Current Guide to College Degrees, Certifications & Professional Studies (2024)

There are generally four categories of college degrees: associate degree, bachelor’s degree, graduate degree, and doctorate or professional degree. Each category comes with its own particular subcategories, and there are some subtle differences between a doctorate and a professional degree.

If you ever find yourself lost in the sea of abbreviations for degrees, you're not alone. This quick guide is here to clear the air regarding the types of degrees available to you and what each one means.

Guide to College Degrees, Professional Studies & Certifications

Associate Degree

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. Examples of some associate degrees include Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS).

AS degrees are generally more narrowly focused and prepare students for science and math-related careers. AA degrees are broader and focus on fields outside of math and science such as liberal arts, business administration, criminal justice, and culinary arts.

Some students who earn an associate degree transfer to a four-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree. Others complete associate degrees and then go straight to work.

Bachelor's or Baccalaureate Degree

Bachelor’s degrees require students to complete four- or five-year programs in a specific academic discipline. The two most common types of bachelor’s degrees are bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS). Other types of bachelor’s degrees include the bachelor of fine arts (BFA), and bachelor of architecture (BArch).

Because bachelor’s degrees train students to enter a specific field, many professional careers require them. Earning a bachelor’s degree can open the door to many job opportunities and increase your potential income.

Some institutions offer a liberal arts and career combination program, also called a 3-2 program. This is a type of dual degree in which a student completes three years of liberal arts study followed by two years of professional or technical study. In the end, students earn two bachelor’s degrees, usually a BA and a BS.

An example of this is Columbia University’s 3-2 Combined Plan program in which students can earn a BA and a BS in five years.

Some colleges also let you earn a teacher certification by combining bachelor's degree study with state certification requirements. State requirements vary, but these programs usually feature professional education courses, including student teaching.

Graduate Degree

Graduate degrees are advanced degrees that some students pursue after earning a bachelor’s degree. The two most common are master of arts (MA) and master of science (MS). Other examples include master of fine arts (MFA) and master of business administration (MBA). A graduate degree is like an extension of a bachelor’s degree whereby a student further enriches their knowledge of their field and narrows their focus of study.

Graduate degrees usually take around two years to attain, but this can vary based on the degree. Many institutions allow students to enroll in a graduate program in a field unrelated to their bachelor’s degree. This may require some extra credit hours, though.

Professional Degree

Students earn professional degrees to become licensed to work in professions like medicine or law. The M.D. degree is an example. Professional programs generally require a college degree before you start them and then at least three years of study to complete.

Doctoral Degree and Professional Degree

The doctorate and professional degrees are the highest levels of education one can attain. They signify mastery of a subject and often come with the coveted title “doctor.” Although the two are similar, there are some important differences.

A doctorate or doctoral degree is a research-oriented degree focused on scholarly development. The most common doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Despite the name, a PhD covers many disciplines, not just philosophy.

A professional degree is an application-oriented degree, meaning it prepares students for a specific working position. There are many types of professional degrees. Some examples are: doctor of medicine (MD), doctor of pharmacy (PharmD), and doctor of medicine in dentistry (DMD) in the field of medicine, and juris doctor (JD) and doctor of juridical science (SJD) in the field of law.

A graduate degree does not need to precede a doctorate or professional degree. Often, students will go straight into a doctorate or professional program following their bachelor’s, however some programs will require a master’s degree to gain entry. Completion can take anywhere from four to eight years, depending on the field of study.

Many doctoral students work either full-time or part-time while they study in the program. This, along with the field they are studying, will significantly affect the time it takes to complete their degree.

Joint Degrees

Some students may choose to pursue a joint degree, also known as a dual degree, which means they simultaneously study for a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree. Joint degrees can be pursued in the same college or can be split between two different colleges. For example, Berklee College of Music and Harvard University offer a dual bachelor’s/master’s program in which a student receives a bachelor of arts (BA) at Harvard and a master of music (MM) or master of arts (MA) at Berklee.

Depending on the program, it may be possible to study at the same time for a master's degree and a doctorate. For example, the University of Southern California offers a program leading to doctor of pharmacy and master of public health degrees.

FAQ

How do academic 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.

Read more

How many degrees are there in college?

Most community colleges offer only two-year associate degrees, while most four-year colleges offer bachelor’s, graduate, and doctorate or professional degrees. Some four-year colleges may also have associate degree programs.

Read more

How many years do you have to be in college to achieve certain degrees?

Though it will vary between academic disciplines, associate degrees usually take two years to achieve, bachelor’s degrees take four years, master’s degrees take two years, and doctorate or professional degrees can take anywhere from four to eight years.

Read more

What is an eight-year degree?

An “eight-year degree” typically refers to a doctorate degree or PhD. Although some doctorates can be completed in as little as three years, these degrees typically require more time studying highly specialized subjects. Students in these programs often must defend a dissertation while already working a professional job.

Read more

What are the four 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.

Read more

What does a graduate degree mean?

A graduate degree or master’s degree is an advanced degree that some students pursue after earning a bachelor’s degree. Earning a graduate degree signifies mastery of a particular field of study and focuses more intensely on a subject than a bachelor’s degree does. Graduate degrees usually take two years to attain.

Read more

What do you call a master's student?

A master's student is called a graduate student or “grad student” for short. A student still studying for a bachelor’s degree is called an undergraduate student or “undergrad student.”

Read more

How many years is a master's degree?

Graduate degrees usually take around two years to attain, but this can vary based on the degree. Many institutions allow students to enroll in a graduate program in a field unrelated to their bachelor’s degree, although it may require some extra credit hours.

Read more

Related Topics

Related Topics

Current Guide to College Degrees, Certifications & Professional Studies (2024)

FAQs

Current Guide to College Degrees, Certifications & Professional Studies? ›

Each type of credential offers a different experience. For example, Pena said that a degree, by design, is “a much more expansive educational experience.” In contrast, a certificate is “more targeted and more specific to a particular domain or field of expertise.”

What is a difference between a college degree and a professional certificate? ›

Each type of credential offers a different experience. For example, Pena said that a degree, by design, is “a much more expansive educational experience.” In contrast, a certificate is “more targeted and more specific to a particular domain or field of expertise.”

What are the levels of degrees 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.

How long does IT take to get a Bach? ›

Personal preferences, goals, academic progress, transfer credit eligibility, cost and time considerations are all factors that may impact how many years it takes to earn a bachelor's degree, but 4 years is the traditional timetable to earn the 120 credits you need.

What are the 6 levels of degrees? ›

What's the difference between certificates, diplomas and degrees?
  • Doctoral Degree: Level 10. ...
  • Masters Degree: Level 9. ...
  • Graduate Certificate or Diploma: Level 8. ...
  • Bachelor Degree: Level 7. ...
  • Advanced Diploma: Level 6. ...
  • Diploma: Level 5. ...
  • Certificate IV: Level 4. ...
  • Certificate III: Level 3.

What is the lowest degree to the highest degree? ›

Here are the college degrees in order, from lowest ranking to highest:
  • Associate degree (undergraduate)
  • Bachelor's degree (undergraduate)
  • Master's degree (graduate)
  • Doctoral degree (graduate)

Are college certificates worth IT? ›

While the answer to that question largely depends on your field, your current career, and personal obligations, the short answer is, yes, a certificate is often worth the investment.

What is a professional certificate equivalent to? ›

Many professional certificates have the same curriculum as master's degrees in the same subject. Many other professional certificates offer the same courses as master's degrees in the same subject, but require the student to take fewer total courses to complete the program.

Is a professional degree higher than a bachelor's? ›

In the American educational system, a professional degree is considered to be a graduate-level program as they follow undergraduate studies. This kind of degree is designed to prepare the holder for a particular profession by focusing on practical skills over theory and analysis.

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. A dissertation based on your research interests may also be required and reviewed by a committee of graduate school faculty.

What is a 8 year degree called? ›

An “eight-year degree” typically refers to a doctorate degree or PhD. Although some doctorates can be completed in as little as three years, these degrees typically require more time studying highly specialized subjects.

What is a 5 year college degree called? ›

Bachelor's degrees require students to complete four- or five-year programs in a specific academic discipline.

What makes Bach so difficult? ›

In theory there should not be a piece that is impossible to play unless it is not written for human hands. The reason why Bach is being criticized as being very hard, I believe is because of a few elements: scarce articulation marking, zero dynamics marking, awkward fingerings and confusing contrapuntal style.

Is it possible to earn a bachelor's degree in 2 years? ›

A bachelor's degree will typically take 4 years of sitting in class. But testing out of classes (credit by exam) and 8-week online classes are the turbo-boost needed to finish your bachelor's degree in 2 years. You still complete a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. You just do it in half the time!

What is the shortest time to get a bachelor's degree? ›

Accelerated online degree programs are the fastest route to a bachelor's degree. Students who choose the right accelerated degree can enter the job market for their chosen field in as little as two years. An accelerated online degree saves students time, money, and opportunity costs.

What is a type of professional degree? ›

What's a Professional Degree? A professional degree helps students prepare for careers in specific fields, such as law, pharmacy, medicine, and education. The length of the programs vary and can span anywhere from one to five years, depending on the institution you attend.

Is A PhD a professional degree? ›

A PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate focuses on applying research to practical problems, formulating solutions to complex issues, and designing effective professional practices within your field.

What are the 4 types of degrees and how many years? ›

Types of academic degrees
Academic degreeTypical completion time
Associate degreeTwo years
Bachelor's degreeFour years
Master's degreeTwo years
Doctoral degreeFour years
1 more row
Mar 16, 2023

How do you list professional degrees? ›

List the highest education degree first, for example, Michael Anderson, PhD, MSN. In most cases, one degree is enough, but if your second degree is in another relevant field, you may choose to list it. For example, a nurse executive might choose Nancy Gordon, MBA, MSN, RN.

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terence Hammes MD

Last Updated:

Views: 5897

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terence Hammes MD

Birthday: 1992-04-11

Address: Suite 408 9446 Mercy Mews, West Roxie, CT 04904

Phone: +50312511349175

Job: Product Consulting Liaison

Hobby: Jogging, Motor sports, Nordic skating, Jigsaw puzzles, Bird watching, Nordic skating, Sculpting

Introduction: My name is Terence Hammes MD, I am a inexpensive, energetic, jolly, faithful, cheerful, proud, rich person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.