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What are the 4 Types of College Degrees?

College degree levels shown on a path with a diploma icon and the text Types of Degrees – Associate, Bachelor’s Master’s, Doctorate

Going to college to earn your degree can provide new skills, job opportunities, and salary increases, but what is the best degree for you?

Whether you want to earn your first degree, gain new skills to change careers or earn a promotion by building upon your existing education, it’s important to explore how different degrees can help you reach your goals.

Understanding the types of degrees available, how you can advance through degree levels and the amount of time it will take to complete a program is key to choosing the degree that's right for you.

Exploring College Degree Levels

A blue infographic piece with the text The U.S. Census Bureau, More than 36% of adults 25+ hold a bachelor's degreeWhile it is possible to achieve a high-paying job without a degree, completing a basic college degree is a great asset for long-term career progression. With so many types of degrees to choose from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or unsure of the best educational path for you.

What is a college degree able to do for your career? It all depends on your field of choice and long-term goals.

Explore the list of college degrees, below, in order from lowest to highest. Discover the benefits of different types of degrees and understand how you can work through these levels of education to further your career.

Types of Associate Degrees

If you’re just starting out with higher education or want to add education credentials to real-world experience, an associate degree could be a great fit.

Different types of associate degrees, such as an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Arts (AA), are 60 credits and can be completed in 2 years or less, and are a great first step toward earning an entry-level job or promotion. There are job opportunities for associate degree holders across many fields, including:

Infographic with the text BLS reports associate degree holders earn 20% more than workers with only a high school diploma

An AS degree will prepare you for jobs available across many industries including marketing, information technology and accounting. While earning an AA degree can help you develop the soft skills employers look for such as problem-solving, critical thinking skills and communication.

Starting with an associate degree is worth it as there are great benefits and opportunities that come with it. Earning an associate degree can have a significant economic impact. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), associate degree holders earn 20% more than workers with only a high school degree.

If you’re unsure about starting a bachelor’s degree program, earning an associate degree is a great way to kickstart your education and enter the workforce before enrolling in a more advanced degree. If you decide to continue on to a bachelor’s degree, your associate degree credits are typically applied toward the four-year degree.

With an associate degree in business administration, for example, you can gain a solid foundation in business principles and practices that will prepare you for entry-level positions. Continuing on to bachelor’s degrees in business administration can help you dive deeper into a specific area of study, such as finance, project management or marketing.

Types of Bachelor Degrees

Designed to be completed in 4 years, bachelor’s degree programs provide in-depth knowledge and skills across a wide variety of career paths to help you stand out in today’s competitive job market.

Bachelor's degrees are in high demand. According to a 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report, more than 36% of adults over age 25 hold a bachelor’s degree.

Infographic with text BLS reports bachelor’s degree holders earn about $19,000 more per year than workers with a 2-year degreeIn today’s competitive hiring climate, it pays to advance from an associate to a bachelor’s. According to BLS, bachelor’s degree holders earned about $19,000 more per year than workers with a 2-year degree.

Bachelor’s degrees like Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Arts (BA) offer more opportunities to focus your learning on a specialized area of study. With a business administration bachelor’s degree, for example, you can concentrate your studies on anything from finance, accounting and healthcare management to marketing, entrepreneurship and public administration.

Earning a bachelor’s degree opens the door to advancing your education with a graduate-level degree - an increasingly common step for workers looking to further their careers.

Types of Master’s Degrees

Earning a master’s degree is a great way to gain more technical knowledge in your field and set yourself apart from other workers.

With growing opportunities for online master’s degree programs, including programs that can be completed in less than 2 years, this degree path is becoming increasingly popular with full-time working adults.

Employers are also increasing demand for master’s degree holders. According to BLS data, jobs requiring master’s degrees are projected to grow by 16% by 2030.

Earning a master’s degree can open the door to advancement within your company, help you tackle new career goals and can also boost your long-term earning potential. Master’s degree holders’ median weekly earnings were 18% higher than bachelor’s degree holders and 65% higher than associate degree holders, according to BLS.

A blue infographic piece with the text BLS reports 2020 median weekly earnings with a master's degree were: 18% higher than with a bachelor's degree; 65% higher than with an associate degree 

Master’s degrees, like Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA), are available across a wide variety of subjects. Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs are among the most well-known master’s degree programs, with opportunities to study finance, accounting, international business, criminal justice, information technology management and more.

If you’re looking to advance your education even further, you may be wondering what comes after a master’s degree. The answer depends on your career goals.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

If you’re looking to advance your education to the highest degree in college, a doctoral degree may be right for you.

Depending on your industry and career goals, there are several types of doctoral degrees to consider. A few include:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA): A terminal degree tailored to business professionals looking to explore, examine and address business issues.
  • Doctor of Education (EdD): A doctoral degree geared toward leaders (and aspiring leaders) in educational organizations and the education system itself.
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): An academic doctorate available to a range of fields. A PhD is typically required to become a professor and can help you start a career in research.

Doctoral degrees can take up to 7 years of intense study to complete. After completing doctoral degree coursework, you might sit for comprehensive subject matter exams. A dissertation based on your research interests may also be required and reviewed by a committee of graduate school faculty. 

Determining Your Educational Path

A yellow and blue infographic piece with the text 4 Types of Degrees: 1. Associate; 2. Bachelor's; 3. Master's; 4. DoctoralWhat is the degree that will help you advance your career? To define your path, take some time to explore job descriptions and industry news to better understand the educational requirements of your chosen field.

While advancing your education can have significant economic impacts, each career has its own unique job requirements and there are often benefits to remaining in the workforce while working toward a college degree. Many companies offer tuition assistance programs, for example, that can help pay for more advanced degrees.

Do some research and reflect on your long-term goals and you’ll be on the path to choosing the college degree level that is right for you.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU degree that can help you meet your goals.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer and marketer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, institutionally accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.