What Is an Associate of Arts Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on

An Associate of Arts degree can be a great choice to further your education or pursue a career without the time or expense of a bachelor's degree.

[Featured Image] A student with a pink top, dark hair, and glasses holds books and a knapsack on her shoulder between classes as she pursues an Associate of Arts degree.

An Associate of Arts (AA) degree is a two-year associate degree program, often completed online or at a community college, that typically requires 60 credit hours to complete. After earning your AA degree, you can enter the workforce or transfer to a bachelor's degree program.

In this article, we'll discuss what you can study when you enroll in an AA program, and what you can do with the degree after graduation.

What is an Associate of Arts degree?

An Associate of Arts degree takes two years to complete when you're able to attend full-time, and pertains to subjects in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Your program will likely include taking many of the same courses you would typically take during the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program. Coursework normally includes up to 40 hours of general education courses, plus 20 hours of electives. For this reason, you can typically use an accredited AA degree to transfer to a four-year university when you're ready to earn a bachelor's degree.

AA vs. AS vs. AAS: What's the difference?

The main difference between an AA and an Associate of Science (AS) lies in the major you declare. An AA degree is designed for learners who intend to pursue a job or bachelor's degree in an area of liberal arts, humanities, business, or social sciences.

AS degrees, on the other hand, focus more on science, mathematics, and engineering and include majors such as architecture, accounting, engineering, and paralegal studies.

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) focuses on a specific career, such as web designer, paralegal, radiologic technician, or mechanic, and students usually earn one when they intend to enter the workforce rather than pursue a bachelor's degree.



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What can you study in an Associate of Arts degree program?

As we mentioned above, you'll earn an AA degree when you opt to study a subject in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. You can also choose a general studies degree, which can be useful if you want to keep your options open before transferring to a bachelor's program.

You'll find AA degrees in a variety of topics, including:

  • Art history

  • Business

  • Communication

  • Criminal justice

  • Early childhood education

  • Economics

  • History

  • Journalism

  • Literature

  • Music

  • Political science

  • Psychology

  • Public health

  • Sociology

  • Studio art

  • Theater

You can tailor your AA program to your interests and career goals because it is typically made up of three types of courses: general education, subject-specific, and electives. After taking foundational coursework, such as writing and math, you'll take a handful of courses in the subject you're interested in focusing on, and some electives to help you diversify your competencies or explore new interests. 

If you plan to transfer to a bachelor’s degree later, it's important to choose a subject you can major in at university. Spend time thinking about choosing a major, and review the requirements for your intended major at the university you plan to attend.  



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Why earn an Associate of Arts degree?

You may choose to earn an AA degree for several reasons. Let's take a closer look at a few of them:

  • To save money: Community college tuition tends to cost less than at public or private four-year universities. Completing some of your general education coursework as part of an associate program could be a good way to save as you work toward your degree.

  • To increase earning potential: Earning an AA degree can be an investment in your financial future. You are likely to make more over your lifetime if you have an associate degree rather than having no college education. On average, someone with an associate degree earns $938 per week, compared to $781 per week for those without a college education [1]. 

  • To explore possible majors: An Associate of Arts degree is also a good option if you're still deciding what career you want to pursue or what field to study. You get to move forward with your education without committing to a full major yet. When you're ready to decide on a major, the credits you earn in the AA program may transfer as credits toward a bachelor's degree. In some cases, you can complete your bachelor's degree by taking just two additional years of coursework. Some schools offer programs that allow students with associate degrees to immediately enter upper-level courses upon transferring.

  • To qualify for a job that does not require a bachelor's degree: You may decide that a bachelor’s degree is not necessary to reach your career goals. Entry-level jobs in many fields, including occupational therapy assistants, medical assistants, and service technicians only require an associate degree.

  • To boost your grade point average (GPA): If your high school GPA isn't where you'd like it to be to qualify for your target universities, take advantage of small class sizes and other support services typically offered at community colleges to improve it. Learn more about college GPAs.

Associate degrees with articulation agreements

Some schools have articulation agreements to make it easier for you to transfer credits from an associate degree to a four-year university. Articulation agreements are an arrangement between two schools that specify which courses from one school can count toward degree requirements at the other institution. For example, some states require state universities to accept credits from associate degrees earned within that state's college system.


What jobs can I get with an Associate of Arts degree?

Career options for AA graduates include entry-level and supervisory positions in art, construction, web design, and more. Although many AA degree holders go on to pursue a four-year bachelor's degree, some enter the workforce directly afterward. In some cases, they gain some job experience before working on a bachelor's degree to increase their salary or seek a different position.

With an AA degree, you may be able to get any number of  entry-level positions, including:

  • Marketing assistant

  • Police officer

  • Theater technician

  • Studio artist

  • Communication specialist

  • Teaching assistant

Learn more: 10 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get with an Associate Degree

Get job-ready

Whatever career you decide is right for your future, consider a Professional Certificate as a way to get job-ready with the skills companies are hiring for. Curious how a degree could further expand your career opportunities? Explore the range of bachelor’s degrees from top universities available on Coursera.

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Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Education Pays, 2020, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2021/data-on-display/education-pays.htm.” Accessed May 27, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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