Key Highlights

  • Graduating with an AAS degree gives you the flexibility to either join the workplace directly.
  • AAS degree programs blend classroom instruction with hands-on training in workshops or labs.
  • AAS degree programs go beyond the technical and vocational education provided by trade schools for a more well-rounded education experience.

In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, the choices available to you can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Among these, the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree stands out as a practical and efficient path if you are looking to quickly embark on a career or change your professional trajectory. 

Tailored to provide hands-on, industry-relevant skills, the AAS degree is a gateway to a career in numerous fields, from healthcare and technology to the arts and public services. It also leaves the door open to continuing your higher education since AAS degrees also double up as a stepping stone towards even higher qualifications.

This article delves into the intricacies of the degree, key curriculum points, and how it differs from similar degrees as well as trade schools.

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is a two-year undergraduate degree offered by many community colleges, technical colleges, and some four-year institutions. The AAS degree is designed to prepare you for direct entry into the workforce in a specific trade or technical field.

Here are some essential, must-know facts about this degree.

  • A Focus on Practical Skills: The AAS degree is career-oriented, with a curriculum that emphasizes practical, hands-on experience and technical skills relevant to specific job roles. It’s intended for students who want to gain the skills necessary for a particular profession and start working immediately after graduation.
  • Course Structure: The majority of the coursework in an AAS program is focused on technical training for the specialized field of study. However, while studying in an AAS degree program, you will also take some general education courses, such as mathematics, communications, and social sciences.
  • Duration: Typically, an AAS degree requires about two years of full-time study to complete. The exact credit requirements can vary depending on the institution and the specific program.
  • Career Orientation: With an AAS degree, you are prepared to enter specific careers and will be considered job-ready for positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.
  • Advancement Opportunities: While the AAS degree is geared towards immediate employment, it can also be a stepping stone for further education and career advancement. Armed with the degree, you can later pursue a bachelor’s degree or additional certifications in your chosen field.
  • Transferability of Credits: While AAS programs are designed for workforce entry, some credits might transfer to four-year institutions. However, transferability is more limited compared to Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degrees, as the AAS curriculum is more focused on career-specific skills than on broad academic education.

An associate of applied science degree can offer you several benefits, making it an appealing option. Here are just some of the key benefits that may make you consider pursuing an AAS degree program.

  • Shorter Program Duration: You can usually complete an AAS degree with two years of full-time study. This shorter duration will allow you to enter the workforce quicker than those pursuing four-year bachelor’s degrees, making it an efficient and more direct path to employment.
  • Cost-Effective: Community colleges and technical schools offering AAS degrees generally have lower tuition fees compared to four-year colleges and universities. This makes it a more affordable option, reducing the financial burden of higher education.
  • Smaller Class Sizes: Many programs offering AAS degrees tend to have smaller class sizes, which allows for more personalized attention from instructors and a better hands-on learning experience.
  • Flexible Learning Options: AAS programs often provide flexible scheduling, including evening, weekend, and online classes–ideal if you are working or have other commitments.
  • High Demand for Technical Skills: Many fields that require an AAS degree, such as healthcare, information technology, and skilled trades, are in high demand. Graduates with these specialized skills often find it easier to secure employment.
  • Pathway to Further Training: While an AAS degree is career-oriented, you can also use it as a stepping stone to further training such as certifications or continuing education classes for your career. Some credits may transfer to four-year institutions, allowing you to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
  • Practical Experience: Many AAS programs include internships, practicums, or cooperative education components, providing valuable real-world experience and networking opportunities.
  • Potential for Higher Earnings: Holding an AAS degree can lead to higher earning potential compared to having only a high school diploma, especially in specialized technical fields.

An AAS degree offers a blend of affordability, practical skill development, and a direct path to employment in various in-demand fields. It’s an excellent option if you are looking to quickly start a career or if you are a working adult seeking to upskill or change careers.

The differences between an Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), and Associate of Science (AS) degree primarily lie in their focus, curriculum, and purpose. Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between them:

AAFocused on liberal arts and humanities. Ideal for students planning to transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree. Includes a broad range of general education courses such as English, history, social sciences, and arts. Emphasis on developing critical thinking and communication skills.Credits are typically designed to be easily transferable to four-year institutions, particularly for majors in the humanities or social sciences.
AASPrepares you for direct entry into a specific career or trade upon graduation, and is more career-oriented compared to AA and AS programs.Emphasis on career-specific skills in fields like healthcare, technology, business, or trades. General education courses are included but are less comprehensive.Credits may not transfer as readily to four-year colleges or universities, as the focus is on practical skills rather than academic coursework.
ASSimilar to the AA in that it’s also designed for students who intend to transfer to a four-year institution. However, the focus is more on math, science, and technical subjects.Substantial coursework in mathematics, natural sciences, and technology, along with general education requirements.Programs are structured to facilitate the transfer of credits to four-year colleges or universities for students pursuing further education in scientific or technical fields.

Institutions offering AAS degree programs do so in a wide range of subjects, catering to various industries and professional fields. The subjects you can study for an AAS degree are diverse, and you can always find one that is aligned with your chosen career path.

Here are some of the more common and popular areas of study that AAS degree students seek out.

  • Health Sciences: Ready to make a tangible impact in people’s lives? With an AAS degree, Get started in the field of medicine and qualify for jobs in nursing, dental hygiene, physical therapy, and medical laboratory technology.
  • Information Technology: Help organizations stay up to the mark in the digital age after gaining a solid foundation in specializations like computer programming, network administration, cybersecurity, and web development.
  • Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies: An AAS degree not only makes you job-ready but also acts as a stepping stone for higher learning in the field of engineering and technology. You can start your journey specializing in civil engineering technology, industrial technology, or even robotics and automation, just to name a few possibilities.
  • Business and Management: All journeys to the top have to start somewhere, and an AAS degree in fields like business administration, marketing, human resources management, or hospitality management can certainly be the first step towards getting there.
  • Arts and Design: While AAS degrees are typically associated with technical and vocational programs, they also cover career-oriented programs in the arts. Institutions offer AAS degree programs in fields such as graphic design, interior design, photography, culinary arts, as well as fashion design and merchandising.
  • Public Safety and Legal Studies: If you are interested in a career related to law enforcement, public safety, emergency response, or the legal system, an AAS degree can lead to immediate employment in various public safety and legal fields. Some positions may not even require additional training, certification, or higher levels of education. Some of the more popular AAS degree programs include paralegal studies, fire science, emergency medical services (EMS), law enforcement, and forensic science.
  • Environmental and Agricultural Sciences: Do your part for the environment, and how it affects us all, by earning an AAS degree in fields like environmental science, horticulture, wildlife management, sustainable practices, and agricultural technology.
  • Skilled Trades: AAS degree programs are specifically designed to provide hands-on, practical training in a technical or vocational field. That’s why an AAS degree can be your gateway to getting started in skilled trades–including automotive technology, welding technology, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), construction technology, renewable energy technologies, and electrical trades–right after graduation.
  • Education and Human Services: Jumpstart your career in education, social work, or community services with an AAS degree in a related field, like early childhood education, social work, special education assistant, and human services.

Remember, this list is not an exhaustive list as community colleges and technical institutes continuously evolve their program offerings to meet the changing demands of the job market and technology.

When choosing an AAS degree program, it’s important to consider your interests, career goals, and the job outlook in your chosen field.

An associate’s degree in applied science and a trade school education differ in several key aspects, including their educational focus, curriculum, duration, and career pathways. Here’s a closer look at how they compare:

AAS ProgramTrade School
Educational FocusCollege-level degree program that combines general education courses with specialized courses in a specific field of applied science. Focus is on both practical skills and a broader academic education. Focus exclusively on teaching the skills needed for a specific job or trade. Program is very hands-on and directly related to the trade (welding, plumbing, electrical work, cosmetology, etc.)
CurriculumWill offer you a well-rounded education while also focusing on the practical skills you will need in your area of specialization.Highly focused and practical, with little to no general education requirements. Often includes apprenticeships or on-the-job training.
DurationTypically takes about two years of full-time study to complete. Duration can vary significantly but is often shorter than a two-year associate’s degree. Can even be completed in a few months to a year.
Career PathwaysYou will be prepared for a variety of entry-level positions in your chosen field of study. Your well-rounded education–including communication, math, and humanities–may make you more attractive to employers..Graduates are prepared to enter the workforce immediately in their chosen trade, often in skilled labor positions.

While both AAS degrees and trade school programs will provide you with vocational training, an AAS degree includes a broader academic component and is generally more comprehensive in scope. Trade schools, on the other hand, are more narrowly focused on specific skills to prepare you for immediate entry into the workforce in a particular trade.

The cost of an AAS degree can vary significantly based on various factors, including the type of institution (community college, technical school, or private college), the location, and specific program.

  • Community colleges typically offer the most affordable option for an AAS degree, with tuition ranging from about $3,000 to $10,000 per year (varying by state and college). Some states offer free tuition to community colleges.
  • Technical and vocational schools can cost you more than community colleges, especially if the school is private. Tuition may range from $5,000 to $15,000 per year or more.
  • Private colleges and universities tend to be the most expensive option, with costs almost always exceeding those of public institutions, sometimes significantly.
  • In addition to tuition, you should also consider the cost of books, supplies, transportation, and potential living expenses if attending school full-time.

As far as financial aid is concerned, there are several avenues that you can explore.

  • Federal Financial Aid: This includes grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. To determine eligibility, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal Pell Grants, which do not need to be repaid, are a common form of aid for students with financial need.
  • State Aid: Many states offer their own grants and scholarships, which can be applied towards community college or technical school tuition. The availability and criteria for these programs vary, so do check with the state governing body responsible for distributing state-funded grants and scholarships. Check to see if your state has a free community college program, and find out if you can qualify.
  • Scholarships: There are numerous scholarships available based on a variety of criteria, such as academic achievement, field of study, community service, and more. Scholarships don’t need to be repaid and you can find them through colleges, private companies, non-profits, and community organizations.
  • Institutional Aid: Some colleges offer their own grants, scholarships, or tuition discounts. Check with the financial aid office of the institution you are interested in attending.
  • Work-Study Programs: A work-study program will allow you to work part-time while attending school, helping to cover your education costs.
  • Education Loans: While loans have to be repaid, they can be a crucial resource in funding your education. Federal student loans will typically offer you lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options compared to private loans.
  • Payment Plans: Many schools will offer you tuition payment plans that will allow you to pay your tuition in installments rather than all at once.

Remember that it’s important to research and apply for financial aid early, as some resources have limited funds and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Additionally, always read the terms and conditions of any financial aid carefully, particularly when it comes to loans and any obligations they may entail.

The Associate of Applied Science degree offers a unique blend of practical training and academic knowledge, ideal if you are aiming to swiftly enter the workforce or advance in your present career. 

With its relatively affordable cost and diverse program offerings, the AAS degree stands as a testament to the accessibility and adaptability of modern education. Whether you’re a recent high school graduate, a working adult seeking career advancement, or someone looking to pivot into a new field, the right AAS degree provides a viable and flexible pathway to achieve your professional goals.

What is an AAS degree?

An Associate of Applied Science Degree (AAS) degree is an undergraduate degree program designed to prepare you for direct entry into the workforce in the specific trade or technical field of your choice.

How long does an AAS degree take?

AAS degree programs typically take two years to complete. This duration can vary depending on your enrollment status (part-time or full-time) as well as your course load.

Where can I get an AAS degree?

The AAS degree is offered by many community colleges and technical colleges. It is also offered by some four-year institutions that hope you will transfer your AAS credits to a bachelor’s degree program.

How many credits is an AAS degree?

Typically, an AAS degree requires around 60 to 70 credit hours to complete. This will vary by institution and the specific program of study.