Both an AA and AAS degree are two-year college programs. According to MSN Moneycentral, a two-year associate degree can increase lifetime income by more than $100,000 compared to that of high school graduates. An AA degree is an Associate of Arts degree, while an AAS is an Associate of Applied Science degree.


There are many types of associate degrees. The basic breakdown categories are Associate of Art (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) degrees. Within each of these two categories are subcategories, and the Associate of Applied Science is a subcategory of the AS degree. This is a fundamental difference between the two degrees, with the AA directed toward arts education and the AAS directed toward science education.

Core Curriculum

Both degrees typically take two years to achieve. This is contingent on the ability of students to pay for and commit to a full-time student workload. School years are broken down into semesters or quarters, with 60 semester units or 90 quarter units required for most associate degrees. While AA and AAS degrees have similar core curriculum, mixing both arts and sciences, the AAS places a higher focus on math and science classes.

The AA degree uses both liberal arts and sciences as part of the core curriculum. An AA degree can also help students move into an accredited four-year university. Either of these associate degrees is a step forward in your education.


Almost any degree will open more doors to job opportunities and increase your ability to earn more money. Students with an associate degree of any sort earn an average of $6,600 more each year. In 2008, women age 25 or older with an associate degree had only a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, compared to 9.4 percent for women with only a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Once you have an associate degree, you can always go back to school for a bachelor's degree if you decide you need to further your education.

Post-Graduate Options

Any associate degree will help you advance either into a secondary four-year institution or into a career. An AA degree typically is a more generic degree that many students use to move into a four-year degree program. The AAS is more focused on helping graduates with career placement. While following an AA degree into a bachelor's program is not required and certainly not the case for all students, AA graduates are more likely to move on to a bachelor's program.

Career Path

The type of degree you choose will be highly contingent on your desired career path. Those with an Associate of Arts degree can find jobs in fashion design, court reporting or psychology services, to name a few. An AAS degree directs students in specialized science careers such as nursing, medical assistance and aviation.