Degree Types and How Long It Takes to Obtain Them

by A Guest Author

What is a Degree?

A degree is a diploma from a college or university. In awarding a degree, the institution certifies that the holder has successfully completed the program's requirements. In the United States, schools offer four main degrees: associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral.

Arts or Science?

Degrees are awarded in a specific field. For associate's and bachelor's degrees, the most common areas are Arts and Science. Arts degrees, such as a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), tend to require a broader, liberal arts education. Conversely, science degrees tend to focus more on math and science classes specific to a field.

Undergraduate Degrees

After high school, individuals seeking further education apply to undergraduate programs. Some individuals enter the workforce after receiving an undergraduate degree, while other pursue additional education. Undergraduate programs award associate's and bachelor's degrees.

Associate's Degree - 2 years

The first type of undergraduate degree is the associate degree. Four-year institutions, as well as community colleges, junior colleges, and technical colleges award associate degrees. Most associate degree programs include courses relevant to the field of study, including Algebra and English writing. Associate's degrees can be completed in two years.

Bachelor's Degree - 4 years

The second type of undergraduate degree is the bachelor's degree. In most cases, community colleges or junior colleges do not offer bachelor's degrees. Instead, bachelor's degrees are usually obtained from four-year institutions. Bachelor's programs typically have more class requirements that associate's degree programs; however, some bachelor's programs will accept credits that were obtained while earning an associate's degree. These credits will apply to some or all of the first two years of the four-year program [1].

Graduate Degrees

Graduate schools, which offer master's and doctoral degrees, offer a more specific trajectory than undergraduate institutions. This is reflected in the array of career-oriented degrees offered by graduate programs. For instance, doctoral programs award the title of Doctor, depending on the field, whether that be Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Theology (Th.D.), Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S), or the more general Doctoral of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

Master's Degree - 6 years (4 undergraduate + 2 graduate)

Master's degrees are awarded for advanced study in graduate schools. Some institutions offer "terminal" Masters programs, which are short (1-2 year) programs that end with a Master's degree. However, other institutions and departments do not offer terminal Master's degrees. Instead, students are accepted into Doctoral programs, and have the option of receiving a Master's degree after the first year or two of study in the Doctoral program.

Doctoral Degree - 8-12 years (4 undergraduate + 4-8 graduate)

While some master's programs (and some undergraduate programs) allow individuals to perform original research, most doctoral programs require that students complete original research. This research is presented in the written form of a doctoral thesis. Although not all doctoral programs require a thesis. On notable exception is law schools, which last three years and award a Juris Doctor (J.D.), but do not require a thesis.

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