Degree Levels: What Are They? (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar
Aug. 28, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

Are you thinking of getting a college degree or advancing your education? Having a degree positions you for success in your career. It helps you build the kind of future you want by providing the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.

Key Takeaways:

  • There are 4 main types of college degrees: associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral.

  • Additionally there are specialized certifications and degrees for certain professions, such as a Juris Doctor (J.D) for lawyers.

  • 35% of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30% of the job openings will require some college or an associate’s degree.

  • When pursuing a degree, align it with your interests, career aspirations, financial needs, and time considerations.

Degree Levels: What Are They? (With Examples)

Types of Degrees

There are four levels of college degrees: associate, bachelor’s, masters, and doctoral degrees. Below is a description of each type of degree.

  • Associate degrees. This is a two-year degree that can provide education for entry level jobs or fulfill general education requirements for those who wish to obtain a bachelor’s degree in the future. Associate degrees are usually provided by community colleges and technical schools. You can earn one of three types:

    • Associate of Arts degree

    • Associate of Science degree

    • Associate of Applied Science

    • Associate of Applied Business degree

    Associate degrees a great option because it allows you to pursue your career goals in greater depth without racking up college tuition fees in the process.

  • Bachelor’s degrees. Most bachelor degrees take four years to earn. However, some accredited colleges offer fast track programs. They are degrees that offer in depth education on a specialized field of study. Most graduate level degree first require a bachelor’s degree. Broadly speaking there are two main types of degrees:

    • Bachelor of Arts (BA). If you are creative and enjoy English, Arts, Languages, and Humanities, then a BA degree is right for you.

    • Bachelor of Science (BS). If you excel at math and science, then a BS degree might be for you. It’s typically geared toward a career in a scientific or technical field.

  • Master’s degrees. This is an advanced degree that you can earn after completing an undergraduate degree. Most students can earn a master’s degree in two to three years. Many take night classes while working during the day. Sometimes an employer will cover the cost of a master’s degree.

    Having a master’s degree helps you advance in your field. It sets you apart and positions you to earn higher salaries.

    One of the most popular master’s degrees is the MBA, which covers advanced coursework in business, marketing, and finance. Having an MBA makes it easier to get hired for higher-level positions and achieve bigger raises.

    Some in-demand Masters degrees include

    • Master of Arts (M.A.)

    • Master of Social Work (MSW

    • Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)

    • Master of Computer Applications (M.C.A.)

    • Master of Engineering (M.Eng.)

    • Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.)

    • Master of Science (M.Sc.)

    • Master of Technology (M.Tech.)

    • Master of Statistics (M.Stat.)

    • Master of Laws (LL.M.)

  • Doctoral degrees (Ph.D.) A Ph.D. is a sign of mastery in your field. You must have a master’s degree before pursuing your doctoral degree. Completing a Ph.D. opens up a lot of doors in terms of career advancement.

    This degree takes three to four years to earn. You complete your degree by writing a thesis or dissertation that contributes original work in your field. Popular Ph.D. specializations include science, law, and education.

    There are two major types of doctoral degrees: the research-oriented degree and the professional application degree. Some examples of doctoral degrees include:

    • Juris Doctor (J.D.)

    • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

    • Doctor of Education (EdD)

Specialty Degrees and Certifications

Many students obtain a degree or certification that specializes in a certain area of study and prepares them for a professional career. These can come at all levels, from associate all the way to doctoral. Some include:

  • Professional certificates. Earning this helps you gain the critical skills and knowledge you need to stand out in your field. It demonstrates the professional competence of in-demand skills for your career. Having a certificate sets you apart as a top candidate with recruiters.

    Here are some top sought after professional certificates.

    • Google Certificates

    • Help Desk/Desktop Analyst Certifications (A+, Network+)

    • Human Resources Certifications (PHR, SPHR, SHRM)

    • Network Certifications (CCNA, CCNP, CCIE)

    • Project Management Certifications (PMP)

    • Sales Certifications

    • Salesforce Certification

    • Hubspot Inbound Certificatio

  • Juris doctor degrees (J.D.) A Juris Doctor or J.D. is what you receive upon graduation from law school. It prepared a lawyer to take the state bar exam, which will allow them to practice law in their state.

  • Doctor of medicine degrees (M.D.) Having an M.D. (medical doctor) degree qualifies you to become a physician in primary care and a number of specialized medical fields.

  • Doctor of dental surgery degree (D.D.S.) You can become a Doctor of Dental Science or a Doctor of Dental Surgery and practice dentistry.

    Dentists diagnose and treat gum care, root canals, fillings, crowns, veneers, and bridges. They perform minor dental procedures and provide preventative oral care education.

  • Specialist degrees. This is a type of graduate degree. To earn a specialist degree, you must have first earned a master’s degree.

    Here are some types of specialist education degrees that you can pursue:

    • Education specialist degree (Ed.S.) Having this degree designated that you have advanced proficiency in your educational field. Areas of specialty can include adult education, instructional technology, curriculum and instruction, educational psychology, educational leadership, or special education.

    • Psychology specialist (Psy.S.) After earning a BS degree, you can pursue a Psy.S. It furthers knowledge in psychological and educational foundations, research methods, psychological and educational assessment, intervention strategies, and professional school psychology.

Advantages of a College Degree

Competition for the job market is fierce. Employers look for the candidate with the best training and education. Having a degree in your field positions you for success.

  • You earn more when you have a college degree. According to CNN, college grads earn $30,000 a year more than people with just a high school degree.

  • It empowers you with the latest skills for your industry. In addition to job skills, you can develop your leadership, tenacity, problem resolution, and critical thinking skills.

  • Having a degree can help you advance your career. According to Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020: 35% of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree, 30% of the job openings will require some college or an associate’s degree, and 36% of the job openings will not require education beyond high school.

  • It can help you switch into an entirely new field. If you are ready to take the leap into a different line of work, earning a degree empowers you to lead with confidence in that line of work.

  • Earning a college degree gives you better job security. Individuals with college degrees not only earn more than those without degrees do, but they are also far more likely to keep their jobs when times get tough.

Who Benefits from Completing a Degree Program?

For many, graduating high school means that college is the next step toward training for a career. Some will get higher education as a way to grow in their career path. For example, someone with a bachelor’s degree may pursue an MBA to advance their career options.

Someone who didn’t go to college may attend college later in life to boost their earning power and support their family.

Maybe you want a midlife transition. Perhaps you always wanted to be a nurse but never pursued it. Now is the perfect chance to enroll in an online degree program for your nursing education and transition to a rewarding career in nursing.

A retired person may be a lifelong learner and want to take coursework in music or philosophy just because they enjoy it.

Education is what unleashes our full potential. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Deciding What Major is Right For You

Start with determining where your interests and passions lie. Then you can select a major. Once you do that, choose a degree program to take the first steps toward your new career.

Here are the most popular college and university majors.

  • Biology

  • Business

  • Chemical Engineering.

  • Computer Science

  • Communications

  • Economics

  • English Language and Literature

  • Nursing

  • Political Science

  • Psychology

If you want to avoid a struggle finding a job after earning your degree, here are some of the toughest college majors for finding jobs.

Steps to Selecting the Right College Degree

Selecting which degree to pursue can feel overwhelming. With the information we have shared, you have everything you need to plan a course of study that is right for you.

  1. Self-reflect. Look at your interests and talents. Doing work you love is so rewarding. There are also career aptitude and personality tests like the Myers-Briggs to help you see what you are good at.

  2. List career interests. Make a list of top career choices you’d like to learn more about. Research online to see what different careers are like. Find out how much they earn. Discover different career options in that field.

  3. Ask for help. Talk to friends, family, and professionals. Learn from what they have to offer, but remember, in the end it is your choice to own. If you feel stumped, schedule an appointment with a counselor to craft an education plan.

  4. Research schools. Then determine the best place to earn your degree. It may be a local college for basic educational coursework. Many will then transfer to a four-year program at a major university.

    Some will pursue advanced degrees or certification attending classes online or with night school. These educational options are very flexible for someone working during the day to attend school at night.

Best of luck to you as you pursue your degree!

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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Topics: Education, Study