Types of College Degrees



When most people refer to a "college" degree, they mean a four-year bachelor degree. However, there are many types of college degrees and there are pros and cons to each one. The key is figuring out which one is the right one for you. Determining which degree to earn really just depends on what you want to accomplish with your education and which career path you want to pursue. Every career has its own unique set of education and/or training requirements. And sometimes, there is more than one education path to career success. For example, to become a doctor in the United States requires a medical license which can only be obtained by earning a medical degree from an accredited medical schools. Alternatively, if you want to become an investment banker you can pursue a Master's of Business Administration (MBA), a degree in finance, economics or even accounting. Typically, the more challenging the career, the higher the education requirement. However, most degrees, regardless of level or focus, will open up new doors and opportunities -- so it's worth earning a degree.

You can also explore different types of colleges degrees using the form below.

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Many vocational or technical careers require professional certification or licensing. In some fields, professional certification and licensing are the synonomous, in other's they aren't. It's often the case that in order to receive a license, professional certification must first be achieved. Before pursuing a vocational career track, you'll want to thoroughly investigate the certification and licensing requirements for your vocation in the state where you reside, as licensing and certification regulations will vary from state to state.

Professional certification programs focus almost exclusively on helping students develop technicals skills that will prepare to perform a specific function or prepare for a particular job. In contrast, college degrees typically offer an extensive general education component and a more indepth, and well-rounded, understanding of a subject. For example, an electrician will typically pursue a professional certification and licensing in order to practice his trade, where an electrical engineer must complete a four-year college ("bachelor") degree and may even be required to complete a graduate degree program.

Unlike traditional college degrees that take approximately four years to complete, certificates and licenses can be completed in one to two years. They are offered at community colleges, technical and vocational schools, and a select number of colleges and universities.

Undergraduate Degrees

An undergraduate degree is a college degree. It's the degree that come after earning a high school diploma or GED, but before a graduate (master's or doctorate) degree. An undergraduate degree is also known as a post-secondary degree, as it's the first degree that can be earned following a secondary (high school) education. Most undergraduate programs, especialy four-year bachelor degrees, include a general education component, elective courses, and core (or major) courses. General education courses are exactly that, general. All undergraduate students, regardless of their chosen field of study, are usually required to take the same general education courses, depending on the school they attend. General education typically consists of courses in mathematics, history, English and the sciences. Once general education courses are completed, students will then complete elective and core courses, which are more in line with their major or career path.

There are two categories of undergraduate degrees in the United States: Associate Degrees and Bachelor Degrees. Associate degrees are 2-year programs that are offered at community colleges and a few vocational schools. Bachelor Degrees are 4-year programs offered at colleges and universities.

Students often earn a two-year associate degree at a community college with the intent of transferring to a regionally accredited four- year college or university upon graduation. These associate degrees are often referred to as Transfer Degrees. If your plan is to transfer to a four-year institution, you will want to enroll in a Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Arts in Teaching (A.A.T.), Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Engineering Science (A.E.S.) that is regionally accredited. This is very important, as many community colleges and vocational schools do not hold regional accreditation. Almost all four-year colleges and universities are regionally accredited, and a regionally accredited college will only accept transfer credits from a community college is also regionally accredited.

A transfer degree, when earned from an accredited community college, will usually fulfill many of the general education requirements (and a few of the core requirements) of a four-year bachelor's degree. When selecting a community college to earn a transfer degree, make sure you discuss your decision with an admissions counselor or enrollment officer at the four-year institution you'll be attending after you graduate.

Associate degrees are undergraduate degrees offered at community colleges, vocational schools, and a few four-year colleges. These degrees can typically be completed in two years and require students to complete 60 semester credit hours. One of the salient benefits of earning an associate degree is the lower cost of credits relative to other undergraduate degrees (i.e. bachelor degree). Since credits at a community college are often less expensive than those earned via a bachelor degree at a four-year institution, many students opt to complete their general education courses at a community college and then transfer to a four-year college or university to complete their bachelor's degree. As long as the the community college where the credits are earned is regionally accredited, this is a great plan if you want to complete a bachelor degree at a lower cost.

There are two general categories of associate degrees: Occupation and Transfer. As explained above, transfer degrees are intended for students who plan on pursuing a bachelors degree at a four-year university. Occupational degrees are designed to help students develop the skills and knowledge they'll need to find gainful employment upon graduating. Occupational degrees tend to be much more hands-on and technical oriented than transfer degrees. Notwithstanding, an occupational degree can still be used as a transfer degrees as long as it's obtained at a regionally accredited community college.

The most common associate degrees are the Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.). An Associate of Arts usually provides students with a general liberal art education and is designated as a transfer degree. The Associate of Science (A.S.) can also be used as a transfer degree, however, unlike the A.A. that focuses on liberal arts, the A.S. focuses on the sciences. The Associate of Applied Science is designed for students who want to prepare for a specific trade or career path, with the intention of entering the workforce upon graduation. An A.A.S. can be earned in a large variety of discplines and career fields. Other types of associate degrees include the following:

  • AA - Associate of Arts
  • AE - Associate of Engineering or Associate in Electronics Engineering Technology
  • ASN - Associate of Science in Nursing
  • AS - Associate of Science
  • AF - Associate of Forestry
  • AT - Associate of Technology
  • AAA - Associate of Applied Arts
  • AAB - Associate of Applied Business
  • AAS - Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Arts and Sciences
  • AAT - Associate of Arts in Teaching
  • ABA - Associate of Business Administration
  • ABS - Associate of Baccalaureate Studies
  • ADN - Associate Degree in Nursing
  • AES - Associate of Engineering Science
  • AET - Associate in Engineering Technology
  • AFA - Associate of Fine Arts
  • AGS - Associate of General Studies
  • AIT - Associate of Industrial Technology
  • AOS - Associate of Occupational Studies
  • APE - Associate of Pre-Engineering
  • APS - Associate of Political Science or Associate of Public Service
  • ASPT-APT - Associate in Physical Therapy

When someone refers to a "college degree", they're typically refering to a bachelor's degree. A bachelor degree is a four-year undergraduate degree offered by colleges and universities throughout the United States. It is the most popular of all undergraduate degrees among students and is the degree of choice among employers looking to fill entry-level career positions. A bachelor degree is also a prerequisite for most graduate schools and programs.

A bachelor degree has a general education component that typically includes several general education courses, which often include mathematics, English, foreign language, humanities, natural science and social science. Student's who've completed an associate's degree prior to entering a bachelor program, may be exempt from completing several, if not all, general education requirements. In addition to a greneral education component, bachelor degrees also have major requirements, and electives.

The two most common types of bachelor degrees are the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science. The Bachelor of Arts (abbreviated B.A., BA, A.B. or AB) focuses on liberal arts, humanities and social science. The Bachelor of Science (abbreviated B.S., BS, B.Sc. or Bc.) usually focuses on technical and science related disciplines. However, what is considered a "liberal art" or a "science" varies from university to university, so an economics degree at one university may be designated with a B.A. while at a different school an economics degree is designated with a B.S. Other popular bachelor degrees include the following:

  • Bachelor of Architecture (BArch)
  • Bachelor of Design (BDes, or SDes in Indonesia)
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA, AB, BS, BSc, SB, ScB)
  • Bachelor of Applied Arts (BAA)
  • Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science (BAAS)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng, BE, BSE, BESc, BSEng, BASc, BTech, BSc(Eng), AMIE,GradIETE)
  • Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech. or B.Tech.)
  • Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BSET)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • International Business Economics (BIBE)
  • Bachelor of Science in Business (BSBA)
  • Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS)
  • Bachelor of Administrative Studies
  • Bachelor of International Business Economics (BIBE)
  • Bachelor of Commerce (BCom, or BComm)
  • Bachelor of Business (BBus or BBus)
  • Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS)
  • Bachelor of Business Science (BBusSc)
  • Bachelor of Accountancy (B.Acy. or B.Acc. or B. Accty)
  • Bachelor of Comptrolling (B.Acc.Sci. or B.Compt.)
  • Bachelor of Economics (BEc, BEconSc; sometimes BA(Econ) or BSc(Econ))
  • Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management (BAOM)
  • Bachelor of Computing (BComp)
  • Bachelor of Computer Science (BCompSc)
  • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSc IT)
  • Bachelor of Computer Applications (BCA)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Information Technology (BAppSc(IT))
  • Bachelor of Business Information Systems (BBIS)
  • Intercalated Bachelor of Science (BSc)
  • Bachelor of Medical Science (BMedSci)
  • Bachelor of Medical Biology (BMedBiol)
  • Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BN, BNSc, BScN, BSN, BNurs, BSN, BHSc.)
  • Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH)
  • Bachelor of Health Science (BHS & BHSc)
  • Bachelor of Science in Human Biology (BSc)
  • Bachelor of Kinesiology (BKin, BSc(Kin), BHK)
  • Bachelor of Aviation (BAvn)
  • Bachelor of Divinity (BD or BDiv)
  • Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.; Th.B. or BTheol)
  • Bachelor of Religious Studies (BRS)
  • Bachelor of Religious Education (BRE)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Film and Television (BF&TV)
  • Bachelor of Integrated studies (BIS)
  • Bachelor of Journalism (BJ, BAJ, BSJ or BJourn)
  • Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLArch)
  • Bachelor of Liberal Arts (B.L.A.; occasionally A.L.B.)
  • Bachelor of General Studies (BGS, BSGS)
  • Bachelor of Applied Studies (BAS)
  • Bachelor of Liberal Studies
  • Bachelor of Professional Studies (BPS)
  • Bachelor of Library Science (B.L.S., B.Lib.)
  • Bachelor of Library and Information Science (B.L.I.S.)
  • Bachelor of Music (BM or BMus)
  • Bachelor of Art in Music (BA in Music)
  • Bachelor of Music Education (BME)
  • Bachelor of Mortuary Science (BMS)
  • Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil, PhB)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (BAPSY)
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology (BSc(Psych)
  • Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE, BS in Ed)
  • Bachelor of Arts for Teaching (BAT)
  • Bachelor of Science and/with education degree (BScEd)
  • Bachelor of Science in Forestry (B.S.F. or B.Sc.F.)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc)
  • Bachelor of Science in Law (BSL)
  • Bachelor of Social Science (BSocSc)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BSW or BASW)
  • Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech)
  • Bachelor of Talmudic Law (BTL)
  • Bachelor of Tourism Studies (BTS)
  • Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath)
  • Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences (BMathSc)
  • Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning (BURP and BPlan)
  • Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (BPAPM)

While traditional bachelor degree programs take four to five years to complete, many colleges -- especially online colleges -- now offer accelerated programs that allow students to earn their degree in as little as three years.

Graduate Degrees

A graduate degree is an advanced academic or professional studies program that focuses on a specific discipline or profession (i.e. Engineering, Psychology, Medicine, etc.) Historically, graduate degrees were almost exclusively "academic" in nature, focusing on research and education. Today, a large number of graduate degrees are not professional in scope, focusing on skill development and oriented toward career development. Many graduate degree have a dual focus on academia and industry. A graduate degree can take anywhere from two to six years to complete, depending on the field of study.

Graduate vs. Undergraduate Degrees
The biggest difference between an undergraduate vs a graduate degree is depth of focus and specialization. Graduate degrees offer a much more focused and indepth education on a particular discipline than undergraduate degrees. In addition, much more is expected of graduate students. There is higher expectation of quality of academic work and performance. Graduate degrees are fast paced and demanding, focus on just one discipline, are more hands-on, require research and are very competitive.

Graduate degrees fall into one of two general categories: Master and Doctoral.

A master's degree is a post-graduate degree that follows the completion of a bachelor degree. Notwithstanding, an increased level of difficulty and rigor, a master's degree typically only takes two years to complete compared to four years for a bachelors degree. A master degree is a logical progression in one's education and career preparation. While a bachelor degree is the degree of choice among employers looking to fill entry-level positions, more and more professions now require a master degree as an entry-level qualification. The most common reasons for pursuing a master degree include the following:

  • qualify for entry-level positions
  • qualify for career advancement opportunities
  • increase skill set and knowledge
  • maximize earning potential
  • set apart from competing professionals

The most common master degrees include the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The Master of Arts focuses on the fields of humanities, history, philosophy, social sciencs and liberal arts. Students who pursue a Master of Science focus their studies on the sciences. The Master of Fine Arts is a two to three-year year program in visual arts, performing arts, creative writing and filmaking. Other master degrees include:

  • Master of Accountancy (MAcc, MAc, or MAcy)
  • Master of Advanced Study (M.A.S.)
  • Master of Economics (M.Econ)
  • Master of Applied Science (MASc, MAppSc, MApplSc, M.A.Sc. and MAS.)
  • Master of Architecture (M.Arch.)
  • Master of Arts (M.A., MA, A.M., or AM)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
  • Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MA, ALM, MLA, MLS or MALS)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA or M.B.A.)
  • Master of Business (MBus)
  • Master of Business Informatics (MBI)
  • Master of Chemistry (MChem)
  • Master of City Planning
  • Master of Commerce (MCom or MComm)
  • Master of Computational Finance (or Quantitative Finance)
  • Master of Computer Applications (MCA)
  • Master of Criminal Justice (MCJ)
  • Master in Creative Technologies
  • Master of Design (MDes, M.Des. or M.Design)
  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Master of Economics (M.Econ.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed., MEd, Ed.M., M.A.Ed., M.S.Ed., M.S.E., or M.Ed.L)
  • Master of Engineering (M.Eng., ME or MEng)
  • Master of Engineering Management (MEM)
  • Master of Enterprise (M.Ent.)
  • Master of European Law (LL.M. Eur)
  • Master of Finance (M.Fin.)
  • Master of Financial Economics
  • Master of Financial Engineering (Master of Quantitative Finance)
  • Master of Financial Mathematics (Master of Quantitative Finance)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA, M.F.A.)
  • Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Master of Health Science (MHS)
  • Master of Humanities (MH)
  • Master of Industrial and Labor Relations (MILR)
  • Master of International Affairs
  • Master of International Business
  • Masters in International Economics
  • Master of International Studies (MIS)
  • Master of Information System Management (abbreviated M.ISM, MS.IM, M.IS or similar)
  • Master of IT (abbreviated MSIT, MScIT, M.Sc.IT, MSc.IT or M.Sc IT.)
  • Master of Jurisprudence (M.J. or M.Jur)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M. or LLM)
  • Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.)
  • Master of Landscape Architecture (M.Arch.)
  • Master of Letters (MLitt)
  • Master of Liberal Arts (MA, ALM, MLA, MLS or MALS)
  • Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
  • Master of Management (MM)
  • Master of Mathematical Finance
  • Master of Mathematics (or MMath)
  • Master of Medical Science
  • Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.)
  • Master of Occupational Therapy (OT)
  • Master of Pharmacy (MPharm or MPharm)
  • Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.)
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies
  • Master of Physics (MPhys)
  • Master of Political Science
  • Master of Professional Studies (MPS or M.P.S.)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Affairs (M.P.Aff.)
  • Master of Public Health (M.P.H.)
  • Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.)
  • Master of Public Management
  • Master of Quantitative Finance
  • Master of Rabbinic Studies (MRb)
  • Master of Real Estate Development
  • Master of Religious Education
  • Master of Research - MSc(R)
  • Master of Sacred Music (MSM)
  • Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc., MSc, M.Sci., M.Si., Sc.M., M.S., MSHS, MS, Mag., Mg., Mgr, S.M., or SM)
  • Master of Science in Education
  • Master of Science in Engineering (MSE)
  • Master of Science in Finance (M.Fin.)
  • Master of Science in Human Resource Development (HRD or MSHRD)
  • Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS)
  • Master of Science in Information Systems Management (MSMIS)
  • Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT, MScIT, M.Sc.IT, MSc.IT or M.Sc IT.)
  • Master of Science in Leadership (MSL)
  • Master of Science in Management (MSc or MSM)
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Master of Science in Project Management (M.S.P.M.)
  • Master of Science in Supply Chain Management (SCM or MSSCM)
  • Master of Science in Teaching (MST)
  • Master of Science in Taxation
  • Master of Social Science (MSSc)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Studies (M.St. or MSt)
  • Master of Surgery (Ch.M. or M.S., as well as M.Ch. and M.Chir.)
  • Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.)
  • Master of Theology (Th.M. or M.Th.)
  • Master of Urban Planning
  • Master of Veterinary Science (MVSC or MVSc)

Like a master degree, a doctoral degree is a post-graduate degree. It usually follows the completion of a bachelor and master degree. However, some doctoral program do admit students who do hot have a master degree. A doctoral degree is a "terminal degree", or the highest and final degree available in a particular field of study or discipline. Most doctoral programs require a full-time commitment, unlike bachelor and master degrees that can be completed on a part-time basis. Traditionally, doctoral programs were primarily academic or research focused. Today, a majority of doctoral programs are designed to help students acquire advanced skills and knowledge in preparation for a career. A doctoral degree typically takes anywhere from three to five years to complete.

There are four general types of doctoral degrees. These include:

  • Professional Doctorate - As one might deduce, a professional doctorate is a doctoral degree for a specific profession. For example, the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is a professional doctorate in business.
  • Research Doctorate - These doctorates are research oriented. The Ph.D. and Doctor of Philosophy are doctorate degrees that focus almost exclusively on research.
  • Higher Doctorate - These doctorates are very uncommon in the United States. Countries including France, Ireland and the United Kinggom offer higher doctorate degrees. These degrees are tiered search degrees.
  • Honorary Doctorate - These doctorate degrees are awarded as way of honoring or recognizing the contribution of an individual in a specific field or discipline. For example, George W, Bush senior was recently awarded an honorary law degree in law from Harvard. Not all universities offers honorary doctorate degrees.

A professional degree is a doctoral level degree that is required to work in specific career. Law degrees and medical degrees are the most common and well known professional degrees. Professional degrees are typically offered at universities by specific schools of study (e.g. engineering, psychology, law, medicine, finance, business, etc.) Most schools offering professional degrees require students to have completed a bachelor's degree, often in a related field of study. Professional degrees are also referred to as "First Professional Degrees".

A specialist degree is a post-graduate, professional degree that is earned after having already completed a master degree. The specialist degree is designed to provide an aspiring professional with industry level certification required to qualify for licensure in his or her field. For example, a school principal is required to earn a Ed.S. (a specialists degree) in order to practice.

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