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    Types of College Degrees

    March 9, 2021 | Staff Writers

    types of College Degrees
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    Once upon a time, a high school diploma was all that was needed to enter the workforce. Nowadays, a college degree is really a must. But what kinds of college degrees are available, and what is needed for a good job? A college degree can help improve horizons, as well as expand job opportunities. Fortunately, many types of degrees exist to help students on their life paths.

    What kinds of degrees are there?

    There are varying types of degrees and certificates available, from a bachelor’s degree to the field-specific degrees associated with each college in the United States. A bachelor’s degree program prepares students to enter the workforce in different fields, including commerce, education, business administration, or law.

    An overview of the most common college degrees: associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees

    An associate’s degree is the first postsecondary degree program offered in the United States, followed by a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctoral degree. While you can get a two-year associate’s degree before a bachelor’s, most people simply go for the four-year bachelor’s degree program.

    A bachelor’s degree program lasts three to four years and includes at least 120 credits, usually offering a concentration. Some college programs offer shorter associate’s degrees, which typically involve a specific area of concentration and last two years. For example, some school of social work programs provide an associate’s degree.

    An example degree is a bachelor of arts (BA). This bachelor’s degree might include intermediate- or advanced-level courses in a specific concentration, such as literature or history.

    Master’s degrees come in many types, such as a master of science in public affairs. You need a related bachelor’s degree to be accepted into a master’s degree program.

    Other types of college degrees and certifications

    Beyond common degree programs such as an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, you can obtain an advanced doctoral degree or a specialty degree. Many colleges and universities also offer certifications and extension courses, many of which are geared toward working adults who already have gone through a bachelor’s degree program.

    Many certification courses are now being offered online by major colleges, including Ivy League schools, through sites such as EdX. These courses don’t provide college credit, typically, but will often deliver an electronic certificate if certain requirements are met. Many of these courses are free to audit, with a small fee going toward the certificate verification service. 

    The difference between general versus professional college degrees

    Going to college fresh out of high school can be a big decision. Many young people aren’t sure yet what they want to do, so they often opt for a general college degree in a wide subject such as liberal arts. A general education can be quite worthwhile. By studying classical college subjects, such as English literature, history, humanities, and the arts, students can get a broad, well-rounded education while learning reading, writing, and thinking skills that can help them throughout their lives.

    Wondering what kinds of degrees are there when it comes to practical job skills? There are plenty. For example, it is common for people in the business world to return to school to get a master’s in business administration (MBA) to advance into upper levels of management. While an MBA is not required for many business jobs, it is good to have.

    However, for many fields, particularly medical or mental health–related fields, a certain degree is needed in order to work. (A separate licensing exam is also required typically.) To go into the field of social work, you will need a social work degree. To get a nursing degree, you will need to go to a school that offers an accredited nursing program.

    As a student progresses in their educational career, they will typically gain more specialization. For example, psychology degrees at the bachelor’s level will be fairly generic, but a student may choose to specialize in certain areas of mental health (such as anxiety or pediatrics) as they get advanced psychology degrees and certifications.

    Professional certificates and licenses

    Though it is sometimes used as an alternative to a college degree, a certificate program is not the same as an undergraduate or graduate program. A certificate can be awarded by any school, organization, or business. The value of the certificate depends in part on whether the school or certifying body is recognized and/or accredited.

    Benefits of professional certification

    Making up the majority of education outside of college, professional certification is a valid way to enter the workforce. The amount and type of certification that a student will earn depend on their school and management skill set. There are many types of professional certificates and licenses available.

    A professional certificate is an educational credential covering a skill set, usually in a specific area of the field or employment area. When it comes to earning a professional certificate, the individual should be sure to check the school, since licensure will vary depending on the specialty certification.

    Requirements and coursework for professional certificates and licenses

    Coursework to obtain a certification with a professional organization will depend upon the topic and skills being taught. Some certifications require two or more years of work experience in addition to education in order to apply.

    The education to obtain a professional credential will depend on the organization releasing the credential through its specific certification process. For example, an IT certification will have different requirements than a real estate certification.

    The difference between certification and licensure

    One of the most important things to check on when selecting an educational institution for your certification program is whether you will be able to obtain licensure afterward (if needed). 

    In brief, a certificate is any sort of document that a school or organization gives you for completing their program. The value of any certificate lies in part with the program and reputation of the school.

    Certain professions are still self-regulated. In some of these professions, having a certificate from an approved school means you can join their professional association.

    A license is a legal document that allows you to practice a regulated profession in your state or other governmental jurisdiction. Some professions require licensing with the state. For example, a hairdresser needs more than a certificate to legally cut hair for money. Most licenses require completion of a state-approved program. They may also require successful completion of an exam. 

    Note, a certification exam, which your school or your professional association might require, may not be the same test as a state-approved licensing exam in your subject area. (In other words, you may need to take two exams, the first to get a certificate, and the second to get your license.)

    While some professions typically require government licensing (such as real estate or hairdresser), not all do. In these cases, check to make sure the professional school is accredited and approved by the state.

    Just remember, there is a difference between a credential and a license. While a license may depend on a credential offered by a professional association, the license is always offered through the state or local government.

    Typically, once you have passed your licensing exam, you will need to take continuing education to keep your license current. Sometimes, professional associations may also require continuing education after you get your initial certificate.

    Where to find a good certificate program

    Many colleges offer certification programs. For example, if you were searching online for a professional certificate in Florida, many local community colleges would come up. This is a great place to start.

    Some online schools such as Coursera may offer programs that result in professional certificates. 

    Many businesses offer certifications in their products and/or services either directly or through approved vendors. This is especially prevalent in IT. For example, technology professionals can obtain a Cisco certification in Cisco routers and network systems. The completion of a certification program may be required in many job descriptions for specific IT skills.

    Transfer degrees

    Students often start out at one college and transfer to another to complete their degree. In fact, it is a common strategy to obtain an associate’s degree first at a local community college and then transfer to a more expensive university to complete a bachelor’s degree.

    The difference between a transfer degree and an associate’s degree

    Many students ask, “Is a transfer degree an associate’s degree?” The short answer is, only some associate’s degrees are specifically designed to be transfer degrees, but all associate’s degrees can be used to transfer to a four-year college.

    Historically, students didn’t sign up for a “transfer degree” as such. Rather, a student would start out in an associate’s degree program at a community college. Then, they could transfer their credits from the two-year program to the four-year college.

    Many bachelor’s degree programs offer priority admission consideration or a direct transfer agreement from certain community colleges offering specific transfer degree programs. These days, you can find many transfer degrees specifically designed to fast-track admissions to four-year schools.

    For example, if you are able to go to a California community college, you might find a program to enable you to transfer to a four-year public college in the state. For example, some elementary education programs are specifically designed as an associate’s degree that lets you transfer to the California State University (CSU) campus, provided you meet the degree requirements.

    The California community college system isn’t the only one offering such programs. Check your local community colleges to see if they offer such programs. 

    The value of an associate’s degree

    It is important to understand that there are different types of associate’s degrees. All of them can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree at most universities. Associate’s degrees that are specifically designed to be transfer degrees can make it easier to get in a four-year degree program. But every associate’s degree has some value in this regard.

    The question becomes: What if a student isn’t sure about getting a four-year degree? Does the associate’s degree have any value on its own? The answer is, yes.

    With many associate’s degrees, particularly ones that are focused on specific vocations such as nursing, the degree itself is worthwhile even if the student never transfers.

    But what about an associate’s degree offering a general education such as an associate of arts (AA) degree? Is an AA degree useful? Such a degree is still typically better than no degree when applying for a job. Thus, any student who plans to attend a two-year college should consider earning an associate’s degree prior to transferring to another institution. This is especially true of students who might want to enter the workforce prior to graduation.

    Transferring from a two-year to a four-year degree program

    Associate’s degree programs are more common at community colleges, so the student will often need to switch to a new school to continue on and get a bachelor’s degree. Can you transfer a degree? Well, the associate’s degree itself will always be awarded by the community college that gave it to you, not the new college. But the credits should follow you to the new school. Contact an admissions advisor to help determine if it is possible to earn a bachelor’s degree based on your associate’s degree.

    To transfer from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree program, check the requirements. Some schools may require at least two years of college experience in order to be accepted. Priority admission consideration may be given to a student who plans to attend a specific campus.

    Transferring from one bachelor’s degree program to another one at a new school

    Some students may start a bachelor’s program at one school and decide to switch to a different university midstream. It may simply be that they aren’t happy where they are and feel they might do better at a different college campus. In this case, the ability to transfer to the new school will depend on the grades and academic record developed at the existing school. 

    What gets transferred when switching between colleges

    So the big question is: What exactly gets transferred over when a student switches to a new college or university? Does a failed class transfer?

    In short, a failed class is not a class that you passed, so you will not get credit for it when you transfer to a new college. Additionally, your new school may accept only some of your credits, and you won’t get credit for classes that may not apply to your new program. 

    This will be especially true if you are switching to a new major. If you took a bunch of classes in piano performance and decided to transfer to a new school to get a physics degree, your piano class credits probably won’t be fully counted. A few classes might count toward “elective” credits.

    Undergraduate degrees

    College degrees are categorized into two main categories: undergraduate and graduate.

    Undergraduate degree: An undergraduate degree allows students to enroll in a degree program to learn about a specific subject area after high school. Enrolling as an “undergraduate” is usually considered admission to higher education. Some colleges offer an undergraduate degree through a transfer degree, meaning the student can start their degree at one college and finish with another. To learn about the different degrees offered, refer to the description for education that is offered within the university or department website.

    Graduate degree: Once a student graduates with a bachelor’s degree, they are eligible to apply to a graduate degree program. A student who wants to earn an advanced qualification to be trained in a certain academic subject will earn a master’s degree, and once their master’s is obtained, they can apply for a doctorate or similar.

    Associate’s degree: The associate’s degree is the lowest undergraduate degree available. A student who wants to earn an associate’s degree needs only two years in school. Currently, this degree is offered through many community colleges. The associate’s degree can be used as a transfer degree that a student can apply toward a bachelor’s degree.

    Bachelor’s degree: The main undergraduate degree is a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years. A student who has obtained a bachelor’s degree typically graduates with some specialization in a field. For example, a student of English will earn a degree in English. The mathematically inclined student can earn a bachelor’s in accounting. The curriculum of an undergraduate program can be computer science, liberal arts, or a combination of these and other categories.

    Both of these types of degrees (undergraduate and graduate) may be offered at any college or university. However, the graduate degree means that the student has completed a prerequisite course of study and is able to consider graduate school. The distinction of a bachelor’s degree or any undergraduate degree lies largely in the combination of specialization and duration of study, in addition to the degree requirements for specialization. When a student chooses to pursue a bachelor’s degree to receive specialized training or educational qualification, they can also take advantage of specialization in a specific field to advance career goals.

    Graduate degrees

    The graduate degree was the name given to the degree program that allows students to fulfill the requirement for higher education beyond a bachelor’s degree. In order for the student to satisfy their graduate education, it is usually necessary to fulfill the bachelor’s degree first.

    Master’s degree: A program that helps a student to obtain a master’s degree is an advanced level of education. The master’s degree is extremely common and is available in many schools, as well as online. This degree usually takes one or two years to earn.

    Doctoral program: Doctoral programs are advanced academic programs in which a student has already obtained a master’s degree.

    Many students attending graduate school are working professionals. A student can opt for a graduate degree in education by attending college or university online. An online master’s degree consists of instructor-led courses in an online environment. The program is typically two years, in which a student gets academic training by permanent and visiting faculty. The curriculum of the graduate program can be mechanical or technical, specific to a profession, or generalized such as liberal arts.

    Specialist degrees

    To get a graduate degree, one must have a specific state of specialization, but this is not necessarily the same thing as a specialist degree. A specialist degree is typically a postmaster’s degree program designed for a specific career or an advanced master’s degree program. Multifaceted degrees are available to students in various professional areas.

    An example of a specialist degree program is an educational specialist degree, which is particularly common in schools. An education specialist degree helps meet the requirement for entering the field professionally. It can be earned after getting a master’s degree or may be an advanced master’s degree in a subject such as early childhood education.

    A scholarship can be granted to students by the state for specialization in an education specialist program.

    Professional degrees

    The term professional degree is more used abroad than in the United States, but typically refers to a degree program that leads to a specialization in a specific field, such as medicine, law, or a needed trade. 

    After completing a bachelor’s degree, the student looking for a higher-level professional degree can try studying for a professional master’s degree, leading to a professional doctorate. It is also possible to count certain associate’s degrees as professional degrees.

    A student enrolled in a professional degree program, like a master’s degree or PhD program, can often work full-time in order to stay in school, though this may not be feasible with some professional programs such as medical school.

    A medical degree is an example of a professional degree. A student who has earned a medical degree gets a doctorate in medicine from a university. The student must take something similar to residential training after finishing a master’s degree to obtain a medical license.

    Why college degrees matter

    When considering the cost and time involved in obtaining a college degree, you might wonder why degrees matter. But higher education has many benefits, especially for the degree holder. A bachelor’s degree holder simply has an advantage over a high school graduate with a high school diploma.

    A college degree can help with job prospects

    A college degree helps a job applicant become more attractive to hiring managers. Because more students are working hard to get a college degree, more college is a necessity to be competitive in the job market. Every year there are 4.5 million graduating students leaving college and entering the workforce.

    In fact, as of September 2020, according to Statista, the number of job openings in the United States was 6.44 million. With so many new graduates, as well as others already in the job market, competition for good jobs can be fierce. And for certain jobs, especially white-collar positions, a college degree is a must, preferable a bachelor’s degree at minimum.

    With many jobs, it doesn’t even matter what type of bachelor’s degree you have. You could have a BA or a BS, but the critical thing is that you have that bachelor’s. 

    So a bachelor’s degree holder may have one up on the high school graduate with a high school diploma in their pocket. Consider looking for an online degree. Finding out how to acquire a good college degree is the first step toward a fulfilling college and graduate education. And with that college education, a graduate can have better luck in the job market.

    A college degree can improve job performance

    The benefits of being a college graduate go beyond impressing the hiring manager. With a college degree, even an online degree, students learn many skills and gain knowledge that can lead to better job performance. Better job performance potentially means more raises and more opportunities to climb up the career ladder.

    A college degree can help you switch careers

    If you are stuck in a dead-end job you hate, and you want to try something new and different, getting a college degree (or an additional degree) can help move you into a new career. This can be challenging, since older, working students often have to juggle an existing job with pursuing their second degree.

    Fortunately, online colleges make this a lot easier, and adult students can now gain a second degree at home without having to quit their job or move.

    Many types of college degrees are available

    Once a student has graduated from high school, many educational opportunities are available. The most common college degree to obtain is the four-year bachelor’s degree. Following the bachelor’s degree, the student may continue on to receive a master’s degree and finally a doctorate. For some students, a two-year associate’s degree (perhaps a professional degree in a trade like plumbing) may be enough. For others, a long course of postgraduate education may be necessary for professional certification and licensure.

    The good news is, with online degree programs now available, college education is more accessible than ever before. While the cost of education has risen dramatically in general, online programs offer more affordable alternatives, as well as flexible classes for working students. Thus, getting a college degree has never been easier. In order to be competitive in the job market, consider starting on the path to obtain a college degree today!

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