Back in college, I had a classmate from the Philippines. She already had one degree from a school there, and was on her way to a second one in the U.S. We shared a dorm room and bonded over our shared non-U.S. ancestry – even though, unlike her, my first taste of college life was in this country.
One night, while she was wrapping up a research paper and I was about to fall asleep, she suddenly blurted out: “You know, before I came to the U.S., I had never even heard of the term ‘associate degree.’ I guess some international schools back home offered it, but most of our high school graduates went straight for a bachelor’s.”
• Associate degree: An associate degree can be completed in two years or less. It can be, for example, an Associate of Science, an A.S.; an Associate of Arts, or A.A;, or an Associate of Applied Science, or A.A.S. Students can pursue one of these in a community college, a technical college, a vocational school or even at a typical U.S. college, though not all offer an associate degree. With an associate degree, you can either head straight for the workforce, or use the credits you earned toward a bachelor’s degree.
• Bachelor’s degree: Sometimes referred to as a “baccalaureate degree,” a bachelor’s degree can usually be completed within three to five years, and is usually either be a Bachelor of Science, often referred to as a B.S., or a Bachelor of Arts, known as a B.A. – though there are other types as well. Many professional jobs in the U.S. require you to have this, at a minimum. Some types of bachelor’s degrees are more specialized, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Some schools allow students to complete this degree on a part-time basis.
• Postbaccalaureate certificate: Some people who have a bachelor’s degree may not need a master’s. Instead, a student can typically earn a postbaccalaureate certificate by completing credit hours beyond the baccalaureate degree. You’ll often hear people refer to these classes as “refresher courses.”
• Master’s degree: After finishing your bachelor’s, you may want to advance to a master’s degree. Typically these are either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science, known as an M.A. or M.S., but they can also be a special type of master’s degree, such as a Master of Business Administration. Assuming students attend on a full-time basis, a master’s degree is generally completed within one to two years. If you’re already in the workforce, you can complete a master’s to prepare for a special kind of career, or as a steppingstone to a doctoral degree.
• Postmaster’s certificate: Similar to the postbaccalaureate certificate, this can be earned by taking graduate-level credit hours after a master’s degree that, for one reason or another, aren’t for a doctoral degree.
• Doctoral degree: A doctoral degree, or doctorate, is the highest level of graduate study in many fields. These degrees typically emphasize advancement of knowledge through original research, so expect lots of course work in this program. You can pursue a Ph.D., a Doctor of Philosophy, in an academic field, or another kind of specialized doctorate. If you’d like to teach in a university, a doctorate can only boost your career.
•Professional degree: Whereas typically doctoral degrees focus on academic research, professional degrees focus on practical applications. This includes Doctor of Medicine, or M.D.; Juris Doctor, or J.D.; Doctor of Pharmacy, or Pharm.D; Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or D.V.M.; and Doctor of Dental Medicine, or D.D.M., among others. For some of these, you’re often required to have a specific bachelor’s degree.
• Other certifications: Although “Certified (blank)” and “Chartered (blank)” designations aren’t degrees in the strictest sense of the word, they can still advance you professionally. For example, if you’re a financial analyst, having a Chartered Financial Analyst, or CFA, as part of your title can help you stand out among your peers.