AA or AS Criminal Justice Degree – What’s the Difference?

Are you planning on taking on an associates degree in Criminal Justice? If you are, then you might want to know the difference between an AA or an AS degree.

AA stands for Associate of Arts, while AS stands for Associate of Science. Mostly, both the Associate of Arts and the Associate of Science degrees should present you with a strong readiness for criminal justice academia or law enforcement careers. That said, you will also be coming across courses like math, social sciences, arts and humanities, and communication classes.

Associates of Arts Degree (AA):

  • is usually less specialized than a Associate of Science (AS)
  • for the most part it is awarded in majors like languages, literature, history, and humanities
  • is similar in quarter hour or semester hour requirements to an AS degree

Associates of Science Degree (AS):

  • usually involves technical or scientific fields
  • is typically awarded in concentrations like biological sciences & physical sciences
  • requires more 200 level classes, or above, in comparison to an AA degree (this factor depends on the school)

So which criminal justice degree option should you choose?

In my view, it entirely hinges on your aspirations. Providing you would like to study what criminal justice is, an AA or an AS route is great. If you are anticipating on examining criminal justice in depth, and would like to enter into criminal justice, criminology, or criminal psychology areas of study, you should think about the associate of science alternative. In any case, don’t scratch your head too long over which academic degree type you should follow up on. Both the AA and the AS options are sought after by colleges and universities who grant bachelor degrees.

Words of advice: Associate level degrees may not be enough to secure a career, so check with your local Police Department, Sheriff, & State Police if you meet their educational requirements. A lot of popular federal law enforcement agencies require a bachelor degree or above.

But, you should not worry too much. If you are just out of high school, or are deciding to come back to get your education, there are enough career options from local to federal agencies that will readily accept an AA or an AS degree.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

6 comments… add one
  • Joanna Pacheco

    which one would be better for me AA or AS degree if I wish to be a detective like law and order special victims unit? Thank you.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Both are Associate degrees so it really shouldn’t matter that much if you wanted to pursue being a detective. Many states require you to have an equivalent of an Associate’s degree when you join the police force. Once on the force, then you can apply for the detectives exam (usually withing 3-5 years on average).

  • Jo Ann Tovar

    Thank You Very Much for the advice and the understanding the difference between an AA and AS degrees!

  • Mary

    Is there any way to accelerate getting an AA in Criminal Justice? Or does it take the entire two years?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      You may get it in about a year and a half if you load up on credits or if you consider going online, where classes can be much more accelerated.

  • Tammy

    I am wanting to do the photography part of Criminal Justice. Not necessarily the forensic part, but just in general photography. I am assuming I would need a AA Degree. Would I be assuming right since photography would be an Arts category? Thank you for your time.

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