What Are the Different College Degree Types?
Obtaining a college degree can allow you to prepare to earn a higher degree or to enter the workforce. If you're unsure which degree you'd like to earn, you have several different degree options to chose from, depending on your desired area of study, your time commitment and your career goals.
When you want to enter a new career or the world of higher education, an associate degree might be right for you. Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) and Associate of Applied Technology (A.A.T.) degrees include classes that focus less on theory and more on practical skills, and they prepare you to find an entry-level job in a career field. The Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees prepare you to transfer to a bachelor's degree program and include less career-focused classes. All types of associate degree programs are designed to take around two years to complete.
Bachelor's degrees usually take four years to earn and require you to finish at least 120 credit hours. You might earn a bachelor's degree if you're interested in entering a career in the arts, humanities, sciences or business, or if you'd like to pursue postgraduate studies in law, medicine or other professions that have advanced degree requirements. Typical degree titles include Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) and Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.).
In a master's degree program, you can study your chosen field in depth. Most programs require you to complete 30-60 credit hours, write a thesis or develop a major project and successfully complete some type of written or oral examination to graduate. After you have earned a degree, such as the Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.), you may qualify for higher-level job positions, or you may want to pursue doctoral study.
In most cases, a doctoral degree is the highest degree you can earn in a field. The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the most common form of a doctorate, and it is awarded in many fields of study; however, some disciplines award specialized doctoral degrees such as the Doctor of Education (Ed.D), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.). Some programs will require you to earn a master's degree before you can begin working toward your doctorate, while others only require you to hold a bachelor's degree, and you can earn the master's en route to the doctorate. Either way, you're expected to show deep and focused learning on one particular subject, usually by completing a book-length work of scholarly or clinical research, then defending that dissertation in front of a committee. The process of earning a doctoral degree may take 2-5 years or more, depending on whether you study full- or part-time.
If you're looking to enter certain fields with high government regulation, such as pharmacy, law and all types of medicine, you usually are required to earn a professional degree. You'll probably enter a professional degree program after earning a bachelor's degree, and you can expect to spend at least two more years in school preparing to become a practitioner in your chosen field. Some professional degrees require up to six years of study beyond a bachelor's degree.