Thinking about studying in the U.S.? You’ll need to decide which type of degree to pursue.
Students who have completed high school are eligible to seek one of two higher-education degrees: an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. These are known as undergraduate degrees. Those who have earned a bachelor’s have the option of pursuing a graduate degree —such as a master’s or doctoral degree — which provides additional education and training in a specific field.
Here’s a guide to help you choose the degree that best suits your needs and goals.
Undergraduate Degree Options
These are offered at two-year colleges known as community colleges or junior colleges. The most common associate degrees are the Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS).
An associate degree may be earned in either a terminal or transfer program. In a terminal program, a student receives training that leads to a specific career, such as graphic designer or culinary artist. A transfer program allows a student to use credits earned to transfer into the third year of a four-year bachelor’s degree program.
Community colleges develop special agreements with four-year colleges and universities so that credits and degrees transfer between the institutions. This means that you can earn a bachelor’s degree with two years of community college followed by two years of university study.Students should carefully design their programs of study and pay close attention to agreements between the institutions to make sure the courses completed at a community college transfer to the university program in which they’re interested.
The bachelor’s degree, which is offered at institutions known as colleges, universities, or specialized institutes, usually takes four years to complete. It’s awarded after a student earns a specified number of credits in a major field of study.
Every course is worth a certain number of credits, and each institution has its own requirement for the number of credits needed to graduate. Think about credits as the number of hours spent per week in a classroom. Most full-time undergraduate students take 15 credit hours each semester or term.
Students can choose from a wide variety of courses or create their own unique programs.
Courses within the degree program can be divided into one of four types:
- Core courses provide the foundation of the degree program and are required of all students seeking that degree.
- Major courses represent the student’s field of concentration and account for 25 to 50 percent of the total number of courses required to complete the degree. Most students pursue one major but some choose to “double major.”
- Minor courses represent the student’s secondary field of concentration. Those who pursue a minor will usually complete about five courses in this field.
- Elective courses may be chosen from any field of study. These give students an opportunity to explore other topics of interest.
Graduate Degree Options
More than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities offer programs leading to a graduate degree in a wide range of fields. The two main graduate degrees are the master’s degree and the doctoral degree. Both involve a combination of research and coursework. Graduate education is characterized by in-depth training and specialized instruction. Compared with undergraduate programs, study and learning are more self-directed.
An undergraduate degree in the same field is not necessarily required in order to enroll in a graduate degree program. For example, a student with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts may pursue a graduate degree in business.
Professional degree programs that lead to licensure in specialized fields, such as law or medicine, are also available in the United States. For most of these programs, a bachelor’s degree in a specific field is not required; however, some programs do require certain prerequisite coursework.
For example, a student entering medical school may have a bachelor’s degree in religion, but the student will also have taken a significant number of prerequisite courses in the biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and behavioral and social sciences.
This type of degree provides education and training in a specialized branch or field and generally requires one to three years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Master’s degrees may be academic, such as a master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS); or they may be professional, such as a master of business administration (MBA) or master of social work (MSW).
Designed to prepare students for college faculty and research scholar positions – or for other careers that require advanced knowledge and research skills – a doctoral degree generally requires five to eight years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Previous completion of a master’s degree may be required for admission to some programs.
These degrees may be academic, such as a doctor of philosophy (PhD), or professional, such as a doctor of education (EdD).
Candidates are required to pass a comprehensive examination and complete a piece of original research leading to a dissertation, which is a long, formal essay about a specific subject.
Source: Education USA