the transition.
  • Accreditation: For credits to transfer, it’s crucial that the institution from where you’re transferring is regionally accredited. Credits from regionally accredited institutions are more widely accepted by other colleges and universities. Before enrolling in an AA program, check the accreditation status to ensure the best chance of your credits being transferable.
  • Major and Core Requirements: While many general education credits from an AA degree can transfer, specific requirements for a BA program, especially those related to the major or concentration, may still need to be met. It is important to research and plan your AA coursework with your intended BA major in mind, ensuring alignment with the bachelor’s degree requirements as much as possible.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure a smooth transfer of credits:

  • Research Early: Before starting an AA program, identify potential BA programs and institutions you may want to apply to in the long term. Understand their requirements and how your AA credits may align with their BA degree requirements.
  • Consult Advisors: Take advantage of academic advising at both your current institution and potential transfer institutions. Advisors can provide guidance on course selection to ensure transferability of credits.
  • Keep Records: Maintain a strong academic record and keep detailed records of your course syllabi, grades, and academic progress. This information can be helpful in the transfer process, especially if there are questions about the equivalency of courses.

With careful planning and by taking advantage of articulation agreements and transfer resources, you can successfully ensure that all the effort you have put into earning an AA degree pays off while earning your BA as well.

What is an associate's degree?

An associate’s degree is a type of postsecondary degree that stands between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree in terms of educational attainment. It serves as a foundational degree that prepares students either for direct entry into certain career paths or for transferring to a four-year college or university to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

What is an AA degree?

An Associate of Arts (AA) degree is an undergraduate, associate’s degree that is primarily focused on liberal arts and general education courses. It is not to be confused with other degrees like Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), and Associate of Fine Arts (AFS), which are similar to AA on the surface, but have different required courses and career objectives.

How many years is an AA degree?

Most educational institutions offer two-year AA degree programs. However, the length of the program can vary based on your enrollment status (part-time or full-time), as well as your course load per semester.

How many credits are needed for an AA degree?

An AA degree often requires completing 60 semester credit hours or about 90 quarter credits, which translates to roughly 20 college courses.