Four College Degree Levels that Lead to High-Level Careers (2024)

A college degree greatly improves yourcareeropportunities, earning potential, and understanding of academic subjects. People who have a diploma from any one of the college degree levels listed below can work in specialized fields.

Today, employers actively seek out people who possess any of these four degree types. In fact, it is becoming important for individuals to earn one for most career fields.

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However, there are several college degrees out there, and their completion times range from a few years to several. Some careers allow you to work without a degree. However, many others require you to have a bachelor’s degree at the least. Even for just anentry-level position.

So, which degree do you need to succeed? Below, you’ll find a guide to college degree levels and what they’re like.

4 College Degree Levels

Associate Degree

Associate degreestake the least amount of time to earn in university or college. These programs typically last two years and are designed to give students a basic understanding of their chosen topic. The main goal of an associate degree is to provide students with the necessary qualifications for entry-level work in their chosen field.

Within the two years that students earn their associate degree, they earn 60 credit hours. There are some accelerated associate programs, which means you can earn a degree within a year of studying.

Types of Associate Degrees

Associate degrees come in four types: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees.

TheAssociate of Artsand Associate of Science degrees focus on developing students’ core knowledge. Students take introductory courses based on their chosen concentration. These programs often focus on theory.

For students who work toward an AA, they take liberal arts or humanities courses along with classes in their concentration. Students working toward the AS degree typically take courses focused on the hard sciences, such as biology, mathematics, and chemistry. Both the AA and the AS degrees are recommended for students who want to pursue their bachelor’s degrees.

Students working toward their applied degrees, the AAA and AAS, focus on their technical skills for certain jobs. These degrees are for students who want to earn the qualifications they need to go directly into the job market after graduation.

As with the above programs, the arts degree has a stronger emphasis on humanities courses while science degrees emphasize the hard sciences. In either case, you’ll be taking more hands-on and practical coursework, compared to the more theoretical coursework offered in the other degree programs.

Some individuals choose an associate degree to help launch their careers. These degrees show potential employers they have the knowledge necessary to work in their chosen field. However, many others elect to use this degree as a stepping stone toward higher education, such as a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.

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Bachelor’s Degree

The next level of degree beyond associate is abachelor’s degree. These degrees usually take four years to complete and students take anywhere from 120 to 128 semester or credit hours for the program.

Students typically complete a bachelor’s degree program within four years. However, it’s not uncommon for individuals to take five or even six years to earn their degrees.

Similar to associate programs, some colleges and universities also offeraccelerated bachelor’s degree programs. However, students in these programs study year-round without a break in order to quickly complete their degrees.

One of the key reasons why a bachelor’s degree is so popular is the numerous degree concentrations colleges offer. Bachelor’s degrees are also a strong entry point for many high-level careers, whether they’re professional, technical entrepreneurial, artistic, or creative.

Another offering for students who work toward their bachelor’s degree is to bundle it with a master’s program. When bundling the two programs, students can earn both degrees within a period of five to six years.

Four Types of Bachelor’s Degrees

There are four types of bachelor’s degrees:

  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts

Each type of bachelor’s degree has a different requirement and set of concentrations. Depending on your major, you will earn a bachelor’s degree that corresponds to your major.

For example, if you wanted to major in biology, you’d earn a Bachelor of Science. Below is a guide to each type of bachelor’s degree:

ABachelor of Sciencedegree typically means you’ll take multiple courses in science. This includes life science, physical science, and mathematical science. These courses are taken along with courses directly related to your degree concentration.

TheBachelor of Artsdegree means you’ll typically take courses in arts. This includes fine arts, music, social sciences, and humanities, along with courses related to your degree concentration.

A Bachelor of Applied Science is a degree program that focuses on technical and practical sciences in real-world and lab settings. Many of the applied science topics involve taking courses that are both general and specifically related to your degree concentration.

ABachelor of Fine Artsdegree is earned in a more unique manner compared to the others listed above. Students that work toward this degree typically take a set of liberal arts courses. They also take practical and studio courses for general and specific areas related to their artistic focus.

A bachelor’s degree is one of the more common degree types for many individuals. However, there are even more advanced degree options available to those who want to pursue higher education. This comes in the form of a master’s degree.

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Master’s Degree

Above a bachelor’s degree is the master’s degree. Amaster’s degreeis a graduate-level program, which means you must complete an undergraduate program and earn your bachelor’s degree before you can enroll.

Some schools allow you to bypass the process of earning your bachelor’s degree first bybundling a bachelor’s and master’s degreeprogram into one.

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Master’s degree programs are both intensive and demanding. On top of coursework, students must do research, hold internships, and take comprehensive exams. They may even have to complete a thesis, capstone project, or dissertation.

Earning a master’s degree opens up more job opportunities, higher salary options, and advancement opportunities.

Master’s Degree Types

The Master of Science program is for most of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. It also encompasses many of the hard science subjects, such as physics and chemistry. The program typically involves a lot of research and may require students to do field or laboratory work.

The Master of Arts program involves most liberal arts, social sciences, and humanities programs. Several subjects have Master of Arts degrees related to them, such as English, political science, communications, history, and education, just to name a few. Students undertaking this program typically have dissertation work, take exams, and go to lectures and seminars.

There are also several master’s degrees that are specific to multiple disciplines. Many of these fall under the two categories mentioned above. However, there are others that fall under their own specialized categories and have unique requirements for completion.

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Doctoral Degree (Doctorate)

For most fields, the doctorate is the highest college degree available. Also called the terminal degree, the doctorate degree demonstrates that you have reached complete academic mastery and understanding of your chosen field.

Many people who earn their doctorate degree do so for the opportunity to work as an executive leader, professor, or researcher.

The demands of this degree are enormous and require a great deal of time, energy, and money for many programs. For some professional roles, it is required you earn a doctorate degree, such as practicing psychology or becoming a professor.

A doctorate degree typically takes anywhere from four to six years to complete. On average, a Ph.D. is earned within eight years. The length of time it takes to earn your doctorate is based on numerous factors. This includes the subject you’re studying, the design of the program, and what your chosen institution offers.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

Applied Doctorate

Also known as the professional doctorate, the applied doctorate focuses on developing real-world skills and knowledge. This is for application at the highest level, in whatever your chosen profession may be.

This doctorate encompasses many professions, such as healthcare, business, and legal studies. These doctorates typically require fewer credits and take slightly less time to earn than a Ph.D.

Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. program is the most commonly referred to as doctorate degree type. This program is more focused on research. While it is referred to as a “philosophy” degree, it actually focuses on the pursuit of knowledge.

This degree is for those who wish to do research in their chosen field. Many concentrations involve earning a doctor of philosophy, such as religion, healthcare, and education.

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In Conclusion

The four college degree levels involve in-depth study and take several years to complete. Not every career path requires a doctorate and many people still land great jobs without having to earn their doctorate or master’s degree.

Typically, people earn their bachelor’s degrees and don’t pursue a higher degree level unless they wish to advance their careers even further.

It’s important to choose a career path or topic that has your interest. Select the degree type based on your interest. Choose the degree level based on your career choice.

Four College Degree Levels that Lead to High-Level Careers (2024)


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