College can be a confusing time for students, who may struggle with finances, housing and even selecting a major. Determining the appropriate degree to aim for becomes much easier when you understand the differences among the primary types of degrees available: associate of arts, associate of science, bachelor of arts and bachelor of science.


The associate of arts, associate of science, bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees all share some characteristics. For instance, each requires a base in general education courses such as composition, math, social studies, science and arts and humanities. Both bachelor's and associate degrees are undergraduate degrees that help prepare students for direct entry into a career field or for advanced study in graduate school or a professional school such as law school or medical school. All these degrees typically include some elective courses as well. One difference lies in the degree each type of school offers. Most often, community colleges and technical schools offer associate degrees, and four-year colleges and universities award bachelor's degrees.


A major difference among the degrees involves the number of credits needed for graduation, which translates to the amount of time spent in school. Associate degrees generally take about two years to finish the approximately 60 semester credits. Bachelor's degrees build upon that base for an additional two years and typically require about 120 total credits. Obtaining an A.A. or A.S. before entering a bachelor's program may help save you time in the long run since some schools have agreements that allow universities to waive some requirements for students entering with an associate degree.


The bachelor's degree includes junior and senior level coursework, more advanced than most concepts found when working toward the associate degrees. The A.A. and B.A. degrees usually include more courses in humanities and social sciences while the A.S. and B.S. degrees require more math and science classes. Many consider a degree with "arts" in the title as more general than a "science" degree, which may have more emphasis on specific skills.


Majors for the A.A. and B.A. lead to careers in areas like fine arts, elementary or middle school education, journalism, social work, communications, language, history and business. The A.S. and B.S., however, prepare students for work in chemistry, computer science, high school math or science education, engineering, medicine, physical science, agriculture and biology. The differences become more apparent within specific majors. For instance, a graduate a B.A. in computer science might work as a Web designer or teacher while the B.S. more readily prepares engineers in the industry.