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Types of Degrees Offered at Postsecondary Institutions

Associate's Degree: A two-year course of study (generally between 60 and 70 semester credit hours) which commonly results in an Associate of Arts (A.A.), an Associate of Science (A.S.), Associate in Arts in Teaching (A.A.T.), or an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. The A. A., A.S. and A.A.T. degrees are designed for students intending to continue their studies in a bachelor’s degree program, while the A.A.S. is most often considered a terminal degree, and is not designed to transfer to a four year college or university (although some of the general education courses may transfer).

Bachelor's Degree: This is a four-year course of study—although some professional degrees may be longer—that generally results in either a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.). It’s also called a baccalaureate degree.  It generally consists of a minimum of 120 semester hours of credit or its quarter-hour equivalent.

Master's Degree: A master’s degree is normally a one- to two-year course of study consisting of 30 to 60 semester credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. This course of study usually results in a Master of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) degree. There are many variations as well, such as the Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) and the Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.). Master’s degrees often require completion of a thesis.

Doctoral Degree: This is the highest academic award a student can earn for graduate study. It usually results in a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in a particular academic field. For example, you could earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, history, art, or public administration. The degree commonly requires two or more years of graduate work beyond a master’s degree and completion of a dissertation approved by a faculty committee. There are other types of doctorate degrees granted for completion of coursework in some professional fields. For example, an Ed.D. is a doctorate of education granted for advanced study in the field of professional education. The D.B.A. and the D.Psych. may be granted for advanced study of business or psychology, respectively.

Professional Degree: These degrees are commonly specific to professions that are government regulated such as medicine (M.D., doctor of medicine degree), law (J.D., doctor of laws), pharmacy (D.Pharm., doctor of pharmacy), optometry (O.D., doctor of optometry), and veterinary medicine (D.V.M., doctor of veterinary medicine) . A professional degree requires 1) completion of academic requirements to begin practice in the profession, 2) at least two years of college work prior to entering the program, and 3) a total of at least six academic years of college work to complete the degree program, including prior college work plus the length of the professional program itself.

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