FAQs: Learn More about College Degrees

You probably know that there are many types of college degrees you can earn when you enroll at a certain postsecondary institution. But what do they mean? Read on for a quick glance at all about degrees.

All About Degrees
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In reality, there are four major categories of degrees available for postsecondary students. These college degrees in order of complexity are associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

Generally, earning one of these degrees can take 2-8 years, depending on the level of the degree and field of study.

Usually, graduate-level university degrees may require students to complete one or more undergraduate programs prior to enrollment.

Thus, when comparing different degrees, students can consider which program best fits their career goals and academic interests.

Also, keep in mind that all college degrees require the completion of a high school diploma first.

Without further ado, let’s learn all about degrees, including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees through the following FAQs.

What is a degree?

A degree, or an academic degree, is a credential that students earn by completing any number of programs.

Furthermore, academic degrees are conferred to students at multiple educational levels for a variety of subjects.

However, they all typically fall into one of five categories.

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

In further explanation, most colleges and universities award academic degrees upon completion of particular programs of study.

Particularly, nearly all institutions of higher learning – from small community colleges to large universities – grant academic degrees.

Usually, one might choose to pursue an academic degree for personal enrichment, career preparation, or to fulfill an occupational requirement.

What is an associate degree?

Basically, an associate degree is a two-year post-secondary degree.

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It is the first level of post-secondary education that high school graduates can pursue at non-vocational institutes of higher learning.

Usually, typical associate programs take two years to complete. However, flexible online programs can be designed to help students graduate in as little as 18 months.

Courses offered in an associate program can be similar to the introductory courses taken in a comparable bachelor’s degree program.

For example, the general education requirements in a bachelor’s program may consist of similar courses needed to complete an associate degree, in addition to 100 and 200-level courses.

What is an undergraduate degree?

On the other hand, the term “undergraduate degree” may lead you to think of a traditional four-year bachelor’s program.

However, there are two categories of undergraduate degrees that can be distinguished by the amount and level of coursework required to complete each.

  1. Associate degree programs
  2. Bachelor’s degree programs

In short, undergraduate degree programs are the first level of post-secondary education students can pursue.

Usually, they can involve a mix of general education requirements and courses specific to their particular area of study or degree specialization.

Moreover, undergraduate degrees are designed to offer a solid foundation on which to build future knowledge and education, in addition to the development of skills needed to pursue career opportunities in one’s chosen area of study.

What is a graduate degree?

A graduate degree, however, is any degree students may pursue after earning their bachelor’s. This can include master’s degrees and Ph.Ds.

It provides an advanced understanding of a specific topic or field and demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning that many employers values.

Furthermore, those who choose to enroll in graduate school often do so with a series of career-oriented goals in mind.

Hence, it sets the stage for a substantially different type of learning environment than one might experience during an undergraduate career.

Then, students embarking on graduate school should begin by determining if an academic or professional degree is right for them.

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In particular, students who desire a career in a specific field may opt to pursue a professional degree.

Basically, these programs emphasize hands-on learning and often require students to obtain substantial real-world experience prior to graduation.

On the other hand, academic (or research) degrees align with a single, specific area of study or field.

Thus, students in pursuit of these degrees are required to develop an in-depth understanding of their subject area.

Also, they have to complete a thesis or capstone project to demonstrate their knowledge.

What is a Master’s degree?

A master’s degree is the first level of graduate study. To apply for a master’s degree, you usually must already hold an undergraduate degree (a bachelor’s degree).

Typically, it requires a year and one-half to two years of full-time study.

In fact, to earn a master’s degree, students need to complete from 36 to 54-semester credits of study (or 60 to 90 quarter-credits). Usually, this equals 12 to 18 college courses.

Generally, most master’s degrees are awarded by public or state universities.

Interestingly, almost all fields have at least a sub-specialty that offers a master’s degree program, for instance:

  • Arts and humanities
  • Biological/chemical/physical sciences,
  • Business
  • Computer science
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Health sciences
  • Management
  • Mathematics
  • Religion
  • Social services
  • Veterinary science
  • Etc.

Is a graduate degree the same as a master’s?

Actually, master’s degrees and graduate certificates make sense depending on the candidate and their specific career objectives.

First, a student earns a graduate certificate for completing an educational program in a specific field.

Also, the degree offers professionals the option to develop the desired skills for a profession and maybe attained faster than a degree.

However, a master’s degree is a graduate degree that shows a candidate has achieved a certain level of mastery in a particular field of study.

What is a doctorate degree?

The doctorate degree is the most advanced degree you can earn. Particularly, it symbolizes that one has mastered a specific area of study or field of profession.

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Furthermore, the degree requires a significant level of research and articulation.

Hence, those who earn the degree must have researched a subject or topic thoroughly, conducted new research and analysis, and provided a new interpretation or solution into the field.

The doctorate positions the professional for top-tier consulting and education career considerations and advancement in their current profession.

Additionally, it gives them the edge to staying relevant. In many cases, completing the doctorate means achieving a lifelong personal goal.

In fact, there are two major types of doctoral degrees: the research-oriented degree and the professional application degree.

What is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a high-level degree earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study.

Particularly, it culminates in the creation, submission, presentation, and defense of a research dissertation.

Interestingly, the Ph.D. can be awarded in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, engineering, and humanities.

Actually, for some professions, such as university professor or researcher, the Ph.D. is pretty much de rigor.

Specifically, most Ph.Ds. are earned as a means of contributing original research findings to an academic community, field of study, or professional discipline.

Are a Ph.D. and doctorate the same thing?

In short, the main difference between a doctorate and a Ph.D. is in their respective meanings.

First, a doctorate is an umbrella term for a degree or rank. On the other hand, a Ph.D. is a specific degree that falls under the doctorate category.

Hence, a doctorate is a program that can result in either a professional or an academic degree.

Furthermore, doctorate studies focus on two main categories of discipline: research and professional.

Holders of a doctorate degree are considered scholars and experts in their field of study.

Meanwhile, a Ph.D., which stands for Doctor of Philosophy, is classified under academic degrees. Recipients of a Ph.D. also employ the same professional and scholarly characteristics of many doctorate recipients.

However, Ph.D. degree recipients are more concerned with conducting research and have the necessary skill set to do so.

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