An academic degree is a qualification awarded to students upon successful completion of a course of study in higher education, normally at a college or university.
Degree Levels Available
|Average Completion Time (full-tme)
|High school diploma or equivalent
|High school diploma or equivalent
|Master’s degree (sometimes bachelor’s degree is acceptable)
Universities and community colleges award degrees at varying levels, from associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees. When comparing different degrees, students can consider which program best fits their career goals and academic interests.
There are four major categories of degrees available for post secondary students: associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Earning one of these degrees can take 2-8 years, depending on the level of the degree and field of study. Graduate-level programs may require students to complete one or more undergraduate programs prior to enrollment.
Associate-level programs offer different degrees for a variety of careers. These 2-year programs may provide the necessary training to prepare students for entry-level positions in fields like nursing, graphic design and other vocational areas. Associate degree programs are most commonly available from community colleges and technical schools.
Completing an associate degree program may qualify graduates to enter the workforce. Transferable associate degree programs cover the general education requirements needed to continue a student’s education at a 4-year university. The most common degrees available at the associate level include the following:
- Associate of Arts (A.A.)
- Associate of Science (A.S.)
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
A bachelor’s degree program is an undergraduate program that usually takes four years to complete. Enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program requires that students choose a major area of study, such as finance, history, communications or biology. Graduates from a bachelor’s degree program are qualified to work in entry or management-level positions, depending on the field.
A bachelor’s degree is also usually required for admittance into a graduate program. The different types of degrees available in a bachelor’s degree program include the following:
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
- Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS)
Master’s degree programs are graduate programs that let students specialize in an area of study. They typically take 1-2 years to complete. Along with an undergraduate degree, enrolling in a master’s degree program usually requires a minimum GPA and an acceptance score on a graduate entrance exam, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Many master’s degree programs require a thesis or capstone project for graduation.
Earning a master’s degree may qualify graduates to work in advanced or executive-level positions. A master’s degree is also required for entrance into some doctoral programs. Different degree programs available at the master’s degree level include the following:
- Master of Arts (M.A.)
- Master of Science (M.S.)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Doctoral degree programs, also known as Ph.D. programs, are the most advanced type of degree program available. Admittance into a doctoral degree program may require individuals to hold a master’s degree, although several programs accept candidates who only hold bachelor’s degrees. Additional requirements to be accepted into these programs may include submitting standardized test scores and sending in letters of recommendation.
Completing a Ph.D. program usually takes several years, and often involves the completion of a dissertation and a major research project. Medical-related doctoral programs may have students complete hands-on clinical hours with real patients during the final years of the program.
Ph.D. graduates are qualified to work as experts in areas of business or research, and professors at the postsecondary level. Common types of doctoral degrees include those listed below:
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
- Juris Doctor (J.D.)
- Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
- Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
While there are many different college level degree options, the four main degree levels include associate, bachelors, masters, and doctorate.