Starting your psychology studies with an associate’s degree is a quick way to develop your foundational knowledge of the field. In fact, psychology is one of the fastest online associates degrees you could earn, with some schools condensing the normally two-year program into a 12-month accelerated format. As you consider associate’s degree programs in psychology, though, you have a choice to make. Should you pursue an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree or an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree? Although you might not think of the study of thought and behavior as having much to do with the arts, arts-based psychology degrees are generally grounded in the liberal arts.

Psychology as a Liberal Arts Degree Program

How Does Psychology Work as a Degree in Arts

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Is psychology an art or a science? Generally, the field combines some aspects of a natural science, like rigorous experimental research and quantitative data analysis, with cultural, clinical and developmental perspectives that fit into the social sciences and the humanities. As a result, there are psychology programs with a stronger emphasis on natural science – A.S. programs – as well as A.A. psychology programs that focus more on building up liberal arts skills. In fact, some schools offer both A.A. and A.S. degree options in the field of psychology.

In a liberal arts psychology program, students still take some science and mathematics coursework, often focusing on biology and statistical analysis. However, they may take fewer laboratory science courses and instead may complete a curriculum that includes more coursework in the humanities and more free electives. Often, foreign language requirements are part of a liberal arts-based psychology curriculum.

Liberal arts programs tend to focus less on equipping students with the technical knowledge needed to work in one type of career and more on cultivating skills, like learning, communicating and critical thinking, that are valuable across many industries and occupations. The importance of a liberal arts education that emphasizes the social sciences, the humanities and communication skills lies in helping you become better at learning, thinking critically about, questioning, analyzing and making decisions based on new information.

In the broad field of psychology, these versatile skills can help you in many ways. When working in counseling or clinical practice, you can use them to better help patients or clients by tailoring therapeutic interventions to fit their needs, strengths and weaknesses. If you work in experimental psychology, you will need these skills in interpreting your own research findings and those of other researchers in the psychological community.

Whether you choose an A.A. or an A.S. degree program, you should expect to take the same core coursework in psychology, which might entail classes like developmental psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology and research methods.

Which Psychology Program Is Better, a Science-Based or Arts-Based Program?

How do you choose between an A.A. and an A.S. in psychology? One way is to consider your strengths, interests and future career goals. If you enjoy studies in the humanities, would like to learn a foreign language and envision yourself in the more creative role of providing therapeutic counseling, an arts degree may be a better fit for you. On the other hand, if you like the laboratory sciences and dealing with quantitative data, you might prefer a science-based program. However, there’s a lot of overlap. Perhaps you want to go into research but also enjoy language studies. Maybe you prefer laboratory exercises to learning the intricacies of a foreign language. Ultimately, both an A.A. and an A.S. degree in psychology can be used to prepare you for the same career opportunities.

Because a liberal arts degree program doesn’t directly prepare you for a career, there’s a common misconception that programs of this nature aren’t worthwhile. However, liberal arts programs are a good choice for anyone who wants versatility in their college education and who is willing to look at nontraditional career paths. Candidates with a liberal arts background – whether in psychology or another discipline – market themselves based on their skills rather than primarily on their technical knowledge. That means you can pursue a career in the field of psychology, but you can also use those skills elsewhere, such as in business, marketing, sales, education, communication or many other possible fields of employment.

One thing prospective students should keep in mind is that, although an Associate of Arts degree in psychology won’t prepare you to be a psychologist, neither will an Associate of Science degree. There are some limited career opportunities in psychology with a bachelor’s degree, but you usually need a doctorate to be a psychologist, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Although you may be tempted to compare science-based psychology degrees and arts-based psychology degrees, neither option is viewed as inherently better than the other.

Additional Resources

Are There 2-Year Degrees in Psychology? Are They Worth Getting?

Which Degree Is Better: AA or AS?

Which Degree Is Better: BA or BS?