When starting college there are plenty of choices to be made. What will you major in? Will you live on or off campus? Will you purchase a meal plan? But one of the biggest decisions you’ll face is what type of degree you’ll pursue. The level of degree you intend to work toward affects almost every other aspect of your college experience, so it is not to be taken lightly. First things first: you need to know what degree options are available to you.

1. Certificates & Diplomas

Certificates and diplomas are post-secondary non-degree offerings that offer schooling and professional training to develop a single skill or prepare for a specific trade.

Completion Time: A few months to two years

Credits Required: 20+ Hours

Prerequisites: May require a high school diploma or equivalent.

Variations: Certificates can come in many forms and fields of study. However, there are two primary groups of certificates:

  • Academic Certificates
  • Non-Academic Certificates


  • Short completion time
  • Good for immediate employment
  • Looks good on resume


  • Costly to obtain
  • Doesn’t hold the same weight as a college degree
  • Curriculums vary, so one certificate may not apply everywhere

2. Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is a college degree awarded after the completion of the associate degree program. Unlike in a certificate program, associate programs and higher require general education courses and fulfillment of major. Associates of Arts and Associates of Sciences are common in this program.

Completion Time: 2 Years (Accelerated Programs may be completed in 1 year)

Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Credits Required: 60 Hours


  • Shorter completion time
  • Lower tuition rates than higher degree options
  • May be preferred over high school diploma or certification program by employers
  • Early employment opportunities


  • Only offers a general and practical overview of the course topic
  • Earnings may be lower than with a bachelor’s degree or another high-level degree
  • May be passed over for jobs for those with a bachelor’s degree or above

Where Can I Earn My Associate Degree?

  • Community colleges
  • Four-year colleges and universities
  • Trade schools
  • Vocational schools

3. Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree, or baccalaureate, is the most common type of undergraduate degree program, and so it is sought after by students. Bachelor’s programs encompass a number of subjects, like fine arts, engineering, and healthcare.

Completion Time: 4 Years

Credits Required: 120+ Hours (Program dependant)

Prerequisites: High School Diploma or Equivalent


  • Increases job opportunities
  • Higher earning potential
  • Few prerequisites required


  • Most common degree
  • Long completion time
  • High tuition rates

Where can I complete my Bachelor’s degree?

  • Four-year colleges and universities
  • Some community colleges

4. Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is a graduate degree that elaborates on the undergraduate bachelor’s degree. There are dozens of different master’s degrees a student can apply for. These degrees are put into categories in the master’s program, falling under the categories of postgraduate, postgraduate research, business or management, executive, and integrated.

Completion Time: 2-3 Years

Credits Required: 30+ Hours

Prerequisites: Bachelor’s Degree


  • Increases job opportunities
  • Higher earning potential
  • Expansion of knowledge


  • Higher tuition rates
  • 2-3 more years of schooling
  • May need to apply to another institution

Where Can I Earn My Master’s Degree?

Master’s degrees are earned in grad school, which may be a sub-institution at a college or university.

5. Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree, or doctorate, is the highest degree a student can achieve. Doctorates can be applied, with some programs focusing on professional training and use of skills. Other doctoral programs are research-based, centering on analyzation and experimentation. Students who earn doctoral degrees are considered experts in their field and become “Doctors.” However, they do not have to be medical doctors to receive the title. A doctoral student will become a doctor of their field, like a Doctor of Philosophy or Education, but only a graduate with a doctorate in medicine becomes a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.).

Completion Time: 3-6 Years

Credits Required: 60+ Hours

Prerequisites: Master’s Degree


  • Prestigious Degree
  • Higher Earning Potential


  • Highest tuition rates
  • Competitive programs
  • 4-6 more years of schooling
  • 50% drop out rate

Where Can I Earn My Doctoral Degree?

You can work for your doctorate at some 4-year colleges and universities, but not community colleges. Colleges and universities require access to research resources for doctoral programs, so many colleges cannot offer them. Options for doctoral programs are more limited than lower degree programs, making the entrance field exceedingly competitive.

Whichever degree option you choose, think about it thoroughly and make the decision that you believe is best. Know that it’s never too late to change your mind about your path. No matter what stage you reach in your life, higher education can open doors and improve your future!

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