College Degrees: Defined and Explained

College can be a scary place to send your child, especially if you grew up in a time when many wouldn’t dream of going to college. However, these are different times, and there are now more high school graduates than ever who go on to get their college degrees. But what exactly is that degree? There are so many different types of degrees that understanding how they differ can be overwhelming for parents and prospective students alike. 

Which degree will help them get the job they want? What does each one mean? How much do they cost? These are all valid questions and concerns, which is why we’ve taken the time to give you an overview of the five main types of college degrees.

What Is a College Degree?

A degree provides an overarching structure and direction for your studies. There are actually five main types of degrees that one can earn while in college. If you are going to school to get a degree, it’s important that you understand the different types of degrees so that your education is worthwhile and applicable to the job market. The five main types of degrees are an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree, a Doctorate Degree, and a Professional Degree.

Associate’s Degree

An Associate’s Degree, sometimes called a “two-year degree,” is typically earned after two years of full-time study or after a student has completed a school’s general education requirements. A typical Associate’s Degree will take between 60 and 64 credits each semester and/or quarter. Associate degrees are often awarded by Junior Colleges; however, students can also CLEP or AP classes to earn an associate’s Degree sooner. After earning their Associate’s Degree, students can transfer to a four-year college to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field, or they can enter a career path. Several career paths, including air traffic controller, dental hygienist, and ultrasound technician, require a two-year degree.

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Bachelor’s Degree

A Bachelor’s Degree is a four-year degree that is the most common degree in the United States. It is sometimes called an “Undergraduate Degree” because students pursue it prior to pursuing a graduate degree (typically right after high school). It is a general degree that covers a wide variety of topics. Bachelor’s Degrees will require a minimum of 120 credits to complete and usually take a full four years to earn. Most Bachelor’s Degrees will require a student to declare a major. A major is a specific field of study that the student will study in-depth and focus on. Bachelor’s Degrees can vary dramatically in difficulty depending on the student’s major. After graduation, depending on their major, students should be able to enter a career path or apply for a Master’s or professional program. Careers such as Architecture, Engineering, and Actuarial Sciences require a four-year degree.

Master’s Degree

A Master’s Degree is an eighteen- to twenty-four-month degree program. It is typically awarded after a student completes between 30 and 36 credits each semester and/or quarter. Most Master’s Degrees will be in a specific field of study related to the Bachelor’s Degree that the student has already earned. For example, a Master’s Degree in Biology would be a degree focused on more specialized topics in the field of Biology. Because a Master’s Degree typically allows students to specialize within their chosen field, it’s a great option for students with a specific career path in mind. It. Nurse practitioners, Speech-Language Pathologists, and public relations managers are all typically required to hold a Master’s Degree.

Doctorate Degree

A Doctorate Degree is a specialized degree that is earned after a student completes a Master’s Degree program. Doctoral Degrees take significantly longer to earn than Master’s Degrees and are sometimes referred to as “Ph.D.” (Doctor of Philosophy). Most Doctoral Degrees require the completion of a Master’s Degree program. However, there are some Doctoral Degrees that only require a Bachelor’s Degree. Therefore, it is important to research the specific requirements of the degree you want to earn before embarking on your education. Most Doctoral Degrees will require a minimum of three years of full-time study to complete.

Professional Degree

A Professional Degree is a degree that is earned to prepare someone for a specific, usually non-academic career. There are many different types of Professional Degrees, such as a “JD” (Doctor of Jurisprudence) or “MD” (Doctor of Medicine). While there are many different types of Professional Degrees, they are all primarily focused on the application of specific skills in a specific professional field. This means that students will learn to apply the information that they have learned in the classroom to the real world. Most Professional Degrees require a student to complete a minimum of two years of full-time study to complete.

We’ve covered the five main types of degrees that one can earn while in college: an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree, a Doctorate Degree, and a Professional Degree. Regardless of the degree that you earn, you will be a college graduate, and you’ll be able to use your degree to pursue almost any career that you want. If you are a parent with a child who is considering going to college, it’s important that you understand what each degree means and how long it will take to earn. This will help you to determine if the degree that your child wants to earn is practical and applicable to the job market.

If you are interested in learning more about the college admissions process, or about college life in general, check out more of our blogs and resources here at HelloCollege. We believe that preparing for university shouldn’t be scary, and we are here to help guide you or your student through the process every step of the way.

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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