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Schools and Types of Degrees

With over 4,000 colleges in the U.S., each one claiming to be better than the next, you're probably confused by the array of options before you.

Before you decide which college you'd like to attend, it would be wise to consider the kind of a program that you'd like to enroll in.

An Overview of the Post-Secondary Education System

Whether it's chasing a long-cherished dream or qualifying through a diploma to start earning sooner, the choices in post-secondary education are almost endless. Education systems in U.S. follow a universal rule that mandates completion of 12 years of regular schooling or completion of the GED before you can enroll in a higher education degree program.

The term post-secondary education generally comprises graduate programs, master's degrees, doctorate courses, and numerous other professional certificates and diplomas.

Depending on the time that you can invest for higher education and your objective in qualifying for further studies, you could opt for an associate, bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.

1. Associate Degrees: Associate Degrees are awarded by community colleges after you have completed a two-year course in arts, science, applied science, or occupational studies. You are free to attend four-year graduate courses in colleges or universities while getting an associate degree.

2. Bachelor's Degrees: A bachelor's degree is granted by a college or a university for an undergraduate program spanning three, four or, in some cases, even five years. The most common bachelor's degrees are awarded primarily in arts or science. Most colleges offer a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree for non-professional courses such as literature, history, and humanities, while the natural sciences such as chemistry, physics, and nursing are included under the Bachelor of Science (BS) program. Students can pick a major in the discipline of their choice. For instance, you could get a BA degree, majoring in journalism, history, or literature. Some schools offer a specially structured academic program known as "honors" to top-performing students, which allows them to major in two or more subjects. The kind of bachelor's degree awarded for the chosen subjects, including the duration of the course, varies from school to school.

In addition to the popular BA and BS degrees, a wide range of undergraduate programs are available, such as specialization in economics, engineering, commerce, and architecture to name a few.

3. Master's Degrees: A master's degree is conferred on those who have completed one or two years of graduate studies, involving further research and advanced applications in a specialized field. You can take this program after you complete undergraduate studies (a bachelor's degree) spanning a minimum of three years. The duration would depend on the course and the school.

As in the case of under-graduate studies, the Arts and Science streams are the most basic courses for a post-graduate program and lead to Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees, respectively. In addition to these, business management is a course that is widely studied by professionals, and results in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

Many universities in U.S. require students to take either the GRE exam for science courses or the GMAT for admission into management institutes.

4. Doctoral degrees: A doctorate is the highest level of academic degree in any field. Globally, the most usual doctorate degree is the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) for all disciplines. The program involves extensive research and can take anywhere from five to ten years to complete.

A master's degree was once regarded as the minimum qualification for eligibility to a doctoral program; but now, some universities accept students with a bachelor's degree if they are proficient in the course material meant for the master's degree.

Institutions Offering Post-Secondary Education:

1. Colleges award bachelor's degrees and offer courses in arts and science. Some offer associate degrees as well.

2. Universities award bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. Vast resources, a greater choice of subjects, better infrastructure, high student strength, experienced faculty, and opportunities to fund your own education are some of the benefits universities offer.

3. Community Colleges grant two-year associate degrees.

4. Career, Vocational or Trade Schools offer courses designed for a specific career as certificates or diplomas.

When you're looking for a degree that aligns with your goals, remember that you have a wide range of choices. Deciding on the field you want to pursue will help you in evaluating the schools that suit your interests best.

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