Difference in Degrees: AA, AS, BS & BA

Learn what the letters of your degree mean.

Undergraduate degrees today are getting more expensive by the second, so it pays to know just what the letters of your degree mean. There are four main degree types that can be attained by an undergraduate college student: associate degree in arts, associate degree in science, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. Knowing the subtle differences among them and each degree’s key features will get you the most bang for your pricey educational buck.

1 Associate Degree in Arts

The associate degree in arts, commonly called the A.A., is a two-year degree that is awarded by community colleges and by some universities. This type of degree suggests that the student has taken more courses in general-studies subjects, such as the arts or languages. This is also the more common of the two associate degrees. Many community colleges offer more general education courses by design.

2 Associate Degree in Science

The associate degree in science or A.S., another two-year degree, is the goal at community colleges and some vocational/technical schools. The requirements of this degree lean toward technical courses, such as those in math and science. As such, this degree is more focused than the associate degree in arts, and suits students pursuing technical or niche careers.

3 Bachelor of Arts

The Bachelor of Arts, awarded at most colleges and universities, typically takes four to five years to achieve. Much like the associate degree in arts, this degree requires more general than technical or specialized courses. It follows that the B.A. is typically attached to non-technical majors such as music and communications. However, there are exceptions to this rule, depending on how the particular college has designed its courses of study.

4 Bachelor of Science

The Bachelor of Science or B.S. is another four-to-five-year degree reserved for technical and business majors. This degree demands a higher ratio of technical to general courses, particularly during the latter two years of college as the student becomes qualified to take upper-level courses in the field. The structure for a B.S. is typically more rigid than its B.A. counterpart, and many of the courses are predetermined by the college.

5 Key Differences

Associate degrees in science and B.S degrees are more technical, and the schools that award them typically demand advanced courses in a specific field of study to achieve them. As such, some technical industries and workplaces may favor job seekers who hold these degrees over those with a B.A. or an associate degree in arts, even if both degrees are in the same major. Additionally, even though a bachelor’s degree requires more years of study than does an associate degree, CNN.com reports that postgraduate income levels for associate degree holders in some fields are the same or even more than those with bachelor’s degrees. For example, a job as a computer technician or a fashion designer may only require an associate degree, yet typically pays more than $50,000 annually, similar to the salary of an average holder of a bachelor's degree.

Raleigh Kung has been a social-media specialist and copywriter since 2010. He has worked with various companies on their online marketing campaigns and keeps a blog about social-media platforms. Now, he mainly writes about online media and education for various websites. Kung holds a master's degree in management and entrepreneurship from the University of San Francisco.