College Degree Levels: What Do They Mean?

If you're just beginning to consider a college education, the different college degree levels can be baffling at first.  Unlike high school, where there's only one kind of diploma, there are several different kinds of college degrees, and you'll need to know what they mean before deciding which degree level is right for you.

The first level is an associate's degree, sometimes called an AA degree.  An associate's degree generally takes two years of study to complete, and it's usually only offered in so-called "practical" subjects, such as computer-aided design, as well as a number of health related fields.  Liberal arts colleges generally don't offer an AA degree.  This degree is designed for people who want to learn a skill quickly and get right out into the job market.

Next comes the bachelor's degree.  This is what most people have in mind when they refer to a "college degree."  A bachelor's degree typically requires four years of study, and can be given in a wide variety of subjects.  Besides the length of time needed to earn this degree, the main difference between it and the AA degree is that it includes a significant number of classes in subjects outside the core area in order to provide a well-rounded education. 

After that, the next level is the master's degree.  This requires one or two years of study beyond the bachelor's degree level, and focuses intensively on one particular area.  To complete a master's degree, students must do a lot of studying on their own outside of class. They must also write a thesis, which is a long paper requiring significant research and thought. Finally, there's the PhD level.  This stands for Doctor of Philosophy, and is also known as a doctoral degree.  Many people pursue a PhD after earning a master's, but some enroll in a PhD program immediately after earning a bachelor's degree.  A PhD requires years of research, and is considerably more difficult to complete than an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree.  The doctoral candidate will be required to write a doctoral thesis, which is typically book-length.  The PhD is the highest of the college degree levels and entitles the holder to use the title of "Doctor."

What Is The Best College Degree?

Are you wondering what might be the best college degree for you to pursue?> It can be tough picking a major. You're essentially deciding what you'll be doing for the rest of your life. If you're like most people, you have a variety of interests and picking just one to build your career around can be difficult.  Of course, as problems go this isn't a bad one to have; but while you're in the middle of it you can feel overwhelmed and bewildered.  It's impossible for anyone else to tell you what the best college degree would be for you, but here are some things to think about.

Ideally, you will choose a college degree in a field you're passionate about. Since you're going to be spending several decades in the field, it’s wise to choose something that really grabs you.  It's important to think about how lucrative your chosen career will be, but money isn't everything, and if you don't truly enjoy something, odds are you'll never get good enough at it to make a lot of money. 

Secondly, you'll want a job that's going to be in demand in the future.  Current trends will radically reshape America in the coming decades, and if you can choose a college degree that takes advantage of those trends you'll be in a great position to capitalize on your education. 

One of the biggest of these trends is the aging Baby Boomer generation. There will soon be millions more senior citizens than there are now, and meeting their needs will be a huge part of the economy.  Jobs in elder care, health care, gerontology, social work, mortuary science, pharmacy, and a host of others are all going to experience huge growth as the Baby Boomer age wave hits.  Only you can decide what the best college degree is for you, but paying attention to the needs of the future should play a big role in helping you make your decision.

Top 3 Reasons to Get a Two Year College Degree

A two year college degree could well be your best option when it comes to getting an education.  Many people who are thinking of getting a college education are stuck in a mindset of only considering a four year bachelor's degree.  While that's certainly a good option for many people, it's not the only one and many people would do well to spend a little time thinking outside the box before making up their minds.  Lots of people would be far happier if they earned a two year degree.  Here are the top three reasons why.

1. First, the time factor is a huge one.  Four years is a long time, and it can be very difficult to stay focused on a goal for that long.  In fact, the average person seeking a bachelor's degree takes well over five years to earn it.  Keep in mind that that's the average--for many people it can take six or seven years.  If you've got your heart set on a career, spending five to six years in college can seem like an eternity.

2. The second reason is financial. You'll spend far less money earning a two year college degree than a bachelor's degree.  It's nearly impossible these days to get through college without borrowing money, and student loans add up fast.  It's tempting to borrow tens of thousands of dollars, but it takes a long time to repay that money.  Many college graduates find themselves financially crippled by their student loan debts.  That's less likely with a two year college degree.

3. The final reason is also financial.  Not only will you owe less money when you graduate, you'll also graduate in half the time and be able to start earning good money in a lucrative job.  Even assuming that you'll only earn $30,000 a year for your first two years out of school, that's $60,000 you won’t earn if you’re still in college working on a bachelor's degree.  That's a lot of money, and many people will earn more than that.  These are the top three reasons to consider a two year college degree, but there are many more.  It's a great option to consider.

A College Master's Degree: Why Online Study Is Your Best Option

If you've got a bachelor's degree and you're considering getting a college master's degree, then you should give serious consideration to earning it through an online university.  For the majority of people, it's almost certainly the best option these days.  That wasn't true a few years ago; in fact, it's only been in the last several years that online graduate study has come into its own.  When online degrees first became available there weren't many to choose from, and almost all of them were bachelor's degrees.  That has changed considerably, and now there are a lot of options for an online college master's degree.

This development has revolutionized graduate study.  It's now possible to earn a master's degree in just about any field you choose from the comfort of your own home.  Not only is it possible; for most people it's by far the best choice.  It's true that there are still some fields where master's degrees aren't offered online (but not many), and there may be some special cases where a student has a strong desire to study under a renowned professor at a particular university.  In these cases, getting a college master's degree the traditional way is the only choice, but most people don't fall into either of these categories.

How is an online college better?  The question should be how is the old-fashioned way better?  For some students heading off to college from high school, a major part of their motivation is to have "the college experience," and online universities don't deliver that.  Graduate school, however, is far different.  It's almost entirely about your studies, and socializing around campus isn't really a big consideration.  So why pick up and move to another city?  For most folks, it doesn't make much sense.  That's why more and more people are choosing to get a college master's online degree, and why you should think about doing so, too.

Last Updated: 07/28/2014

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