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

Written by Coursera • Updated on

You might pursue an Associate of Arts degree if you want to further your education or pursue a career without the time or expense of a bachelor's degree. Learn more about entry criteria, job prospects, and degree options.

[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 program that typically requires 60 credit hours to complete. Depending on your degree focus, you can gain a foundational knowledge of a topic or career field that interests you, most often in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. An AA degree can be a great starting point for later pursuing a bachelor's degree.

What is an Associate of Arts degree?

An Associate of Arts degree is a two-year degree that includes many of the same courses you would typically take during the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program. 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. Coursework normally includes up to 40 hours of general education courses, plus 20 hours of electives. 

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 be cheaper 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 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. 

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.

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

You can typically choose a general education or a more specialized learning path when earning an AA. If you plan to apply your AA toward a bachelor's degree, a general education AA degree may be a better fit. If you're set on your career path and don’t need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, then a specialized AA degree might be a faster, cheaper route to a job. 

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 they are typically made up of general education, subject-specific classes, and elective courses. Elective courses are not part of the core coursework but count towards your credits. Electives can help you diversify your competencies, help you prepare for a BA degree, or help you prepare for the world of work. 

If you plan to transfer to a bachelor’s degree later, it's essential to choose wisely. Make sure you know the requirements for your intended major at the university you plan to attend. 

How long does it take to get an associate of arts degree?

An AA degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. However, because many community colleges allow you to meet their general education requirements at a slower pace, you may be able to take additional time to finish the degree. This can be helpful if you decide to take classes part-time while you work or take care of other obligations.

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

The main difference between an AA and an Associate of Science (AS) lies in the coursework you take. AS degrees are typically more science, mathematics, and engineering focused and include majors such as architecture, accounting, engineering, and paralegal studies. 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. An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) focuses on a specific career, such as web designer, paralegal, radiologic technician, or mechanic.

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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

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

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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