What Types of College Degrees Exist?

While searching for both college and degree programs, you will find there are a variety of college degrees that you can choose to pursue. At first glance, many types of college degrees may seem similar, but these seemingly small differences can greatly impact your career and educational options after graduation. Before selecting your program of study, it is critical to know the differences between each degree type. These are some tips to choosing a major early in college. Below, you will find a breakdown of the two most common types of undergraduate degree programs, with an explanation of the nuances of each.

Associate degrees

Associate degrees are typically two-year degree programs consisting of approximately 60-70 semester hours. Mostly, these programs are found at community, career, technical, city, and junior colleges. Occasionally, four-year colleges offer Associate degrees. The Associate degree curriculum requires a mix of general education courses (such as English and Math) and major courses in a field of study. Students electing to attend a two-year college can earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.), or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.).

A.A. programs include those in the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, education, and business, while A.S. degrees are generally granted in the fields of science, technology, math, and engineering. With careful planning and consultation from academic advisers, A.A. and A.S. degrees can transfer to four-year colleges without much loss of credit, depending on the specific transfer agreements between colleges and universities.

The other type of two-year degree offered, the A.A.S., is less focused on traditional liberal arts and science fields. Instead, the purpose of the A.A.S. is vocational or career training. You will see A.A.S. degrees available in fields that are typically not considered academic – audio production, fashion merchandising, manufacturing technology, welding, drafting, sonography, and dental hygiene, for instance. Because the A.A.S. does not transfer as easily to a Bachelor’s degree program, it is essential to inquire about transfer options ahead of time if you are intent on eventually completing a four-year degree as well.

Bachelor degrees

The common four-year college degree is also called a Bachelor’s degree. These programs require approximately 120-130 semester hours and can be earned at four-year colleges and universities. Some states are now allowing two-year colleges to award Bachelor’s degrees in specific fields. If you intend to pursue a graduate—Master’s or Doctoral—degree, you will first need to complete a Bachelor’s degree. These degrees come in numerous types, which often causes confusion for prospective students. Commonly, you will find the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and the Bachelor of Science (B.S.). In addition to the popular B.A. and B.S. options, you will discover a multitude of professional degrees associated with specific fields. Here is some great information on college majors.

Like the A.A., the B.A. is often available for studies in the liberal arts, including social sciences, humanities, and education. Similarly, the B.S. mirrors many of the A.S. fields, among them being science, math, and technology. Depending on the college or university you choose, some majors, such as Psychology, Business, Chemistry, and Communication, will be available both in B.A. and B.S. options. In this case, the B.A. degrees will likely require more humanities courses and possibly a foreign language, while the B.S. degrees may entail more math, science, research, or technical skills.

Other Bachelor degree options are aligned with a particular profession or field. For example, many design majors will offer a B.S.D., Bachelor of Science in Design. An engineering program may offer a B.S.E., Bachelor of Science in Engineering. A nursing degree will be offered as a B.S.N., Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Additionally, degrees in the performing and visual arts have very specific degree titles such as a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A). These specific degree types indicate that the majority of coursework required for the degree is within the area of study, meaning there is less room for electives and exploration of other disciplines. It also signals that the degree program may have an additional professional accreditation beyond the university’s school-wide qualification.

As you can see, there are complexities and nuances in each type of undergraduate degree program, and most types of college degrees were crafted with a particular field in mind. Do your research to understand which degree is best for you before you begin college. You may also want to consider an on campus job that can help you explore college majors at your school. Ultimately, this will help set you on the most suitable educational path for your goals!