An increasing number of men and women are pursuing college degrees. They do so to prepare for a career or to advance in a career, for personal satisfaction or for intellectual fulfillment. Some college degree programs can be completed in only two years, while others take four years. In addition, some advanced degree programs require additional study beyond a basic four-year degree. In general, there are four levels of college degree: an associate degree, a baccalaureate (or a bachelor degree), a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.

Associate Degree

An associate degree generally takes two years to complete. Some associate degrees prepare students for specific careers, while others provide a broad educational background to prepare students for additional study toward a baccalaureate degree. An associate degree generally includes an Associate of Arts degree or an Associate of Applied Science degree. Generally, community colleges offer degrees only at the associate level.

Baccalaureate Degree

Commonly known as the bachelor's degree, the baccalaureate is the basic four-year college degree; this is usually a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree. A bachelor's degree program offers a broad education in the arts or sciences. In addition, students select a major field of study in which they concentrate their coursework. Students can obtain a bachelor's degree in a wide variety of majors that include architecture, art, art history, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, English literature (or other literature or language); economics, education (including physical education), engineering, fine art, health sciences, history; journalism, nursing, physics, political science, psychology, religion or sociology.

Master's Degree

The master's degree allows a student with a bachelor's degree to gain specialized knowledge or expertise in a chosen field that offers a higher degree of specialization than a bachelor's degree but less than a doctoral degree. A student generally pursues a Master of Arts or a Master of Science degree, but some programs offer greater specialization such as a Master of Business Administration degree. Examples of fields that may include a master's degree are architecture, arts, the biological sciences, business, education, engineering, fine arts, health sciences, journalism, nursing, the physical sciences, religion or in one of the many social sciences fields.

Doctoral Degree

The doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., is a common doctoral degree awarded in any number of fields for which the student previously attained a master's degree. This degree emphasizes mastery of a particular field of study and advances knowledge of that field through original research. Other types of doctoral degrees also exist such as a Doctor of Medicine degree or a Juris Doctor degree.

Other Types of Degrees

Some educational institutions offer joint-degree programs such as a Master of Business Administration and a Juris Doctor degree, for example. Other programs require additional certification or licensing after a student has completed the degree. For example, medicine and law require state licensing and teachers require state certification.

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