Levels of Degrees
Individuals who are considering putting the time, money and effort into earning a college degree should spend some time understanding the various degree levels, what type of commitment they entail and what level degree they will need to meet their career goals. This article will help individuals understand their degree options so they can make a choice that best suits their interests and helps them fulfill their goals.
Associate's degrees are conferred upon completion of a two-year college program which typically includes 60 credits. Until recently, associates degrees were primarily obtained by students who planned to enter the workforce after graduation. However, a new popular trend is for students to earn their associates degree at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution, thus saving money on the first half of their bachelor's degree. Students who plan to continue on to earn a bachelor's degree often enroll in a program that is designed to be transferrable as the equivalent of the first two years of a bachelor's degree program. These programs consist primarily of general education courses rather than career-specific ones.
Programs that are designed for students who plan to work in a particular career after graduation are referred to as vocational programs and include fewer general education courses and more career-specific courses. Credits can still be transferred to another school but the student would likely need to take further general education courses to obtain a bachelor's degree. The most popular vocational programs include health services, business administration, security and protective services, visual and performing arts, mechanical engineering and computer technologies.
Good Choice For Individuals Who:
- want to pursue a vocational career
- want to start working sooner
- prefer working over schoolwork
- want to save money but still earn bachelor's degree
Also known as baccalaureate degrees, these degrees are required for entry-level jobs in many professions. The standard time to complete a bachelor's degree is four years when attending full-time during the school year. Bachelor's degrees require the successful completion of at least 120 credit hours, assuming all the required courses for a person's major are completed successfully.
Bachelor's degree programs include both general education courses, which are not specific to an individual's major, as well as courses that are required for a student to graduate with a specific major. Students may also choose to minor in another subject area, which means they will also need to take a specific number of courses related to that area.
Good Option For Someone Who:
- Is prepared to commit to four-years of school
- Wants to pursue a career that requires a bachelor's degree
- Intends to continue on to earn a higher degree
Master's degrees are an advanced degree earned by individuals after they have completed their bachelor's degree. In some professions, a master's degree is required for any position whereas in other fields, it is only relevant for those who want to pursue a senior or leadership position. For some students, a master's degree is earned because they want to switch careers and is often a good alternative to earning a second bachelor's degree. These students will sometimes need to take additional pre-requisite courses before starting their master's program.
Master's programs usually take between one and two years of full-time study although in many fields, part-time attendance while continuing to work, is common. Coursework in master's programs is more specialized and students can often choose courses that are most relevant to their personal career goals. Masters degrees are most commonly earned by those working in education, business, health care and engineering.
Smart Choice For Those Who:
- Would like to advance their career
- Want to change careers and already have a bachelor's degree
- Can commit time and money to another year or two of schooling
- Intend to pursue a doctorate degree that requires a master's degree first
These degrees, which are also known as professional doctorates, are limited to certain professional fields where an advanced degree is required for licensing and thus anyone who wants to work in the field must obtain the appropriate degree. The resulting license typically includes "doctor of " in the title, which can be confusing because these degrees are not the same as degrees earned in doctoral programs. Depending on the profession, these programs can take from two to four years to complete after meeting undergraduate requirements which often include a bachelor's degree.
Professionals that must have this type of degree include Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, Dentists, Optometrists, Pharmacists, Lawyers and Veterinarians. These professionals can start working after earning their degree and becoming licensed but may also choose to continue their education in a specialty area.
For Individuals Who:
- Want to pursue a career that requires a first professional degree
- Are confident about their career choice
- Are ready to dedicate the time and effort required to complete the program
Doctoral degrees are the highest level of degree available. Some professions such as university professor or school superintendant require a doctoral degree. Time to completion varies widely depending on the degree and program and can vary from one to six years. Some programs admit students with a bachelor's degree while other programs require a master's degree.
One type of doctoral degree is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) which can be obtained in numerous fields. The word "philosophy" is a historical carry-over with no modern day relevance. There are many other types of doctoral degrees including Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and many others. The primary difference is that a PhD is not awarded until the candidate successfully defends their thesis or dissertation while the other types of doctoral degrees do not necessarily require this.
For Individuals Who Are Ready To:
- Enjoy advanced, challenging coursework
- Dedicate the time and effort to complete the program
- Pursue a career that requires this level of degree
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