What are the Different Types of Higher Education Degrees?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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Higher education degrees refer to any degree that is obtained after one graduates from high school. The four types of higher education degrees include the associate's degree, the bachelor's degree, the master's degree, and the doctoral degree. Of course, these may also be broken down into different specifications for each of those, such as a bachelor of science (B.S.) or a master of arts (M.A.), for example. In addition, though they may not be considered actual degrees, certification programs from trade or technical schools are another type of adult education that some people use to further their career prospects or hone skills for a particular job.

The four different types of higher education degrees listed each represent progressively greater levels of academic achievement and qualification. An associate's degree is first; this is generally a two year degree, and is typically offered by community colleges. Some careers only require an associate's degree. These options also exist for people who perhaps did not achieve the grades necessary in high school to get into a university, so they may start here and then transfer out. Some people simply start at a two year school in order to later transfer to a four year school just to save money, though this will generally not be in pursuit of an associate's degree, just college credits.


A bachelor's degree is a very common four year degree offered at most colleges and universities. Many employers expect their applicants to at least have one of these higher education degrees to be considered for the position. This can be followed by a master's degree, which is generally a two year degree; of course, these time estimates can change if people are going to school part time, which will obviously a longer time will be necessary to get the degree. Bachelor's and master's degrees are typically offered in arts, sciences, business, fine arts, education, and law, and the abbreviation will be changed to reflect that. For instance, a master's in education is abbreviated M.Ed.

Doctoral degrees vary more widely, and generally take from three to four years to complete, but can certainly take much longer. Doctoral degrees in law or medicine are common, for example, and may lead to an M.D., a Ph.D., or a J.D., just to name a few. There are a number of academic Ph.D. options in both the sciences and the arts, however; most colleges and universities will only hire professors who have obtained one of these higher education degrees. There are many different higher education degrees available online now, as well, from associate's degrees and certificates, all the way to doctoral programs.


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