Quick Guide: Your College Degree Options

B.A., M.S., Ph.D. — what are these degrees, and what does it take to earn them? Here is an overview of the different kinds of college degrees.

Associate Degree

This two-year degree is an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associate of Science (A.S.). Some students who earn this degree transfer to a four-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree. Others complete associate degrees to prepare to go straight to work. Community colleges, career colleges and some four-year colleges offer these degrees.

Bachelor's (or Baccalaureate) Degree

This degree requires completing a four- or five-year college program. Most students earn a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.). Other types of bachelor’s degrees include the Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Graduate Degree

Graduate degrees are advanced degrees pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree. Examples are a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Students generally can earn a master’s degree after two years of study. A doctoral degree (for example, a Ph.D.) requires four or more years of study.

Professional Degree

Students earn professional degrees to become licensed to work in professions like medicine or law. The M.D. degree is an example. Professional programs generally require a college degree before you start them and then at least three years of study to complete.

Joint Degrees

Students can earn a bachelor's plus a graduate or professional degree in less time if they combine them. A student on this track may apply to a graduate program as an undergraduate and begin the graduate program in the fourth year of college.

Liberal Arts and Career Combinations

In this program — also known as a 3-2 or dual-degree program — students usually complete three years of liberal arts study followed by two years of professional or technical study. In the end, students earn two bachelor’s degrees, usually a B.A. and a B.S.

Teacher Certification

Some colleges let you earn a teacher certification by combining bachelor's degree study with state certification requirements. State requirements vary, but these programs usually feature professional education courses, including student teaching.