An Associate of Arts degree (AA) is a two-year degree most often earned from a two-year community college. In many state systems of higher education, the AA represents the first two years of a four-year baccalaureate (BA) degree.


An Associate of Arts degree is most appropriate for a student who plans to go on to a four-year institution and complete a bachelor of arts degree. For example, students who plan to study English, history, journalism or psychology can often complete an AA at a local community college and transfer the work to a university to be used toward completion of the BA degree. An AA degree is not usually considered an end in itself unless the student simply wants to broaden her horizons.


An AA degree usually includes coursework that educators identify as general studies or liberal studies. Students will probably complete a core of courses in English composition, mathematics and laboratory science. In addition, they will complete social science coursework (political science and psychology, for example) and the humanities (music history and literature). Ideally, the student will also complete the introductory courses for his degree program (Western Civilization I and II).


Students pursuing an AA degree should select their classes with care to ensure that they are completing the best curriculum for transfer to a university. Many state systems are governed by an articulation system that spells out very clearly exactly how each course completed at the community college will transfer to a university in the same state.


Students may choose to pursue an AA for a number of reasons. A student who thinks she will feel intimidated by the social environment at a large state university can benefit by completing her first two years of study in a more personal learning environment. And many community colleges offer students the same curriculum they would complete at a major university at a fraction of the cost. For many students, the AA degree is an opportunity to prove themselves academically, especially if they weren't especially dedicated to their studies in high school.


An associate of arts degree (AA) is not the best choice for a student who plans to go on in science or engineering, or who wants to enter a technical field. Science, mathematics and engineering students are usually directed to an AS (Associate of Science) degree, while those who want to pursue a technical career (nursing or computer technology) may find exactly what they need in a highly focused AAS (Associate of Applied Science) program.