An Associate of Arts (AA) degree is a program that provides students with an academic grounding in a range of subjects with the aim of them then moving on to a bachelor’s degree in a specialized area or entering the workforce. As associate degrees can be completed within two years, they are a perfect entry point for undergraduates who are unsure of the exact direction they want to take in their careers but have a passion or strong interest in the arts.
The open-ended nature of an AA degree is also advantageous for students who want to explore different subjects before deciding what they want to do. An AA course does not limit students to taking a specific path after graduation, which means there is a plethora of career options and job roles available.
It is also the broadest of all the associated arts degrees. Associate in Science (AS), for example, is geared primarily toward those who want a science-based career in engineering or within the medical industry. In contrast, AA degrees can cover a range of different subjects in liberal arts including science, math, psychology, humanities, art, history and languages. What’s more, there are usually several “elective” tracks available that allow students to take courses outside of the core curriculum such as business or accounting.
It all adds up to an incredibly rich and varied education that gives students an academic foundation in a range of topics and subjects, enabling them to learn new skills which can then be applied in work settings or act as a springboard to further education with a bachelor’s degree.
Who is eligible for an AA degree?
To enter an online associate of arts degree program, students typically need a GED or high school diploma. You will then need to complete an application form along with a personal essay and recommendation letters. Starting an application is straightforward and open to everyone with the relevant qualifications. Because associate degrees only last two years, they are typically cheaper overall than four-year bachelor’s degree and require half of the workload.
Again, this is beneficial for anyone who wants to procure a unique set of skills to pursue a career in the arts or then transfer to another specialized degree program. This interim step can get you moving in the right direction immediately without the worry of committing to a very specific career. There are also financial aid options for many AA programs if you need a loan or grant to support your education.
Associate degrees are also an excellent option for students who already have work or family obligations and would prefer to earn a degree online at their own pace without having to relocate to a physical campus. These programs typically require 60 total credits to graduate with each course usually carrying three credits. This allows students to create their own curriculum track and tailor programs for their specific requirements.
Professor, Calliope Pappadakis noted, “the AA degree is a steppingstone for students looking to grow in a career where their current employer requires some postsecondary education.”
What are some potential career options with an AA degree?
Administrative assistants are employed in almost every industry though the role is particularly sought after in work environments like government agencies, hospitals and schools. As an admin assistant, you would be responsible for completing a range of office-based tasks such as scheduling meetings, bookkeeping and managing communications between colleagues and customers.
An AA degree would help you to attain the math and accounting skills to complete daily tasks, nurture a detail-oriented and organized mindset and improve your verbal and written comms. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that admin assistants earn an average salary of around $40,000 per year.
If you like the idea of devising marketing strategies and organizing branded content campaigns, working in the marketing industry is a possibility after earning an AA degree. A marketing assistant is one of the most sought-after roles in this sector as you will be able to contribute to important projects that drive growth and sales while showcasing many of the skills you have learnt from a diverse AA program.
Marketing assistants complete a range of tasks in the marketing department such as research, production and advertising, while also liaising closely with other departments to ensure company-wide goals are met. They also regularly work with data and statistics, which need to be compiled and analyzed to inform key decisions taken by executives. Assistants work under the supervision of managers.
If creativity is an important outlet of expression at work for you, using your AA degree to become a photographer is a potential career option. Photographers don’t just take pictures, they also need to use their skills to edit and distribute images and other forms of content to record events and tell a compelling story. There is a range of sub-sectors where photographers can thrive such as aerial, commercial and events.
Another creative career, professional painters often work in residential or commercial properties to apply color to walls and address issues such as cracks and holes. Common responsibilities include reading blueprints, making on-site preparations, following stringent health and safety precautions and painting surfaces. Knowledge of design principles can come in handy here, so you could follow your AA by specializing in design management or graphic design with a bachelor’s degree. Gaining experience on the job while you learn can also boost your employability.
Estheticians, trained technicians in skin beautification, are in-demand currently due to the success of the personal care and beauty industry, which is now worth a staggering $534bn globally. Estheticians mainly work in skincare and skin health, offering customers much-needed advice on what procedures to undertake and products to buy. Common work environments include salons and spas, as well as plastic surgery offices. This role requires an AA degree, ideally with an accredited course in cosmetology.
Social Media Manager
While falling under the umbrella of marketing, social media management is a potential career for anyone with an interest in platforms including TikTok, Facebook and Twitter, more specifically, leveraging these platforms to help a business to increase brand awareness, reach and engagement. Social media managers usually run a single company’s social media presence, or they work for an agency and manage several clients at once.
Typical job responsibilities include analyzing data and keeping track of trends to devise strategies that will resonate with target audiences on social platforms while also supporting a company’s own goals and objectives. The average salary for social media managers is approximately $48,000 per year, though it will differ depending on a person’s experience and the size of a company.
Culinary art is another field that graduates could specialize in. Pastry chefs work in restaurants and other establishments, preparing desserts, sweets and savory products for customers. This is a good option if you have an interest in food and don’t like the idea of technical roles in an office-based environment. Pastry chefs manage inventories, cook items listed on menus and provide in-person training to new workers. The average salary is at the lower end of the scale at around $14 per hour but this role can be both relaxing and fulfilling depending on what you want from your career. An Associate Degree in Pastry Arts can help with this role.
If you want to work in schools and help children to build key social skills at an early age, then you could use your AA degree to pursue a career as a preschool teacher. This job can be very rewarding as you must plan and implement lessons that can teach children daily. You will use storytelling, media and other techniques to educate small children in preparation for kindergarten and other forms of organized education. Obvious work environments include schools and daycare centers. An AA degree is an excellent primer for following a career in education.
A broad degree supports potential job roles that are diverse and interesting in industries that you might not have even considered before. Production assistants get the best behind-the-scenes tour possible, working closely with directors and producers on sets for movies, TV shows and theater. While you won’t be taking a starring role as an actor, you will be a core cog in ensuring the production runs on time and that everything is in place for the cast to excel. You will also run errands and communicate between different groups and departments, which are skills you can learn during your AA degree.
Further study in a film or media-related field can increase your employability in this sector but a production assistant job is an excellent jumping-off point for your career if you are passionate about creative arts and want to be involved in them.
Human Resources Assistant (HR)
The Human Resources departments play a key role in keeping modern businesses functioning, providing expert assistance and skills in recruitment and payroll processing. An HR assistant is at the heart of these processes. They file performance reports, conduct interviews when hiring new employees and complete critical documentation. There are numerous administrative tasks to perform daily, which can be appealing to those that always want to be busy and work hard. HR job roles are available at most companies though they are highly sought-after at large corporations where directors and managers need assistance.
If both finance and general business tasks are more interesting to you then could opt for an elective track in accounting during your AA degree and then try to secure a role as an account executive, which is very lucrative depending on the role. Account executives work with numbers to create business plans to achieve specific goals and objectives. They are also often tasked with the responsibility of managing a client’s sales cycle to ensure they get regular business. Good interpersonal skills are required as account executives must keep clients happy by understanding what they want, while also nurturing relations and close connections.
Customer Service Representative
Customer-facing jobs are a possibility with an AA degree so why not opt for a job in customer service where you provide advice and support to customers via different channels including live chat, phone and email. Many companies employ customer service workers to ensure post-sale experiences are targeted and high-quality. These interactions can help with customer retention and brand loyalty, which is taking on greater precedence in the era of social media. Customer service reps will need to answer questions and address complaints in a timely and efficient manner daily. Knowledge of products and services is essential, as is an easygoing manner and communication skills.
Traditional, high-paying careers are within your grasp if you follow your AA degree with a bachelor’s degree. You could become a dentist or dental hygienist by studying oral health science or a similar relevant subject to secure a role at a dental practice or hospital. Dental hygienists provide personalized care and advice to patients to ensure their teeth and gums remain healthy. You will clean, polish and scale teeth using dental instruments and take x-rays to determine the best course of action for treatments like braces.
You can also use the credits from the courses in an AA degree to apply for a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Nurses are involved in some of the most fulfilling and important work, literally saving lives and helping people with chronic physical and mental health problems. You will have plenty of opportunities for career progression in nursing as you could eventually become an advanced practice nurse with specialist skills or take a leadership role in healthcare. There is currently strong job growth in nursing as these skills are highly sought after. The rate of pay differs depending on how experienced a nurse is. Nurses work in a range of settings including hospitals, prisons, health centers, schools, residential homes and GP practices.
Is an AA a good step towards a bachelor’s degree?
If you don’t want to enter the jobs market after earning an AA degree, you can transfer to a bachelor’s degree to continue your education and focus on a specific area of interest. AA programs are dominated by general education courses which make them perfectly suited to moving onto a bachelor’s degree in areas such as design, art, marketing or media. Transferring the credits from your AA degree should be a simple process.
Pappadakis notes: “Students can transfer quite easily into bachelor’s programs should they decide to in the future.” The fast transition allows students to get enrolled on courses faster and then graduate in a shorter time frame than anticipated. That means a four-year degree doesn’t have to drag on for as long which allows you to take more time with your eventual career decisions.
And, if you decided that further education is not required or that you need to take a break before moving on to a bachelor’s degree, you can use your AA degree to secure a better job than you would have previously. Data from BLS shows that those with an AA degree earn more and have better job prospects than people who have only finished school or college.
To conclude, an AA degree is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to take general education courses to earn a degree that will increase both their marketability and candidacy in the job market while giving them the flexibility to pursue a range of potential career paths. A two-year AA degree is incredibly valuable on its own, but it can also be used as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. Either way, you can be sure that you will gain important, in-demand skills and go on an important journey of discovery that could help you eventually secure a dream career.