A Guide to Choosing the Right College Degree for You

Find Your Path

When it comes to pursuing higher education after high school, there are various types of college degrees you can obtain. Understanding these degrees and their differences can help you make an informed decision about your future. In this guide, you will learn about the different types of college degrees available and how they can help you reach your career and college goals. 

Types of College Degrees 

Associate Degree

An associate degree is typically a two-year program offered by community colleges, technical schools, career colleges, and some four-year universities. An associate degree provides foundational knowledge in a specific field and can be used for employment opportunities or towards a bachelor's degree.  

Types of associate degrees:

  • Associate of Arts (AA): The AA degree is primarily geared towards subjects such as English, history, social sciences, and the arts, and can be used to transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. 
  • Associate of Science (AS): The AS degree is usually focused on science, mathematics, or technology and can also be used to transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. 
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA): The AAA degree is typically tailored for students pursuing careers in creative fields like graphic design, animation, and music production. 
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS): The AAS degree is designed to equip students with practical skills for specific careers in areas like healthcare, technology, business, and engineering. 

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is an undergraduate degree typically completed in four years at a college or university. It offers in-depth study in a specific discipline and provides a well-rounded education through a combination of general education courses and major-specific coursework. Bachelor's degrees are available in a wide range of fields, including liberal arts, sciences, engineering, business, education, and much more. There are more than 80 recognized forms of bachelor’s degrees, but the two most common are Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.). 

Main difference between a B.A. vs. B.S. degree:

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) coursework focuses on the arts and humanities such as writing, art, history, philosophy, religion, etc. 
  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.) coursework generally focuses on STEM subjects as well as business and health professions. STEM subjects are any subjects that can be classified under the disciplines of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. This provides students with a wide range of available majors. Explore the list of different STEM majors.

Once you’ve gotten your bachelor’s degree you may consider getting a graduate degree to sharpen your skills and deepen your knowledge.  Depending on your career path, you may need a graduate or professional degree.  

Master's Degree

A master's degree is a graduate-level degree that can require one to three years of study after a bachelor's degree. It offers specialized knowledge and expertise in a particular field and often involves research or a thesis project. Many professions, such as teaching, social work, business, art, writing, theatre, and engineering, may require a master's degree for advanced positions or career advancement. 

Types of master’s degrees:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.): This degree is typically awarded for studies in the humanities, social sciences, or fine arts.   
  • Master of Science (M.S.): This degree is typically awarded for studies in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, or technology.  
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.): This degree is intended for educators who want to advance their knowledge and skills in teaching, curriculum development, educational leadership, or counseling.   
  • Master of Engineering (M.E): This degree is similar to the M.S. degree but focuses more on the application of engineering principles and methods to solve real-world problems.  
  • Master of Laws (LL.M): This degree is designed for lawyers who want to specialize in a particular area of law or gain an international perspective on legal issues.   
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA): This degree is aimed at preparing graduates for careers in public service, government, or non-profit organizations.  
  • Master of Public Health (MPH): This degree is focused on improving the health and well-being of populations and communities through research, education, and practice.  
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): This degree is similar to the M.A. degree but focuses on coursework in a specific artistic field, such as visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, or design. Many MFAs are considered terminal degrees, meaning that it is the highest degree you can earn in that subject matter. 

Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.) 

A doctoral degree, also known as a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy), is the highest level of education one can attain. It typically requires several years of rigorous study, research, and the completion of a dissertation. Doctoral degrees are primarily pursued by those interested in academic or research careers, but they can also be valuable in fields like medicine, education, law, and psychology. 

Professional Degrees 

Professional degrees are specialized degrees designed to prepare students for specific careers such as doctor, lawyer, veterinarian. Most professional degrees can take three to five years to complete. These degrees often have specific requirements and may require professional licensure or certification. Some examples of professional degrees include Medical Doctor (M.D.), Juris Doctor (J.D.), Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.). 

Certificate Programs 

Certificate programs are shorter-term educational programs that focus on specific skills or knowledge in a particular field. These programs are typically offered by colleges, universities, or vocational schools and can be completed in a few months to a year. Certificates are valuable for enhancing job skills or transitioning into a new career field. 
Remember, the choice of a college degree depends on your interests, career goals, and personal preferences. Consider exploring different fields, researching career options, and speaking with people in your desired field to make an informed decision. Pursuing higher education is an exciting journey that can open doors to endless opportunities. If you need help deciding what you should study in college, go take ACT’s Interest Inventory.

Learn more about the different college majors for four-year and two-year programs.