Types of College Degrees and Degree Levels

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Shortcuts to the Different Types of College Degrees and Degree Levels


With all of the different levels and types of college degrees there are to choose from, it’s no surprise that you may be wondering, “Which degree is right for me?”

The best way to answer that is for you to consider a series of short questions:

  1. How much education have you completed so far?
  2. Is there a specific degree(s) that your ideal career requires?
  3. How long are you willing to stay in school?
  4. How much tuition are you willing to pay outright or through student loans?

The most important question in that list – and the one that will greatly affect how you think about the others – is the second question: Is there a specific degree level and type that your ideal career requires? Most jobs and careers that pay more than minimum wage require a specific college certificate or degree and professional experience or training.

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Doctors, for example, are required to have an MD or DO medical degree and need to complete multiple years of rotations and residencies before they can practice medicine on their own. Certain business jobs and careers require a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) Degree for consideration. In fact, an MBA is quickly becoming the new norm for companies that are hiring management-level employees. Then, of course, there are many different trade careers that require a certificate or associate degree for consideration.

As you can see, each type of certificate, licensure, and college degree will open doors to different job opportunities and career paths. Use the list of college degrees below to determine which degree type is right for you.

Listing of College Degree Levels and Types of Degrees

Certificates and Licenses

In some fields, professional certification and licensing are synonymous, in others they are not. Before choosing one or the other you’ll want to thoroughly research the career you are interested in, and more specifically, the career you are interested in within the region you plan on working. Most U.S. states and regions have their own governing organization that determines the required credentials and training for that area. The best way to determine what is required is to contact the local regulatory agency for your field and/or professional association (i.e. California Board of Nursing, Colorado Psychology Examiners, etc.).

Unlike degrees which typically include a general education component, certificates and licenses are designed to help you develop a specific skill set that will prepare you for a particular job or to perform a specific function. Certificates and licenses typically take one to two years to complete. They can be earned at community colleges and technical and vocational schools. Several four-year colleges also offer certificate programs.

Undergraduate Degrees

Simply put, undergraduate degrees are what you can earn after you attain a high school diploma or GED and before you start a master’s or doctoral degree. Undergraduate degrees are sometimes referred to as post-secondary degrees. Courses in the undergraduate degree level incorporate general education learning material as well as curricula from elective, pre-requisite, and core classes.

General education courses are required if you are pursuing an undergraduate degree, regardless of your chosen field of study. General education courses may include subjects related to math, history, art, science, and English.

Pre-requisites and core courses will often be specific to the field of study that you choose to pursue. For example, a psychology program may require certain prerequisite courses to be taken before you are able to apply for entrance into the program. Once admitted into the psychology program, you can then take core classes in behavioral science, adolescent psychology, psychology research and statistics, abnormal psychology, counseling, neuroscience, and more. Some programs require a declaration rather than admission and thus the courses in that program are open to anyone who has declared that to be their major or minor; sometimes these courses have no enrollment restrictions and are open to anyone who has interest in the course.

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Types of Undergraduate Degrees

There are two general types of undergraduate degrees: Associate Degrees and Bachelor’s Degrees. Associate Degrees earned at a community college with the intent of transferring to an accredited four-year institutions are sometimes referred to Transfer Degrees.

Transfer Degrees

If you plan on completing your first two years of college at a community college and then transferring to a four-year college or university, you’ll want to enroll in a program that allows you to earn one of the transfer degrees listed below.

You’ll also want to make sure that the institution where you earn your degree is regionally accredited and that the credits will transfer to the four-year college that you want to attend. A majority of four-year colleges and universities are regionally accredited and will only accept transfer credits earned at community colleges that are also regionally accredited.

The associate degrees listed above, when earned from an accredited institution, generally will fulfill general education requirements as well as many of the introductory course requirements for whatever major you intend to pursue at a four-year college. When considering attending a community college or any 2-year undergraduate program, discuss your choices with a college advisor at your current school or an enrollment office at the four-year college you plan to attend down the road.

Associate Degrees

Associate degrees are undergraduate degrees that typically take 2 years to complete. They’re offered at community colleges, vocational colleges, technical schools and some four-year colleges also offer associate degrees. Credits earned through an associate degree program often cost less than those earned at a four-year college and are usually transferable to a four-year college if earned at a community college or vocational school that is regionally accredited.

The most traditional associate degrees are the Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS), but there are also several other types of associate degrees, including the Associate of Applied Science (AAS), which is designed to prepare students for a particular career path. Most traditional programs consist of three parts: general education requirements, major requirements, and electives.

Most Common Associate Degrees
  • ABS – Associate of Baccalaureate Studies
  • ADNAssociate Degree in Nursing
  • AES – Associate of Engineering Science
  • AET – Associate in Engineering Technology
  • AFA – Associate of Fine Arts
  • AGS – Associate of General Studies
  • AIT – Associate of Industrial Technology
  • AOS – Associate of Occupational Studies
  • APE – Associate of Pre-Engineering
  • APS – Associate of Political Science or Associate of Public Service
  • ASPT-APT – Associate in Physical Therapy

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree offered at a four-year college or university. Bachelor’s degrees typically take 4-5 years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees are the most commonly sought undergraduate degrees as they are the degree of choice among employers looking to fill entry-level positions and are required for entry into most graduate programs.

The bachelor’s degree requires that you complete several general education core courses, such as English, math, science, humanities, communications, and social sciences. If you are entering a bachelor’s degree program, having already completed an associate degree, you may be exempt from taking several, if not all, of the required general education courses. At some point during the course of your bachelor’s degree, you will also be required to select a “major”, which is a subject or field of academic study and focus.

There are several different types of bachelor’s degrees, the two primary being the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS). BA degrees typically focus in the humanities and social science fields. BS degrees usually focus on scientific and technical fields. Other bachelor’s degrees include the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), to name just a couple.

Not only is the bachelor’s degree the degree of choice among employers looking to fill entry-level positions but students who want to pursue a graduate or professional degree must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Graduate degrees, including master’s degrees and doctoral degrees (i.e. PhD, PsyD, M.Ed., etc.) are now required for entry into an increasing number of career fields, including psychology, medicine, law, and education.

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Most Common Bachelor’s Degrees
    Architecture and Design

    Arts

    Engineering

    • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng, BE, BSE, BESc, BSEng, BASc, BTech, BSc(Eng), AMIE,GradIETE)
    • Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech. or B.Tech.)
    • Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BSET)

    Business and Management

    • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
    • International Business Economics (BIBE)
    • Bachelor of Science in Business (BSBA)
    • Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS)
    • Bachelor of Administrative Studies
    • Bachelor of International Business Economics (BIBE)
    • Bachelor of Commerce (BCom, or BComm)
    • Bachelor of Business (BBus or BBus)
    • Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS)
    • Bachelor of Business Science (BBusSc)
    • Bachelor of Accountancy (B.Acy. or B.Acc. or B. Accty)
    • Bachelor of Comptrolling (B.Acc.Sci. or B.Compt.).
    • Bachelor of Economics (BEc, BEconSc; sometimes BA(Econ) or BSc(Econ))
    • Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management (BAOM)

    Computer Science and Information Systems

    • Bachelor of Computing (BComp)
    • Bachelor of Computer Science (BCompSc)
    • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSc IT),
    • Bachelor of Computer Applications (BCA)
    • Bachelor of Applied Science in Information Technology (BAppSc(IT)
    • Bachelor of Business Information Systems (BBIS)

    Healthcare and Medicine

    • Intercalated Bachelor of Science (BSc)
    • Bachelor of Medical Science (BMedSci)
    • Bachelor of Medical Biology (BMedBiol)
    • Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS)
    • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BN, BNSc, BScN, BSN, BNurs, BSN, BHSc)
    • Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH)
    • Bachelor of Health Science (BHS & BHSc)
    • Bachelor of Science in Human Biology (BSc)
    • Bachelor of Kinesiology (BKin, BSc(Kin), BHK)

    Aviation

    • Bachelor of Aviation (BAvn)

    Divinity and Theology

    • Bachelor of Divinity (BD or BDiv)
    • Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.; Th.B. or BTheol)
    • Bachelor of Religious Studies (BRS)
    • Bachelor of Religious Education (BRE)

    Fine Arts

    Film and Television

    • Bachelor of Film and Television (BF&TV)

    Integrated Studies

    • Bachelor of integrated studies (BIS)

    Journalism

    • Bachelor of Journalism (BJ, BAJ, BSJ or BJourn)

    Landscape Architecture

    • Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLArch)

    Liberal Arts

    • Bachelor of Liberal Arts (B.L.A.; occasionally A.L.B.)
    • Bachelor of General Studies (BGS, BSGS)
    • Bachelor of Applied Studies (BAS)
    • Bachelor of Liberal Studies
    • Bachelor of Professional Studies (BPS)

    Library Science

    • Bachelor of Library Science (BLS, BLib)
    • Bachelor of Library and Information Science (BLIS)

    Music

    • Bachelor of Music (BM or BMus)
    • Bachelor of Art in Music (BA in Music)

    Music Education

    • Bachelor of Music Education (BME)

    Mortuary Science

    • Bachelor of Mortuary Science (BMS)

    Philosophy

    • Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil, PhB)

    Psychology

    • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (BAPSY)
    • Bachelor of Science in Psychology (BSc(Psych))

    Education

    • Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE, BS in Ed)
    • Bachelor of Arts for Teaching (BAT)
    • Bachelor of Science and/with education degree (BScEd)

    Forestry

    • Bachelor of Science in Forestry (B.S.F. or B.Sc.F.)

    Science

    Science in Law

    • Bachelor of Science in Law (BSL)

    Social Sciences

    • Bachelor of Social Science (BSocSc)

    Social Work

    • Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BSW or BASW)

    Technology

    • Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech)

    Talmudic Law

    • Bachelor of Talmudic Law (BTL)

    Tourism Studies

    • Bachelor of Tourism Studies (BTS)

    Mathematics

    • Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath)
    • Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences (BMathSc)

    Urban and Regional Planning

    • Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning (BURP and BPlan)

    Public Affairs and Policy Management

    • Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (BPAPM)

Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees are advanced programs of academic and professional study that focus on a particular discipline or profession (e.g. healthcare and medicine, psychology, business, etc.) In the past, graduate programs were primarily “academic” in nature (research and education oriented). Today most are “professional” (skills development and knowledge application oriented) or are a combination of professional and academic. Graduate degrees can take anywhere from 2-6 years to complete.

How is a Graduate Degree Different from an Undergraduate Degree?

In relation to an undergraduate degree, graduate degrees are much more focused on a particular discipline and offer a field-intense education. In addition, there is a much higher expectation regarding the quantity and quality of students’ academic work. Other distinguishing characteristics of graduate programs include:

  • Fast paced and demanding
  • Studies focused around core discipline with few electives
  • Higher standard of required work and performance
  • Smaller class size with more interaction between students and teachers
  • More hands-on and clinical experience
  • Real-world application of classroom instruction
  • Work experience via teaching, internships, fellowships, or research
  • Original work and research often required
  • Higher level of competition between students

Types of Graduate Degrees

There are two general categories of graduate-level degrees: master’s and doctoral. Each is addressed in detail below.

Master’s Degrees

A master’s degree is a post-secondary or graduate degree that is often pursued following a bachelor’s degree. Even though a master’s degree is much more rigorous and demanding than a bachelor’s degree, it can usually be completed in just two years of full-time study. The majority of master’s degrees involve intricate analysis and/or extensive research.

Common Reasons to Pursue a Master’s Degree

  • Meet job requirements
  • Better qualify for career advancement opportunities
  • Further knowledge and skill sets
  • Set themselves apart from other professionals
  • Increase earning potential

General Master’s Degree Areas

Most Common Master’s Degrees

  • Master of Accountancy (MAcc, MAc, or MAcy)
  • Master of Advanced Study (M.A.S.)
  • Master of Economics (M.Econ)
  • Master of Applied Science (MASc, MAppSc, MApplSc, M.A.Sc. and MAS.)
  • Master of Architecture (M.Arch.)
  • Master of Arts (M.A., MA, A.M., or AM)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
  • Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MA, ALM, MLA, MLS or MALS)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Business (MBus)
  • Master of Business Informatics (MBI)
  • Master of Chemistry (MChem)
  • Master of City Planning
  • Master of Commerce (MCom or MComm)
  • Master of Computational Finance (or Quantitative Finance)
  • Master of Computer Applications (MCA)
  • Master of Criminal Justice (MCJ)
  • Master in Creative Technologies
  • Master of Design (MDes, M.Des. or M.Design)
  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Master of Economics (M.Econ.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed., MEd, Ed.M., M.A.Ed., M.S.Ed., M.S.E., or M.Ed.L)
  • Master of Engineering (M.Eng., ME or MEng)
  • Master of Engineering Management (MEM)
  • Master of Enterprise (M.Ent.)
  • Master of European Law (LL.M. Eur)
  • Master of Finance (M.Fin.)
  • Master of Financial Economics
  • Master of Financial Engineering (Master of Quantitative Finance)
  • Master of Financial Mathematics (Master of Quantitative Finance)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA, M.F.A.)
  • Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Master of Health Science (MHS)
  • Master of Humanities (MH)
  • Master of Industrial and Labor Relations (MILR)
  • Master of International Affairs
  • Master of International Business
  • Masters in International Economics
  • Master of International Studies (MIS)
  • Master of Information System Management (abbreviated M.ISM, MS.IM, M.IS or similar)
  • Master of IT (abbreviated MSIT, MScIT, M.Sc.IT, MSc.IT or M.Sc IT.)
  • Master of Jurisprudence (M.J. or M.Jur)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M. or LLM)
  • Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.)
  • Master of Landscape Architecture (M.Arch.)
  • Master of Letters (MLitt)
  • Master of Liberal Arts (MA, ALM, MLA, MLS or MALS)
  • Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
  • Master of Management (MM)
  • Master of Mathematical Finance
  • Master of Mathematics (or MMath)
  • Master of Medical Science
  • Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.)
  • Master of Occupational Therapy (OT)
  • Master of Pharmacy (MPharm or MPharm)
  • Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.)
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies
  • Master of Physics (MPhys)
  • Master of Political Science
  • Master of Professional Studies (MPS or M.P.S.)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Affairs (M.P.Aff.)
  • Master of Public Health (M.P.H.)
  • Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.)
  • Master of Public Management
  • Master of Quantitative Finance
  • Master of Rabbinic Studies (MRb)
  • Master of Real Estate Development
  • Master of Religious Education
  • Master of Research – MSc(R)
  • Master of Sacred Music (MSM)
  • Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc., MSc, M.Sci., M.Si., Sc.M., M.S., MSHS, MS, Mag., Mg., Mgr, S.M., or SM)
  • Master of Science in Education
  • Master of Science in Engineering (MSE)
  • Master of Science in Finance (M.Fin.)
  • Master of Science in Human Resource Development (HRD or MSHRD)
  • Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS)
  • Master of Science in Information Systems Management (MSMIS)
  • Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT, MScIT, M.Sc.IT, MSc.IT or M.Sc IT.)
  • Master of Science in Leadership (MSL)
  • Master of Science in Management (MSc or MSM)
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Master of Science in Project Management (M.S.P.M.)
  • Master of Science in Supply Chain Management (SCM or MSSCM)
  • Master of Science in Teaching (MST)
  • Master of Science in Taxation
  • Master of Social Science (MSSc)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Studies (M.St. or MSt)
  • Master of Surgery (Ch.M. or M.S., as well as M.Ch. and M.Chir.)
  • Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.)
  • Master of Theology (Th.M. or M.Th.)
  • Master of Urban Planning
  • Master of Veterinary Science (MVSC or MVSc)

Specialist Degrees

A specialist degree is a type of professional degree that is typically earned in addition to a master’s degree. It is designed to provide working professionals with an additional certification to fulfill licensing requirements (e.g. Ed.S. for a school principal). These programs require additional coursework, training, and/or internship experience.

Doctorate Degrees

A doctoral degree is an advanced graduate degree that typically follows a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In many fields, a doctoral degree is considered a “terminal degree”, the highest academic degree in a given field of study. Unlike bachelor’s and master’s degrees that can be completed on a part-time basis, doctoral degrees are work-intensive and usually require full-time attention (i.e. 40 to 60 hours a week of studying). Most doctoral degrees are research-oriented and are earned under the supervision and tutelage of a professor.

While historically doctorate degrees were primarily research-oriented and designed to prepare students for careers in research and teaching, they are now required for entry into several professional fields (e.g. psychology, education, medicine, etc.) and many professionals now pursue these degrees in an effort to increase their career advancement opportunities and pay.

Depending on the field of study, a doctoral degree can take anywhere from 2-5 years to complete, sometimes longer.
Types of Doctorate Degrees

  • Professional Doctorates – The professional doctorate, as the name suggests, is a professionally oriented doctorate degree that focuses on a particular profession. These programs typically emphasize skill development and knowledge acquisition. An example of a professional doctorate is the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).
  • Research Doctorates – These doctorate degrees are research-oriented doctorates that focus almost exclusively on academic research. Common research doctorates include Ph.D. and Doctor of Philosophy.
  • Higher Doctorates – A higher doctorate is a tiered research degree. While not as common in the United States, these degrees are awarded in several countries including France, Great Britain, and Ireland.
  • Honorary Doctorates – An honorary doctorate is degree in which the usual requirements have been waived. This degree is typically awarded as a way of honoring or recognizing an individual’s contributions in a specific field, or to society in general. Honorary doctorates are not awarded by all universities that award doctorate degrees.
Most Common Professional Doctorates

  • Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Doctor of Ministry (DMin)
  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD)
  • Doctor of Optometry (OD)
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
  • Doctor of Practical Theology (DPT)
  • Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Medicinae Doctor (MD)
Popular Research Doctoral Degree Titles

  • Doctor of Arts (DA)
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Design (D.Des.)
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  • Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng./D.E.Sc./D.E.S.)
  • Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA)
  • Doctor of Industrial Technology (DIT)
  • Doctor of Music (DM)
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DN.Sc.)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)
  • Doctor of Physical Education (DPE)
  • Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
  • Doctor of Science (DSc/ScD)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
  • Doctor of Theology (ThD)

Professional Degrees

A professional degree professional degree is a doctorate-level degree that is required as a prerequisite to working in a particular career field. The most popular fields requiring professional degrees are medicine and law.

Professional degree programs are typically offered via specialized schools of study that concentrate in a particular area of expertise (e.g. law, medicine, psychology, engineering, business, etc.) Most professional degree programs require a bachelor’s degree, at a minimum, as a condition for application and acceptance. All classes, coursework, internships, residencies within these programs focus on the specific field of study. These degrees are sometimes referred to as “First Professional Degrees”.

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