When it comes to higher education, there are many different degree options. In fact, there are so many choices that figuring out which is right for you can be overwhelming, though most people do pursue a degree in order to increase their job prospects. Most career paths have their own, unique requirements for education, and it’s important to make sure you earn the right qualifications for the one you want to follow. To help you out, this guide to the different degree types has been compiled. Read on to learn what the differences are.
An associate’s degree is the cheapest and quickest degree option, because it is typically earned from a Junior or Community College in a 2- to 3-year period. This is also the easiest degree to earn online or part-time, because it requires the least amount of coursework. That doesn’t mean that it’s worthless, though. An associate’s degree usually focuses on a vocational skill, which can actually lead to a number of lucrative careers. For example, an associate’s degree can qualify you to work as a dental hygienist, radiation therapist, nuclear technician, registered nurse, or a number of other varied careers.
An associate’s degree is also a great way to jump-start your education on your way to a bachelor’s degree, because it allows you to skip over all of the general education courses when you transfer to a 4-year university. This means you can still get your bachelor’s degree in four years, but only have to pay four-year-school tuition for two.
A bachelor’s degree is the next step up the educational totem pole. This is the degree most commonly thought of when “college” comes up, and takes an average of 4-6 years to complete, depending on school, major and the student’s personal affairs. Earning a bachelor’s degree is necessary for many of the more skilled careers, like healthcare and engineering, which is why so many people consider it the end-all, be-all of higher education.
On average, engineering is the most lucrative bachelor’s degree, with an average of almost $80,000/year annual salary ten years after graduation, while computer science and business management trail slightly behind. Because of this generous return on investment, science and engineering degrees are also wildly popular and often touted by universities as one of the best options for earning a degree. This focus is particularly keen because many of the other popular majors, like psychology, language arts or business, require a masters or doctorate to be truly useful within their fields.
The next step up from a bachelor’s degree is the master’s degree, which can often be earned with 1-2 years of additional study in a graduate program. Though the master’s degree often gets overlooked in favor of the doctorate, it’s a great option for professionals. Far and away the most popular masters degree is the Masters of Business Administration, which was once considered an automatic requirement for anyone going into business of any type. Today, there are also a number of other masters degrees that are highly advantageous.
At the top of the U.S. educational system is the PhD, which many view as the ultimate achievement in education. Doctorate programs range greatly in duration. While most programs last between 3-4 years, some students stretch theirs out over a decade or more. The program ends with a dissertation paper, which the student must “defend” to a council of peers in order to prove its worth and, by proxy, his own. Once this trial has been met, the student is awarded the degree and becomes a doctor.
The most popular doctorate degrees are in law, medicine and pharmacy—all professions that require a doctorate degree to even begin practicing. Healthcare is by far the most popular focus for doctorate degrees, and as of 2009, a higher percentage of women earn doctorate degrees than men.
For some careers, no degree is necessary at all, though many of these positions still require education from a trade school or certification of some variety. Be sure that you know what kind of degree your career goals require, and are fully committed to the time and money it’s going to cost to get there before you start. It’s a long road, but could be worth it for you.