Types of College Degrees | What are the 4 Main Degrees in Order? (2023)

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College degrees can make it easier to find the right career opportunity for you. In some cases, you won’t be able to work in a field without a degree. Even when a degree isn’t required, it can help set you apart from the competition.

Employers value those with college degrees. many seek out employees with four-year degrees or advanced degrees. Over the past few decades, holding a college degree has become even more important.

There are many types of degrees you can get. Some careers might allow you to work without a degree. However, advancing your career might require an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. Let’s look closer at the four types of college degrees.

Types of College Degrees | What are the 4 Main Degrees in Order? (1)

Four College Degree Levels

Associate Degree

An associate degree usually takes about two years to complete. There may be some faster programs that will get you a degree in 16 to 18 months, however. Students gain a basic understanding of the degree topic. Often, an associate degree will help you qualify for entry-level positions.

The biggest reason why students get an associate degree is the shorter amount of time. You can earn this type of degree with just 60 credit hours. With an accelerated program, you might be able to get your degree in as little as one year.

Common Types of Associate Degrees

It’s common to get one of the following four types of associate degrees:

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  • Associate of Arts (AA) – This type of degree will focus on the core knowledge, typically in a liberal arts or humanities area.
  • Associate of Science (AS) – This degree also focuses on the core knowledge of the subject, but will be in hard sciences, such as biology or mathematics.
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA) – With a focus on technical skills, an AAA degree will allow you to go directly into the job market. This degree will focus more on humanities.
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) – This associate degree also focuses on technical skills and will allow you to go right into a career after graduation. With this degree, you will focus more on the hard sciences.

If you plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree after getting an associate degree, getting an AA or AS degree is recommended.

Bachelor’s Degree

The next college degree level is the bachelor’s degree. You can go directly from an AA or AS degree into a bachelor’s degree program. It’s common for students to start with an AA or AS degree at a community college, and then transfer to a state college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree program.

A bachelor’s degree will commonly take four to five years to complete. Students will need 120 to 128 credit hours with this type of program. In some cases, it might take six years to earn this type of degree.

There are some accelerated bachelor’s degree programs, too. These programs allow you to study year-round and can be completed in three years.

Bachelor’s degrees are very popular due to the many concentrations offered. You can get a bachelor’s degree in many different areas. It’s also preferred by employers over an associate degree, in most cases.

Common Types of Bachelor’s Degrees

Just like with associate degrees, there are four types of bachelor’s degrees, which are:

  • Bachelor of Science – Typically, this type of bachelor’s degree includes a major in some type of science.
  • Bachelor of Arts – Commonly a bachelor’s of arts degree will include studying courses in art, music, humanities, or social sciences.
  • Bachelor of Applied Science – A degree focusing more on the practical or technical sciences is known as a bachelor of applied science degree.
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts – a more unique degree on the list, a bachelor of fine arts will require liberal arts courses, along with practical and study courses for the area of focus.

Each type of degree will have different requirements. For many, this will be the end of the college experience. Many career opportunities open up after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. However, some will go on to even more advanced degrees.

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Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is a graduate-level program you can enter into after completing a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, you can combine your bachelor’s and master’s programs into one. However, it’s more common to complete a bachelor’s degree, and then apply to graduate school.

Master’s degree programs are demanding and rather intense. You will likely need to do research, take several exams, complete coursework, and hold an internship. You may even have to do a dissertation, thesis, or capstone project, depending on the degree type.

A master’s degree will unlock more job options, advancement opportunities, and higher salary options. It’s a very desirable degree level for employers.

Common Types of Master’s Degrees

There are two main types of master’s degrees: Master of Science and Master of Arts. The Master of Science program will focus on STEM subjects, while the Master of Arts program will cover social sciences, humanities, and liberal arts programs.

While these are the two main types of master’s degrees, there are several other types including:

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)
  • Master of Law (LL.M.)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)

Many of these programs will take around two years to complete with some only taking one year. Typically, you will need to take the GRE or GMAT exams to gain admission into the program and school of your choice.

Doctorate Degree

The Doctorate Degree is known as the highest college degree offered in most fields. It’s a degree level that shows you have reached academic mastery of your field. It’s commonly a program used for those looking to work as a professor, executive leader, or researcher.

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Doctorate degrees come with an incredible demand and take up quite a bit of time. They can also be rather expensive. In some cases, you will need a doctorate degree to even enter your chosen career field.

This type of college degree can take anywhere from four to eight years to complete. You will need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter into a doctorate program, and in some cases, a master’s degree will also be necessary.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

There are several types of doctoral degrees you can earn including:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

An applied doctorate is a common term used, as well. It’s known as a professional doctorate that helps you to develop real-world knowledge and skills. This is the highest form of education for many professionals including healthcare, legal studies, and business.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Degrees

How much can I make with each different level of college degree?

According to Northeastern University, your level of income will not only determine your salary but also your potential unemployment rate. This is what you can expect based on salary data taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • Less than a High School Diploma – An unemployment rate of 5.4% and an average salary of $30,784
  • High School Diploma – An unemployment rate of 3.7% and an average salary of $38,792
  • Some College, but No Degree – Unemployment rate of 3.3% and an average salary of $43,316
  • Associate Degree – An unemployment rate of 2.7% and an average salary of $46,124
  • Bachelor’s Degree – An unemployment rate of 2.2% and an average salary of $64,896.
  • Master’s Degree – An unemployment rate of 2% and an average salary of $77,844.
  • Doctorate Degree – An unemployment rate of 1.1% and an average salary of $97,916.

The higher the degree, the lower your potential unemployment rate and the higher your salary potential.

Which degree type should I pursue?

Before you choose a degree path, you should choose a career path. If you want to become a medical doctor, for example, you will not be able to do so with just a bachelor’s degree. You will have to commit to far more time in school.

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Choose the type of career you want, and then choose the degree you will pursue. In many cases, you can start with an associate degree, get into a career, and work towards your bachelor’s degree to advance your career. You might even be able to go on to earn your master’s or doctorate degree while working.

How long will I need to go to college to complete my degree?

The length of time you will need to get one of the college degrees will be determined by the degree, your program, and how many breaks you take. Students can finish their degree faster by taking extra courses over the summer and, in some cases, over holiday breaks. You will likely spend anywhere from 1 to 12 years in college to earn your degree or degrees.

If you want to advance your career, earn more money, and open up new career opportunities, getting one of the college degrees will help. Choose from the list above after determining what’s necessary for your chosen career path.

Types of College Degrees | What are the 4 Main Degrees in Order? (2)

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