Types of College Degrees: The Two-Year A.A.S. Degree
Types of College Degrees: The Two-Year A.A.S. Degree
Communications Staff

Anyone who's looking into a long-term, higher-paying career will investigate the types of college degrees that can achieve it. What can be confusing is the degree names and abbreviations. For example, there's a huge difference between the "Associate of Arts (A.A.)" and the "Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)" degree. Although the A.A. and A.A.S. degrees are each a two-year degree, more than ever, the fast track to a career is the Associate of Applied Science.

The "hands-on," ready-for-work degree is the A.A.S. This degree is for those who have a laser focus on learning a skill or technology. The "learning" comes almost entirely in the "doing," and most of it happens in simulated work place environments right on campus.

The right two-year degree ­– if it's an A.A.S. degree – can help you to earn as much or more than careers asking for a four-year bachelor's degree. For example, take this comparison of types of college degrees:

  • A recreational therapist typically has a bachelor's (four-year degree) and an annual median salary of $46,410.
  • A graduate of an A.A.S. (two-year degree) program, such as occupational therapy assistant, earns a median salary of $56,000.

Associate's Degree, Simplified

It's easy to miss the difference for the two-year degrees, so let's break out "associate degree" and show what the two types cover.

Both the Associate of Arts (A.A.) and the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees are two-year degrees, but their purposes are very different. Think of the A.A. as a starter degree that leads to knowledge within a subject and the A.A.S. as a degree for those who want to enter a specialized workforce as soon as possible.

The coursework for students in A.A.S. degree program is hands-on and involves time in laboratory and clinical settings that are specific to the degree program. For example, a student who wants to become a radiologic technologist would spend time in the radiology lab and doing fieldwork in real-world clinical settings. This is much different than a student in an A.A. degree program that is attending lecture courses and taking general education classes that will could later be applied to a bachelor's degree.

What are other types of college degrees?

A bachelor's degree can be a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) This degree can take from three to five years to complete and requires at least 120 credit hours of coursework. A bachelor's degree is necessary to enter a graduate degree program.

A master's degree follows a bachelor's degree. It's either a Master of Science (M.S.) or a Master of Arts (M.A.) and takes one to two years of additional study. Some jobs require it or indicate it's needed for career advancement or higher pay grades. For most technical fields, this is not the case.

The Ph.D., and any "doctor" level health care degree, are the highest the academic degrees. Non-health care Ph.D.'s may require a research thesis. Those accepted into a professional school like chiropractic, medicine, or dentistry apply for admission after earning a bachelor's degree.

Guide to Degrees





Associate of Arts


Associate of Arts (A.A.) is typically set up for completing foundational coursework necessary for a four-year (bachelor's degree) or transferring to another college or university.

As little as
2 years

Associate of Applied Science


Associate of Applied Science degree(A.A.S.) is a two-year degree that meets requirements for specific skill sets in the workplace. It also helps ensures eligibility for various industry certification or registration required by those employers.

As little as
2 years

Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts


Up until the growth of 2-year degrees, the B.A. and B.S. were the common choices after high school. These indicate knowledge in a particular field but is not always job specific. Only about 30-36 hours are in an emphasis area.

4 years or 120 credit hours

Master of Science/Master of Arts


Someone with a master's degree has shown mastery of a field of study or academic area. Generally, this is the same field as the bachelor's degree. A master's thesis may be required.

As little as
2 years, depending on study area

Professional Doctorate

D.C., M.D., D.D.S., etc.

Those in non-health care fields earn a Ph.D. Those with a professional doctorate use their knowledge to in a business or occupation.

As little as
3 years, depending on study area

The A.A.S. Two-year Degree Advantage

So now you know more about college degree options than most people. You've also seen how a two-year associate of applied science degree can deliver an excellent advantage:

  • A complete, professional education in just two years
  • Includes a minimal amount of general education courses
  • Fast access to in-demand, high-paid careers
  • Employer confidence in specific skills and abilities.

What's the right degree for you? It's a very personal decision. Envision your best future, then choose the degree option that matches it.

Types of College Degrees at Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC)

Located in Overland Park, Kansas, Cleveland University-Kansas City is a nonprofit, private, health-focused university. In 2015, Cleveland Chiropractic College name was expanded into Cleveland University-Kansas City. All types of college degrees are available in our College of Health Sciences, including great options for those who want a two-year degree:

  • Associate of Arts (A.A.) in Biological Sciences
  • Associate of Applied Science degree (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Associate of Applied Science degree (A.A.S.) in Radiologic Technology
  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Human Biology
  • Master of Science (M.S.) in Health Education and Promotion

Why not learn more about our degree programs? Request your information today!

CUKC 2-year degree: OTA