Different Types of Degrees: Explained

Different Types of Degrees: Explained

10 minute read

College degrees may seem like just a bunch of initials. What do all those letters mean? And how much schooling do you need to earn them? 

We’ll dive deep into the types of degrees available, as well as offer examples of jobs you can get with each one. We’ll help you gain an idea of how much school you need — and how long it will take — to achieve your career goals.

What Are the Different Degree Types?

There are many different types of degrees you can earn. Which one you choose will depend on your career goals. For example, associate degrees are usually shorter programs and allow you to get jobs in web development, healthcare, or teaching. At the opposite end of the spectrum are doctoral degrees and professional degrees, which require previous degrees and can take years to earn.

The types of degrees you can earn include:

  • Associate
  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctoral
  • Professional

It’s important to note that most programs require a high school diploma or GED before you can earn a degree. 

What Is a GED?

The General Educational Development (GED) is an alternative credential for individuals who didn't complete traditional high school. It tests your proficiency in core subjects like math, science, and language arts. Passing the GED exams is equivalent to earning a high school diploma and offers an additional chance for better education and employment.

Associate Degree

An associate degree is a two-year undergraduate program often taken at community colleges or vocational schools. The time it takes to earn an associate degree varies depending on the student's schedule and credit requirements. This degree can serve as a stepping stone to higher education or immediate entry into the workforce.

Types of Associate Degrees

Associate degrees generally come in two forms: Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS). The AA typically focuses on liberal arts, and the AS emphasizes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree?

There are many fulfilling career paths you might consider once you have an associate degree. Here are just a few examples:

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists focus on preventive oral care. They perform teeth cleanings and educate patients on proper dental hygiene practices. They also examine a patient’s oral health, identify issues, and assist dentists in treatment plans.

Ultrasound Technician

Ultrasound technicians, also known as diagnostic medical sonographers, use ultrasound equipment to produce internal images of patients. They assist in diagnosing medical conditions, monitoring pregnancies, and providing healthcare professionals with valuable patient information.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants provide essential support in healthcare settings by performing administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and handling medical records. They also assist with clinical duties, including measuring vital signs, preparing patients for examinations, and aiding in minor procedures.

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers create a nurturing learning environment for young children, focusing on social, emotional, and cognitive development. They design and implement age-appropriate activities, teach basic skills, and encourage positive interactions.

Web Developer

Web developers design and build websites, focusing on both their appearance and functionality. They use coding languages, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, to create responsive and user-friendly sites. Web developers collaborate with clients to understand their needs and ensure effective and visually appealing online interactions.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor's degree is the one most people think of when they think about college degrees. They’re often earned at colleges and universities and typically take four years to complete. Some may take longer depending on a variety of factors, including a student’s schedule, how often they change majors, or whether they need to repeat any courses.

To earn a bachelor’s degree, many institutions require general education or core curriculum classes in addition to the courses you need for your major. This ensures that graduates are not only well-educated in specific fields but also well-rounded in a variety of subjects.

Types of Bachelor’s Degrees

There are many types of bachelor’s degrees. The one you earn will depend on your major, which itself will depend on your career goals. As stated above, most schools will still require you to take specific core courses no matter which major you pursue. For example, science majors will likely have to take at least one English Composition course, and English majors will likely have to take at least one science course.

Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list and that not all 4-year institutions offer every type of bachelor’s degree:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS)
  • Bachelor of Applied Arts (BAA)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS)
  • Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

What Can You Do With A Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree can lead to an enormous number of potential career paths. Some of the most popular bachelor’s degrees include education, marketing, or nursing. For many people, a bachelor’s degree may fulfill the education requirements for their desired career path. For others, the degree is just one step on the path to earning a more advanced degree.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree almost always requires a bachelor’s degree first and involves more rigorous, concentrated coursework for a specific career. Master’s degrees aren’t needed for all jobs, but some people pursue them to advance their careers. 

A master’s degree usually takes about two years to complete. Some programs allow you to accelerate that process. Others will let you enroll in the program part-time, which will extend the total length of your program. It all depends on your schedule, preferences, and which school you choose.

Unlike a bachelor’s degree program, master’s programs usually don’t require general education classes. You’ll typically have a few required courses related to your concentration and a few specialized electives that allow you to focus on your specific area of interest.

Types of Master’s Degrees

As with bachelor’s degrees, there are specialized master’s degrees depending on your course of study and career goals. These are not all of the master’s degrees out there, but they’re some of the most common:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Health Science (MHS)
  • Master of Information System Management (MIS)
  • Master of Library Science (MLS)
  • Master of Science (MS)

What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree?

As we said above, not all careers or jobs require a master’s degree. However, you might consider pursuing one for a career you already have if it can help you advance, earn more money, or allow you to pivot to a different — but likely related — field from your undergraduate education.

Doctoral Degree

This is the highest level of education one can achieve and signifies a mastery of a certain subject or field. Graduates earn the title of “Doctor,” though they’re not medical doctors.

Doctoral degrees don’t usually have credit requirements. Instead, they focus on research, writing, and peer reviews that might take years to complete. Sometimes, a master’s degree is included as part of the doctoral program. This means that some programs allow you to go straight from a bachelor’s degree to a doctoral program.

What Can You Do With a Doctoral Degree?

Doctoral degrees focus on research and include titles such as Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Education (Ed.D), or Doctor of Science (D.Sc.). Graduates often pursue careers in academia, research, or fields requiring high-level expertise.

Professional Degree

A professional degree is a specialized graduate qualification that’s essential for certain licensed professionals. Unlike Ph.Ds, a professional degree focuses on real-world practice, though it may include some research. 

These programs typically take three to seven years to complete. The curriculum often incorporates the licensing process, facilitating a seamless transition into the workforce. These degrees are conferred by accredited professional schools, which may be affiliated with universities or operate independently.

Most professional degree programs require only a bachelor’s degree before applying, but a few might require a master's degree before admission. 

Many of the highest-paying professions require a professional degree. These include physicians (Doctor of Medicine, or MD), lawyers (Juris Doctor, or JD), pharmacists (Doctor of Pharmacy, or PharmD), and college professors. 

Why Earn a Degree?

Earning a degree — whether a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree — enhances your skills and opens doors to diverse opportunities. While a degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee personal or professional advancement, earning one can help you expand your options.

Career Opportunities

A bachelor’s or advanced degree can significantly expand your career opportunities, as many professions require a specific level of education as a minimum qualification. Higher education especially provides individuals with specialized knowledge and skills, making them more competitive in the job market. Additionally, having a degree often opens doors to leadership positions and higher earning potential, contributing to long-term professional success.

Increased Earning Potential

On average, individuals with a college degree tend to earn higher salaries compared to those without one. This financial benefit can be a significant motivator for pursuing a college degree. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly shows a link between higher education and the amount of money earned. Again, while there are no guarantees, higher education can be seen as an investment in your future. The higher your degree, the more money you can potentially earn.

Personal Development

A college degree can offer you opportunities to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as expose you to new perspectives and ways of thinking. Students often develop essential life skills such as time management, communication, and teamwork during their college experience. Advanced degrees, like a master’s or doctoral degree, also offer priceless hands-on and real-world experience.

For some individuals, obtaining a degree is a personal goal and a source of pride. It signifies that you’ve overcome challenges and are proactively taking steps toward self-improvement. It can also boost your confidence and self-esteem.

What Is the Best Type of Degree?

There is no “best” type of degree. The one you should pursue will depend on your career goals and schedule. For some, a bachelor’s degree is the best degree for them to reach their goals and build their careers. For others, continuing on to a doctoral degree will feel like the best option.

Understand that earning a degree takes time, effort, and money, but it’s a great way to start the journey to a more fulfilling career.

StraighterLine Can Help You Earn Your Degree!

If you do decide to earn your bachelor’s degree, StraighterLine offers 70+ online courses with credits that transfer to over 150 partner schools, as well as thousands more through ACE. This is a great way to save time and money on college while working toward your degree requirements. 

Learn all the ways that StraighterLine can help you earn credit toward a bachelor’s degree!

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