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What is the Difference between AS and AAS Degrees?

If you’re thinking about earning an associate degree, you may already know that you have a few different options. The Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and Associate of Science (AS) degrees are both great options for students interested in a career related to science, technology, engineering, or math. However, there are some differences between these two programs to consider when choosing between AS and AAS degrees. 

See also: What is an associate degree?

AS vs AAS: What’s the difference? 

The Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees are similar in a lot of ways. They are both two-year undergraduate degrees oriented around math, science, or technology. They’re also both great degrees for students who want to obtain the education they need to quickly launch their careers. 

However, there’s one key difference between AS and AAS degrees. AS degrees are better-suited for students who want to continue their education and earn a bachelor’s degree, while AAS degrees prepare students to immediately enter the workforce after graduation. Keep reading to learn more about each type of degree and which one might be better for you. 

Related: Complete guide to undergraduate degrees

What is an AS degree?

An Associate of Science degree is a two-year undergraduate degree that most community colleges offer. AS degrees are considered “transfer degrees” because they provide an academic foundation for students to transfer to a four-year school and earn their bachelor’s. Students in AS degree programs take general education requirements such as English, math, and science courses. 

These credits usually transfer to another institution upon completion of the program. To make the transfer process easier, many community colleges have agreements with four-year schools. This allows students with an AS degree to transfer seamlessly without losing credits. Check out our guide on how to transfer from community college to learn more about this process.

Although AS degrees are often stepping stones to a bachelor’s degree, they can also be used to find a job after graduation. In fact, there are many jobs you can get with an AS degree that do not require further education. The advantage of earning an AS degree is that you can work in your field for a while. Afterwards, you can return to school and earn a bachelor’s degree down the road to advance your career. 

Below are some common AS degree programs:

  • Business administration
  • Paralegal studies 
  • Criminal justice 
  • Human services
  • Accounting

What is an AAS degree?

AAS degrees are considered “terminal degrees” because they prepare students to enter a career directly after graduation. Unlike AS degrees, which are more academic in nature, AAS degree programs are more oriented around skills-based training. Students still receive a healthy amount of classroom instruction. However, a lot of their education involves hands-on projects in the field. 

Additionally, AAS degrees cut out most of the general education requirements that are found in AS programs. As a result, students can expect the majority of their coursework to be directly related to their desired field. For example, students in a carpentry program will spend most of their time learning how to build homes instead of taking unrelated liberal arts courses. 

This can be appealing for students who have a firm grasp on their intended career path. Some students don’t want to spend time taking courses outside their desired field. The downside of AAS programs is that they don’t prepare students to transfer into bachelor’s degree programs. While it is possible for AAS degree graduates to continue their education at another institution, the transfer process is usually more difficult. 

Below are some common AAS degree programs:

  • Web design 
  • Nursing 
  • Radiologic technology
  • Welding 
  • Carpentry
  • HVAC 

Which degree should I pursue?

If you’re debating between an Associate of Science and an Associate of Applied Science, consider how each degree could serve you. With an AS degree, you’ll fulfill general education requirements. The credits earned can later be applied to a bachelor’s degree. This is great for students who want to quickly find work in their field. It also leaves the door open for continuing their education in the future. AS degrees are also ideal for students who know they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, but don’t have the financial resources or academic record to immediately enroll in a four-year college. By starting at community college and then transferring to a four-year school, students can save a lot of money and build up their GPA in the process.

AAS degrees are better suited for students who are certain about their career path. These students have no desire to earn a bachelor’s degree. With an AAS degree, you’ll receive the practical training needed to find work in your field. You also won’t have to worry about completing an excess number of general education courses unrelated to your career path. For these reasons, AAS degrees are a solid option for students who want to maximize their time in the workforce and minimize their time in school. 

Also see: Top alternatives to four-year colleges

Final thoughts

Both the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and Associate of Science (AS) degrees are great options for students interested in STEM related careers. Choosing between AS and AAS degrees comes down to what your present and future plans are–are you on the road to a four- year college degree, or do you want to enter the workforce asap? Whichever degree you choose, we wish you much success on your educational and career journey! 

See also: Top STEM scholarships