By Michael Feder
At a glance
- Academic degree levels in order areassociate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctoral degree. Students may also earn certificates as academic credentials.
- In general terms, aBachelor of Artsis a four-year degree that focuses on holistic learning and typically focuses on communication, writing and critical-thinking skills. ABachelor of Scienceis a four-year degree that is more specialized and focuses on a specific discipline, like business and healthcare.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment rate and median weekly earningsincrease with educational attainment.
- University of Phoenix has anumber of academic programs at every degree level, which are aligned to real-world careers.
When it comes to planning for college and your educational future, it’s important to consider all the steps between you and your goals. Chief among these is the depth of knowledge you’d like to attain on a given subject. Are you looking to lay the basic groundwork or forge new ideas in your field?
How you answer that question can largely determine the degree or degrees you choose to pursue. The college degree levels that we cover here progress in terms of academic achievement. Knowing the college degrees in order can help you determine just how far you’d like to take your academic studies.
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College degrees in order
In terms of level of study, the college degree programs in order are:
- Associate degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- Doctoral degree
It’s important to think of college degrees in order for a few reasons. For starters, knowledge for a bachelor’s degree differs dramatically from what’s required for a doctoral degree. By moving through the degrees in order, you leverage previous academic knowledge to address new challenges. Prior education can form a strong foundation for future learning.
It's also important to consider the different time and financial requirements of each degree type, as well as a given degree’s impact on your career prospects. You might, for example, research what education is typically required for a position in your desired field. This can help you figure out the level of education you need to earn to reach your goals.
College degree levels
Whether looking to move on to a bachelor's degree or join the workforce right away, many students take advantage of the flexibility and affordability of an associate degree.
Associate degrees are beyond a high school diploma but short of a bachelor’s degree. In terms of coursework, they tend to take about 60 credit hours per semester or two years for students to complete. (Curious to learn more? Read“How long does it take to get an associate degree?”on our blog!)
Types of associate degrees
Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS)
Both AA and AS degrees provide a strong entry point into a field of study. They often serve to help students transfer their education into a bachelor’s degree to further their studies and enter the workforce.
- Business Fundamentals
- Criminal Justice
Associate of Applied Arts (AAA) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
AAA and AAS degrees are similar to the other associate degrees but tend to incorporate a more hands-on experience in the classroom.
If you’re looking for work, chances are you’ve noticed that a common prerequisite for employment in many fields is the completion of a bachelor’s degree program. With this degree, you demonstrate a strong, foundational level of know-how related to your field.
A bachelor’s degree is one of the most commonly required degrees for employment, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve. A bachelor’s degree will likely take about four years to complete. In that time, students take a deep dive into their field of study, often undergoing several semesters’ worth of courses that include lectures, examinations and hands-on experience.
In a traditional four-year bachelor's degree program, students take general education classes primarily during their first two years of schooling. These classes are meant to give students a broad base of knowledge outside their particular specialization.
Many students choose to start getting their general education requirements out of the way by taking these classes at a community college. They can then transfer those credits when matriculating at a college or university.
Types of bachelor's degrees
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
A BA represents the completion of an undergraduate program that focuses on a discipline in the arts or humanities. What distinguishes a BA from other types of bachelor’s degrees is that it tends to emphasize each student’s exploration of a given subject.
While a BA program has many required classes, students pursuing a BA tend to have more leeway as to how they plan and complete their studies. BA graduation requirements also often include classes outside of a student’s major to provide a broader liberal arts education.
- Creative writing
Bachelor of Science (BS)
As opposed to the more philosophical nature of a BA that focuses on the humanities, a Bachelor of Science degree tends to focus more on science and math. While some subjects can be studied in both BA and BS programs, the latter will likely focus more on a singular path of study with less emphasis on courses in other subjects.
If you have a specific academic focus in mind and aren’t as interested in learning about other liberal arts subjects, then a BS program may be more aligned with your goals. These programs tend to home in on the practical application of a course of study, which can help you when you enter the workforce.
- Business administration
- Health management
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
A BFA is a specific kind of bachelor’s degree pursued by students in the arts, particularly performing arts, visual arts and music.
What distinguishes BFA programs from BA programs? A BFA tends to include more hands-on work in a studio setting and less emphasis on examinations and lectures.
A college degree can help enhance your career.Click herefor a breakdown of the cost of online vs traditional college and the ways you can save.
Wondering what comes after yougraduate witha bachelor’s degree?
While many students stop after they earnan undergraduate degree, other graduates — motivated by employment requirements or simply a curious mind — opt to go back to college to go further with their subject of choice.
Typically, master’s programs take about 30 to 60 semester credits or about two to three years to complete. Some master’s programs are shorter and can be earned in a year,dependingon the college.
Regardless of which program you choose, it should be noted that a bachelor's degree in a relevant field of study is almost always a prerequisite to pursuing a master’s degree.
Classes in a master’s program are more rigorous than in a bachelor’s degree program. These classes build upon the knowledge gained during a bachelor’s degree program and introduce students to more specialized and distinct subjects in their field of study.
The class sizes tend to run on the smaller side compared with undergraduate classes, and they might emphasize group discussions over lectures and require a capstone or thesis project.
Types of master's degrees
Three common types of master’s degrees are:
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master of Science (MS)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
For brevity, we won’t break down the differences between the types of master’s degrees, but the distinction is essentially the same as those between the bachelor's degrees. An MA tends to focus on subjects in the arts, while an MS focuses on a scientific subject and its practical applications.
In addition to those listed above, here are more types of master’s degrees:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Library Science (MLS)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Social Work (MSW)
- Master of Laws (LLM)
- Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MLS)
- Master of Music (MM)
- Master of Education (MEd)
- Master of Engineering (MEng)
- Master of Architecture (MArch)
Each of these degrees represents a specialization within a field, whether that be an MPH for public health or an MSW for social work. While the curriculum, rigor and requirements of each master’s program differ, they commonly require a bachelor’s degree in the field of study, or a related field. In addition, some programs require professional experience in the given field.
The top of the academic degree hierarchy, a doctoral degree represents the most in-depth education within a discipline. Upon completion of a rigorous program, doctoral students are designated as authoritative experts in their field.
Completing a doctoral program isn’t just a feather in your cap. Doctoral graduates in 2020 had lower unemployment rates and higher median weekly earnings than individuals with less education.
As the level of attainment is so high, doctoral degree programs expect a lot from prospective students. Most doctoral programs require the achievement of a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. Upon entering a doctoral program, students face a difficult but rewarding curriculum in their subject before culminating their studies with a dissertation or an applied project in the case of a practitioner doctoral degree (like those offered at University of Phoenix).
A dissertation is at the heart of any doctoral program. A final project of sorts, a dissertation requires doctoral students to conduct research, present their conclusions to faculty in their program, and defend those conclusions. This process can take months, and many doctoral students fail to complete their degree precisely because of how difficult dissertations are.
For those who do successfully complete their dissertation, however, they are rewarded with a doctoral degree, as well as the honorific title of “doctor.”
A doctorate isn’t for everyone, but it can be for anyone. Click here to read about one University of Phoenix alumnus whowent from a 1.3 GPA to a doctoral program.
Types of doctoral degrees
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The most commonly known and recognized doctoral degree is the Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD. Despite the name, these degrees are not exclusively conferred on students of philosophy. Instead, a PhD is a research degree that can be completed in a number of subjects.
Less focused on applying learned skills in the marketplace, research in a PhD program is focused on enriching a specific field. Original research is often a requirement for graduation in this kind of program. PhD students often work at the outer bounds of their field to uncover new discoveries.
Practitioner doctoral degrees
In contrast to PhDs, other doctoral degrees focus on practical applications within a specific industry. University of Phoenix, for example, does not offer a PhD, but rather doctoral degrees designed for scholar practitioners.
Some examples are:
- Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
- Doctor of Health Administration (DHA)
- Doctor of Education(EdD)
- Doctor of Nursing Practice(DNP)
Now that you’ve learned the college degree levels in order, we hope that you feel better equipped to plot out your educational future.
Frequently asked questions about college degree levels
Which degree comes first in college?
Most students start by earning an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree before moving on to a graduate degree, such as a master’s and/or doctoral degree.
What is a four-year degree called?
A bachelor's degree, and it generally takes about four years to complete.
What comes after a bachelor's degree?
Students may choose to return to college to pursue a master’s degree program after getting their bachelor’s degree.
What is the highest degree?
That would be a doctoral degree, which represents one of the highest levels of educational attainment within a particular field.
Ready to start your educational journey? Click here to explore more than 100 online programs aligned to 300+ occupations at University of Phoenix!
How do degrees go in order? ›
There are four types of degrees. In order of level of education, they rank as associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's or graduate degrees, and doctorate or professional degrees.What are the levels of degrees from highest to lowest? ›
College Degrees Overview. Associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees vary in terms of prerequisites, lengths, and requirements. College degrees generally fall into four categories: associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. Each college degree level varies in length, requirements, and outcomes.What are the 4 types of degrees and how many years? ›
|Academic degree||Typical completion time|
|Bachelor's degree||Four years|
|Master's degree||Two years|
|Doctoral degree||Four years|
|Professional degree||Between four and seven years|
Academic degree levels in order are associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctoral degree.What is a 8 year degree called? ›
A doctorate degree typically takes anywhere from four to six years to complete. On average, a Ph. D. is earned within eight years. The length of time it takes to earn your doctorate is based on numerous factors.Which degree do you list first? ›
If you have a degree, start by listing the highest degree you've earned immediately after your name, such as a master's degree, bachelor's degree or associate degree. If you have multiple degrees, you may choose to list only the highest degree you have earned since this often eclipses previous degrees.What is a 6 year degree called? ›
A bachelor's degree (from Middle Latin baccalaureus) or baccalaureate (from Modern Latin baccalaureatus) is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to six years (depending on institution and academic discipline).Is PHD the highest degree? ›
The doctorate degree is the most advanced degree you can earn, symbolizing that you have mastered a specific area of study, or field of profession. The degree requires a significant level of research and articulation.What are the 5 levels of education? ›
Early childhood education is followed by primary school (called elementary school in the United States), middle school, secondary school (called high school in the United States), and then postsecondary (tertiary) education.What is a 5 year degree called? ›
Bachelor's Degree - An award (baccalaureate) that normally requires at least 4 but not more than 5 years of full-time equivalent college-level work.
What is the hardest 4 year degree? ›
The hardest degree subjects are Aerospace Engineering, Law, Chartered Accountancy, Architecture, Chemistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, Psychology, Statistics, Nursing, Physics, Astrophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Astronomy, and Dentistry. Let's dive right in, and look at why these courses are the hardest degree subjects.Which degree is the highest? ›
A doctorate degree is the highest traditional academic degree. Earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D.) or a Doctor of Education (Ed. D.)What is the coldest degree? ›
From Dr. Stephen Warren, University of Washington (8/22/2007): The world record for low temperature was set at Vostok Station, Antarctica, on 21 July 1983. Cerveny et al. (2007) give this temperature as -89.4°C in their Table 2, quoting Krause and Flood (1997), who gave the same value.What is the shortest college degree? ›
Associate degrees require only 60 credit hours—half the time required for bachelor's degrees—and professional certifications can take only anywhere between three and six months depending on the program you choose.Which is higher bachelor or masters? ›
A master's degree tends to be much more rigorous than a bachelor's degree program and requires a more specialized focus of study. A master's degree generally takes less time than a bachelor's degree (usually about two or three years) and takes about 30 to 60 semester credits to complete.What is a 7 year degree called? ›
Doctoral degrees can take up to 7 years of intense study to complete. After completing doctoral degree coursework, you might sit for comprehensive subject matter exams.What is the easiest 4 year degree? ›
- Criminal Justice.
- Religious Studies.
- Social Work.
An associate degree is a two-year degree typically offered at community colleges, technical colleges, and career colleges. However, some four-year universities offer them as well.What's the highest paying major? ›
The No. 1 spot goes to electrical engineering and computer science. The early-career median pay for majors is $119,200 annually.What are 4 years of college called? ›
The first four years of college are the undergraduate years, and a student studying for a bachelor's degree is called an undergraduate. The four years refer to the total accumulated credit hours; a student may take fewer or more than four years to attain their undergraduate degree.
How do I list my degrees after my name? ›
When used after a name, an academic abbreviation is set off by commas (e.g., Mary Doe, Ph. D., spoke.). The word “degree” should not follow an abbreviation (e.g., She has a B.A. in English literature, not She has a B.A. degree in English literature.).What is a 2 year degree called a 4 year degree? ›
This may vary slightly depending on the institution and location, but an associate's degree usually takes two years to complete full time. In the US this equates to 60 credit hours as opposed to the 120 hours required for a bachelor's degree – which takes about four years to complete full time.How many years is a doctoral degree? ›
The average student takes 8.2 years to obtain a doctoral degree, that figure is assuming you begin your bachelor's and stay a student all the way to doctoral completion. In most cases, students return to school at a later time to complete their PhD or Doctoral degree.What does PhD stand for? ›
A Ph. D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a high-level degree earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study, culminating in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation.Is A professor higher than a Doctor? ›
Is a Professor higher than a Doctor? It is widely accepted that the academic title of Professor is higher than a Doctor, given that the job title of professor is the highest academic position possible at a university.What comes next after PhD? ›
After completing a PhD, many individuals go on to pursue careers in academia, research, or teaching. However, there are a number of other career options available for those with a PhD. for those with a PhD to work in the nonprofit sector, using their skills to make a difference in the world.Can you be called Doctor with a doctorate? ›
A doctoral degree (PhD) is a degree that one earns after a master's degree. A PhD entitles a person to use the title doctor.What are the 7 levels of education? ›
- ISCED 0 = Early childhood education.
- ISCED 1 = Primary Education.
- ISCED 2 = Lower Secondary Education.
- ISCED 3 = Upper Secondary Education.
- ISCED 4 = Post-secondary non-Tertiary Education.
- ISCED 5 = Short-cycle tertiary education.
- ISCED 6 = Bachelors degree or equivalent tertiary education level.
Under this structure, the first five years of schooling will be focused on foundational learning, followed by three years of preparatory schooling, three years of middle stage schooling, and four years of secondary education.What are the 7 levels of learning? ›
- Remember. Definition: retrieve, recall, or recognize relevant knowledge from long-term memory (e.g., recall dates of important events in U.S. history, remember the components of a bacterial cell). ...
- Understand. ...
- Apply. ...
- Analyze. ...
- Evaluate. ...
What is 1 year degree called? ›
For the 1 year program, BBA, BSc, BA, BCA, and BCom degrees are all available, and the curriculum consists of important and relevant topics so that students can complete the syllabus in a short period of time.How many years is a master degree? ›
Master's degrees typically take two years to complete, but the timeframe can vary from person to person. Depending on your degree program and whether you're going to school full-time or part-time, it could take you less time to get your master's degree – or more.What is the level of master degree? ›
A Master's degree is the most common type of postgraduate qualification, and involves a more in-depth level of study than a Bachelor's degree. They're designed to focus on a specific area of a wider subject – and they can either be taught or research based courses. It's classed as a level 7 qualification.What is the #1 hardest major? ›
According to the average Grade Point Average of students in the program, Chemistry wins the prize title hardest major. A Chemistry major overlaps somewhat with biology, but chemistry extends beyond living things.
- Petroleum Engineering. Early career salary: $96,742. ...
- Operations Research. Early career salary: $74,114. ...
- Marine Engineering. Early career salary: $70,837. ...
- Computer Engineering. Early career salary: $80,587. ...
- Systems Engineering. ...
- Chemical Engineering. ...
- Electrical Engineering. ...
- Computer Science.
- Chemistry. At number one on the list is chemistry.
- Architecture. ...
- Chemical Engineering. ...
- Computer Science. ...
- Aerospace Engineering. ...
- Biomedical Engineering. ...
- Materials Engineering. ...
- Petroleum Engineering. ...
Pursuing a bachelor's degree in I.T., computer science, engineering, mathematics, or any related field is the first step towards the goal of earning 6-figure salaries in this field.What bachelor degree pays the most? ›
The highest-paying bachelor's degrees include STEM, business, and social science majors.What was the hottest day ever recorded? ›
What is the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth? The highest temperature on record belongs to California's Death Valley which, in 1913, reached a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit, or 56.7 degrees Celsius, Al Jazeera reports.What is the coldest place in the US? ›
With a minimum average temperature of about minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit, Fairbanks takes the cake as the coldest city in the U.S. The northernmost major city in Alaska, Fairbanks has seen record cold temperatures reaching minus 66 degrees in the past.
Which is colder 15 or 23? ›
-23 °C is colder in a freezer than -15 °C. That is because with negative numbers, “higher” the number, lower the value.What is an easy major that pays well? ›
- Business Administration. Business administration is one major that is usually considered “easy.” Some programs will also only take 3 years to finish! ...
- English. ...
- Human Resources. ...
- Criminal Justice. ...
- Marketing. ...
- Supply Chain Management. ...
- Psychology. ...
- Business Administration.
- Computer Science.
- Criminal Justice.
- Emergency Management.
The lowest-paying college majors are in areas such as theology, social services, the performing arts, education, and leisure and hospitality, the data shows.Can you get a masters without a bachelor's? ›
In cases wherein incomplete schooling was taken alongside short-term employment, you can still attempt to apply for a master's degree without a bachelor's diploma so long as you provide documentation of your earlier education pursuits and short-term work experience.Which is harder to get a masters or bachelors? ›
In general, master's degree programs are more difficult than undergraduate programs. That's because they build on existing concepts and skills.Is two bachelor's better than a Masters? ›
If you are interested in making a career change or a large shift, a second bachelor's may allow you more opportunities in a new industry. If you want to stay in your current field and earn a promotion or qualify for more positions, a master's might allow you more opportunities.
A Bachelor's degree is taking up to 6 years.What is the highest degree in the world? ›
A doctorate degree is the highest traditional academic degree.Which degree is the highest paid? ›
The No. 1 spot goes to electrical engineering and computer science. The early-career median pay for majors is $119,200 annually.
Is A PhD the same as a doctorate? ›
A PhD falls under the academic category of doctorates. While a PhD is an academic qualification that's highly theoretical and focussed more on generating new knowledge through scientific research, a professional doctorate on the other hand, is all about putting theory into practice in specific professional settings.What is the easiest degree to get? ›
- Criminal Justice.
- Religious Studies.
- Social Work.
The Doctor of Divinity (DDiv) and the Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) are considered by Oxford to outrank all other degrees, including a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. The DDiv is usually awarded for academic accomplishments beyond the PhD level.What is the highest degree for a lawyer? ›
Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)
A Doctor of Juridical Science degree is considered the highest level of a law degree and is designed for professionals who are looking to gain an advanced legal education after earning their JD and LLM.
- Family and Consumer Sciences. $32K.
- General Social Sciences. $34K.
- Performing Arts. $34K.
- Social Services. $35K.
- Anthropology. $36K.
- Early Childhood Education. $36K.
- Theology and Religion. $36.6K.
- Psychology. $37K.
According to data that FinanceBuzz compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), some low-stress jobs that typically yield a six-figure salary include mathematician, software developer, political scientist, physicist, chemical engineer, astronomer, and ...Can a PhD call himself Doctor? ›
A doctoral degree (PhD) is a degree that one earns after a master's degree. A PhD entitles a person to use the title doctor. These are the social and physical scientists who conduct and evaluate published research.Can you get a PhD without a Masters? ›
Yes, you can get a PhD without first obtaining a master's degree. A number of universities offer direct entry to PhD programs from undergraduate or bachelor degree studies. In some cases, specific schools or programs may prefer that applicants hold a master's degree.