What Kinds of College Degrees Are There?

AWhile there are a number of different kinds of degrees out there in the big world of academia, they can be categorized into four different units: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral.

Let’s go through section by section, degree by degree and see what differentiates these accomplishments from one another. [Note, this is not an exhaustive list of every single kind of degree available, but rather a summary of the most common.]

A student wearing a graduation cap.

Associate Degrees

These degrees come from 2-year schooling programs that prepare students either for entry-level jobs in a number of fields, or for transferring to a larger 4-year college or university.

Associate of Arts (A.A.)

A base education in the liberal arts, including courses like: history, mathematics, English literature, etc.

Associate of Science (A.S.)

An academic foundation for science fields, typically a transferable degree rather than one that outright prepares you for an immediate career.

Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

Designed for students who wish to enter the workforce immediately, these degrees have specializations or areas of focus to give students a more in-depth education in their chosen field.

Bachelor’s Degrees

Earned from 4-year colleges and universities, these are the culmination of undergraduate studies. They offer a more intensive and in-depth understanding of a field than an associate degree, while often also providing a well-rounded education.

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

An undergraduate degree in either liberal arts or sciences—or both.

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

Though awarded to more specialized scientific fields, B.S. can sometimes be awarded to sciences that fall under the liberal arts category—such as economics or natural science. Whether a student earns a B.A. or B.S. for their major sometimes varies from college to college.

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

A degree pursued by students who desire a professional education in either the visual or performing arts.

Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS)

A professional degree awarded to students who study a highly specialized field.

Master’s Degrees

Students who specialize in a certain area of study earn graduate degrees. Graduate schools are more difficult to get into than undergraduate, and often require students to take an exam (GRE) and work on a thesis paper or capstone project during their graduate years.

Master of Arts (M.A.)

A graduate degree earned by students who study subjects such as: Communication, English, History, Humanities, Social Sciences, etc.—sometimes including mathematics and natural sciences.

Master of Science (M.S.)

This graduate degree is earned by students studying in one of the following specialized fields: sciences, engineering, medicine.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

A professional graduate degree awarded to students who study business management and the science behind it.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

A creative degree earned by graduates studying arts, such as: creative writing, photography, poetry, theatre, performing arts, and so on.

Doctoral Degrees

The highest and most prestigious form of degree, doctoral degrees prepare students to be the top experts in their field and oftentimes take several years to accomplish. Students typically have to write an intensive dissertation or complete a research project.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

This highly acclaimed, terminal degree comes in a number of different studies. Once earned, the recipient may use the title “Doctor” with their names, and add “Ph.D.” after.

Juris Doctor (J.D.)

Also known as the Doctor of Law degree. A professional degree awarded to those who sufficiently pass the bar examination.

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

A terminal medical degree required for those who wish to practice medicine. Those who earn this esteemed degree are permitted to add “M.D” after their name.

Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) / Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)

Classified by the American Dental Association to be the same degree, students must pass a licensing examination before they are allowed to practice.

While there are many more specialized degrees out there, these are the most common you will find. Go out and explore the kind of degree you will need to earn in order to pursue your dream career!


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