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Degrees Defined

Wondering which kind of degree can get you to the place you want to be in? With every college touting the advantages and superiority of its programs and courses, the average American student is likely to be confused by the sheer variety afforded by educational degrees.

Whatever the stage you are at, maybe you've just finished high school or you're currently pursuing an undergraduate program, it pays to know exactly what you are getting into and what the degree can do for your career. Before you step out to tackle a degree head on, ask yourself some basic questions like the duration of the course, costs involved and what careers it will prepare you for. Earning a degree is very important in today's job market, HRPMN.org contains an article to contrast what having a degree can do verses not having a college education.

Some basic information about degrees in the U.S.

Associate's Degree
If you want a degree that will keep your options open, allowing you to either land a job or prepare you for further study, an associate degree would be the perfect choice. In fact, some of the most lucrative jobs require an associate degree as the qualifying criterion for a job.

A survey conducted in 2001 showed that compared to those with a high school diploma, graduates with an associate degree earned as much as $130 more per week. Students with associate degrees are also more likely to find jobs. In 2001, the unemployment rate was about 30 percent lower for associate degree holders when compared to high school graduates.

An associate's degree lasts for about two years and you can get it at junior colleges, community colleges, business colleges, and in some cases, at universities.

Types of Associate Degree Programs:

  • A.A. - Associate of Arts - Designed to transfer to a four-year college or university.
  • A.A.S. - Associate of Applied Science - A two year course preparing graduates for career entry or job advancement. These degrees could also be known by occupational specific titles such as Associate in Engineering Technology, Associate in Business, etc.
  • A.S. - Associate of Science - Intended for transfer to a four-year college or university.
  • Occupational Degree - Also known as "applied" degree programs, these two-year degrees allow students to enter the workforce immediately.

Bachelor's Degree


When people refer to a "college degree", they're almost always referring to a bachelor's degree. Generally speaking, your bachelor's degree would last for four years, though three year and five-year duration courses are also common.

Bachelor's Degree

Typically, your undergraduate program would include general education and elective courses, plus a major (a particular area of study). If you're a top performing student, your school might offer you a special academic program known as "honors", allowing you to major in two or more subjects.

Types of Bachelor Degree Programs:

  • B.A. or A.B. - Bachelor of Arts - Usually requires students to take a majority of courses in the arts - music, social sciences, humanities or fine arts.
  • B.S. or B.Sc. - Bachelor of Science - Requires students to major in one of the sciences such as life sciences, physical sciences, or the mathematical sciences.

There are other bachelor degrees like BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) and LLB (Bachelor of Legal Letters), among others. A wide range of bachelor's programs with specialization in engineering, economics, commerce, and architecture are also available.

Master's Degree
A master's degree generally requires one to three years of graduate study. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that master's degree holders earn an average of almost $200 more than students with bachelor's degrees.

The Arts and Science streams are the most basic courses for a graduate program, leading to Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees. If you are looking for a degree that will help you to advance professionally and enter the managerial cadre, you should consider a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

In the US, you would be required to take either the GRE exam for science courses or the GMAT for admission into management institutes. View our article Graduate Management Admissions Testto read further in-depth about the GMAT.

Other common master's degrees are an MBA or M.S. in Business, MEd (Master of Education), MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching), MSW (Master of Social Work, MLS (Master of Library Science) and MPH (Master of Public Health).

There are also a number of sub-specialty MBA programs that help students to customize their business education to fit existing positions. Medical administrators and medical practitioners can avail of master's degrees in nursing and health.

Certificate Programs
Getting a certificate from an accredited college or university will literally usher you into the workplace. Whilecertificate programs tend to vary widely, they are rapidly gaining the status of a "mini-degree".

Often, an undergraduate certificate is described as "less than an associate's degree." The program is usually intensive and skill-centered, with the duration of the course varying from eight weeks to one year or more.

To pursue an undergraduate certificate, you would need a high school diploma or GED. Some certificates offer academic credit which can then be applied towards a degree. Some professions may require additional licensing beyond the certificate.

A certificate program pursued alongside a regular degree can greatly increase your net value. 

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