Types of Degrees: Degree Levels, Program Options and More

There are many different degrees that can be earned at the college level and even more major options to choose from than you can shake a stick at. We know that navigating through the wide world of college degrees can be daunting, so fear not readers! Today, we are going to fill you in on some of the areas that you may be unsure of.

Associate’s Degree

degrees1The very first college degree that you can earn is an associate’s degree at a community college. Associate’s degrees take about two years to complete for the majority of people, but it can take less time if you want to take more than a full time course load. Once you’re done with your associate’s degree you can transfer to a four year school or call it a day and hang your new diploma on your wall.

Each student working towards an associate’s degree is required to complete 60 credit hours, which averages out to about 20 actual courses give or take. You have the option of completing an Associate’s of Arts, Associate’s of Science or and Associate’s of Applied Science degree as well.

Top Ranking Associate’s Degree Majors

There are many fields of study at your fingertips when pursing an associate’s degree. Some of the majors are designed as a starting ground for higher level degrees and there are some that will prepare you for the work force upon graduation. We did a bit of research and found some information on the most popular associate’s degrees in the United States in 2013, so here you go:

  • Liberal Arts and Sciences / Liberal Studies: An Associate’s of Arts in Liberal Arts and Science / Liberal Studies was ranked number 1 in 2013 for the most degrees awarded. There were reportedly 193,700 students that earned this degree. This program provides students with a melting pop of information coming from the arts, biology, physical science, social science and humanities.
  • Nursing / Registered Nurse (RN, ASN, BSN, MSN): Coming in at a close second place is an Associate’s of Science in Nursing degree. In 2013 there were somewhere around 74,326 students awarded degrees. This program trains students in areas necessary to provide quality care in the medical field. There will be able time spent on techniques and procedures that are to be followed when caring for the sick and disabled. Other areas of study are in medication treatments and administration, proper ways to assist physicians, patient referrals as well as patient education.
  • General Studies: We skipped ahead here to the fourth most popular associate’s degree major, but the amount of students that earned a degree is no less impressive. Last year, 41,831 students snagged an Associate’s of Arts in General Studies degree. A program in general studies is typically a combination of courses that are required to complete general education requirements along with classes that are of interest to the student. Most students that pursue a general studies major are prone to heading to a four year college to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Why Should I Earn an Associate’s Degree?

It’s common for people to assume that a bachelor’s degree is the way to go when earning a college degree. This is true in some cases and largely depends on the career aspirations and future goals of the student. However, earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t the only way to get a solid education that can take you somewhere far in life. We know that the reasons to earn an associate’s degree may vary from one person to the next, so here are our thoughts on why you should earn an associate’s degree:

  • Less of a time commitment: As we stated, associate’s degrees only take about 2 years to complete as opposed to the four or more years that higher level degree take. Spending less time in school will allow you to utilize your degree in the workforce sooner and start gaining the experience needed to advance if you so desire. Getting a new paycheck and possible pay raise as a result of your associate’s degree is also a huge bonus if you ask us. You can also go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher at a later date if you would like as well.
  • Less expensive: Associate’s degrees are much less expensive than bachelor’s degrees are. Obviously paying for 2 years of schooling is going to be less of a hit to the wallet than four years. Community college tuition is lower and there are different financial aid options for students that are eligible as well. An extra plus to this is that you will already have the first two years of a more advanced degree under your belt, which will also save you money in the future should you ever decide to head back to school at a later date.
  • Job specific training: You’d likely be a bit surprised at the amount of jobs you can get with an associate’s degree. You really can gather a lot of knowledge and experience in the 2 years that you are in school. Many employers are taking notice of this too and are more than willing to hire those with an associate’s degree while in the past, a bachelor’s degree may have been preferred.

Who Else Has One?

When we think of some of the well-known people in popular culture, we often expect them to have high level degrees at upper crust schools. This is not always the case though as there are a surprising amount of famous faces that are associate’s degree holders.

Tom Hanks

Forrest Gump himself once walked the halls of Chabot College a community college in Hayward, California before moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree at California State Unversity in Sacramento.

Sarah Palin

We certainly hope that Sarah Palin didn’t learn that Russia was visible from her house through her time at the community colleges that she attended well before her days as Governor of Alaska. Palin attended North Idaho College and Matanuska – Susitina College to work on a associate’s degree with a communications focus.

Walt Disney

Animation and entertainment pioneer, Walt Disney, went to the Metropolitan Junior College in Missouri even though he didn’t complete high school. His educational experience just goes to show you what can be done with an associate’s degree and some serious determintation.

George Lucas

Another impressive associate’s degree holder is the man behind the Death Star himself, George Lucas. He spent two years right after high school working hard to earn an associate’s degree at Modesto Community College before heading to the University of Southern California to graduate.

Bachelor’s Degree

Next up on the docket is a bachelor’s degree which takes four years to complete and can be earned at any four year college or university. If you follow up an associate’s degree with a bachelor’s degree, you will be looking at two more years of schooling.

There are two different ways that credit hours are accounted for in bachelor’s degree programs. The first way is the standard way with students completing 120 semester credits which is essentially 40 classes. Some schools operate on a quarter sytem and that will mean that a minimum of 180 quarter credits will need to be earned to qualify for graduation.

Top Ranking Bachelor’s Majors

There are even more degree majors to choose from once you reach the bachelor’s level of your education. A lot of students pursuing degrees at this level don’t even decide upon a major until they are going into their junior year. Here are some of the top bachelor’s degree majors available at many schools across the country:

  • Business Administration and Management: It seems as though students earning bachelor’s degree sure like to major in business administration and management. In 2013, over 129,686 students earned a bachelor’s degree in this field, easily landing it in the number one spot on the list of the most popular majors. Those aiming for a degree in a business administration and management program are going to learn a lot about how to prepare business plans, organize business affairs and carry out proper business functions. There’s also a bit of management theory, human resource management, accounting, logistic and marketing covered throughout the four year degree.
  • Psychology: Sliding nicely into second place is the degree psychology major. A solid 93,886 students were handed diplomas in 2013 after working hard for four years. Most psychology programs at a bachelor’s degree level focus on the more general aspects of the social science. Students will learn about scientific studies on collective behaviour, physical and environmental effects on behavior and how to properly analyze and treat the behaviors that result from all of those things.
  • Biology / Biological Sciences: The fourth most popular major that bachelor’s degree students gravitate towards is in the study of biology and other biological sciences. Last year 57,557 graduates donned a cap and gown to receive a diploma. The biology and biological sciences programs are often introductions to biology on a somewhat basic level without a specific area studied in depth.

Why Should I Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

If you’re going to spend four years of your life in the college trenches you more than likely would like to know what you’re going to get out of it other than some student loan debt and penchant for wearing pajama pants everywhere. So, why should you get a bachelor’s degree? Let’s find out now:

  • Salary: You can expect to earn a higher wage with a bachelor’s degree in your arsenal. As a matter of fact, you can earn up to 62% more than employees that do not hold a degree. Money talks as they say and we like the idea of bringing in more duckets as a pay off for four years of college.
  • It’s better for your brain: Studies have shown that people that have spent ample time in school are prone to having better reasoning and critical thinking skills. There is also the potential to have a higher cognitive understanding of subjects, analyzing abilities and the desire to ask more questions that will lead to a further understanding of people, situations and topics.
  • Better for your family: The standard of living for people with bachelor’s degrees and their families is said to be greatly improved upon according to Degree Advatange. The positive impact often comes from a more tolerant world view, a demonstrated connection to the positive impact higher education can have and increaded pay. All of these things join forces to also impact future generations within the family unit, resulting in a higher likelihood of repeat college attendance for children.

Who Else Has One?

We already know about some popular peeps that kicked some community college booty, so why not find out about some that have bachelor’s degrees. We love random tid bits of information like this and we figured you would too!

Wanda Sykes

Super funny comedian and actress, Wanda Sykes was a student at Hampton University long before she was cracking jokes on the silver screen. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and even spent time in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sororiety where we are sure she kept everyone in stitches during rush week. She did make good use of her degree as a contracting specialist with the National Security Agency.

Zach Braff

Long before he played John “J.D.” Dorian on Scrubs, Zach Braff was a normal guy making his way through film school at North Western University School of Communication. It wasn’t all studying and no fun for the funny guy, though! He spent time cutting up and probably playing a game of beer pong or two as a brother of Phi Kappa Psi.

Spike Lee

Highy acclaimed director, actor, producer and screenwriter, Spike Lee, is also a bachelor’s degree holder from the historic Morehouse College. He graduated from Morehouse with a bachelors in mass communications and even took some film courses on the side at Clark Atlanta University. Lee made his first film, “Last Hustle in Brooklyn” whie in college, which we can see from his long career was just the very tip of a very talented ice burg.

Tina Fey

Excuse us a moment while we fangirl over Tina Fey! We all know and love Tina from her days on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. We also have her to thank for Mean Girls and only wearing pink on Wednesday’s. Before she was kicking down comedy doors, she was a student working on a bachelor’s degree in drama at the University of Virginia.

Master’s Degree

The first step up the ladder to earning a graduate is a master’s degree, which will take about two years to complete. By this point in your college experience you’ll have spent 6 or so years chained to text books, your laptop and probably countless Red Bull cans.

The requirements for completion of a master’s degree will vary slighting depending on your major and the school you attend. It will take 36 to 54 semester credits (60 to 90 for colleges that operate on quarter systems). You can count on having to complete 12 to 18 college courses on top of submitting a thesis project before graduation.

Top Ranking Master’s Degree Majors

By the time you are entering into the master’s degree stage you will have already settled on a major, so many of the most popular majors are the same as for a bachelor’s degree. There are a few differences though and we’re going to give you the details now:

  • Education: Students that would like to teach at colleges or private schools specifically, are going to work on getting a master’s degree. Education is a pretty popular major for master’s students and is in second place with a reported 25,809 students took home the gold in 2013. Master’s programs in education help future teacher learn skills in the practice of teaching, educational psychology, planning and administration of certain educational activities. School safety and health issues are touched on at some at some point as are the important social foundations of education.
  • Social Work: Last year there were 19,211 students that completed a master’s program in social and earned a graduate degree. Social work programs are ranked in fourth place in popularity among those that college. Programs of this nature help to prepare students for the professional career aiding people with social welfare and counseling needs. A big part of this major revolves around case work planning, social counseling, proper administrative procedures and proper protocol for handling cases involving children, families and disabled individuals.
  • Curriculum and Instruction: The fifth most popular major is one based in curriculum and instruction. Around 17,701 students graduated in 2013 with a master’s degree partnered with this major program. This is a program that is ideal for individuals that would like to pursue education from a a different perspective than a teacher would.

Why Should I Earn a Master’s Degree?

Earning a master’s degree really does payoff and does so in many ways. We know that spending six years in school and oodles of money is a lot to think about and take on. We also have found some pretty positive reasons to go for the gusto to earn a graduate degree.

  • Great employment opportunities: Having a master’s degree will open so many career doors for you that you won’t know which one to walk through. Employers often view the amount of time it takes to earn a master’s degree as a sign that you are able to commit and dedicate yourself to something. There is of course the ever important aspect of the invaluable amount of experience that you gain.
  • Sense of accomplishment: Knowing that all of your hard work, blood, sweat, tears and high Starbucks bill was all worth it in the end is a huge part of earning a master’s degree. We can certainly see how one would feel like a rock star when the dean of the college or university you attend, hands your diploma over to you. When you land your first awesome job as a result of your major accomplishment, it will probably feel even better.
  • Feel fulfilled: Most people that decide to earn a master’s degree are lifelong learners. Putting that much time and energy into something is likely seen as a means of peronal fulfillment too. Being able to expand your knowledge base all while working towards a bigger picture sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us.

Who Else Has One?

Are you ready to play the final round of “guess that graduate”? We sure hope so because it’s heading your way whether you like it or not!

Ron Jeremy

We’re not going to lie…The fact that Ron Jeremy has both a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree came as a total shock to us. It turns out that the “One Eyed Monster” is actually a very well educated man. Ron has a master’s degree in special education and a bachelor’s degree in education and theatre from Queens College in New York. At some point during his days teaching special education Ron decided that his true calling was in the porn industry. Now all we can hear in our heads is “bowchicawowwow”…

James Franco

James Franco sure played his part as a stoner well in Pineapple Express, but don’t let his ability to play a slacker fool you into thinking that he’s a few cards short of a full deck. Franco already has a creative writing bachelor’s degree that he earned in 2008, but he didn’t stop there by any means. He describes himself as having “an unusually high metabolism for productivity”, which is likely the motivation for his graduate degree from Columbia University with an FMA. Ever the over acheiver, he is now in the process of locking in a Ph.D in English from Yale University. We should should also mention that he is squeezing in some classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and he has six movies coming our this year…We want to know if this dude has a clone or some sort of magc pill that help him get everything done. Whatever his it is that he’s doing, we want in on it!

One More Thing…

We’ve already talked a good deal about the most popular majors for each degree level and we think those are swell options. We’d like to tell about a few more majors that we think are particularly interesting and worth looking into. Here are our top picks:

  • If you’re thinking of heading to community college first, consider an Associate’s of Science degree. There are many program options available and many will allow you to hit the ground running after graduation.
  • For our caring and compassionate readers that want to contribute to the greater good of society, we’d like to recommend a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work degree. This is a field of study that is interesting and fulfilling once you are able to use your knowledge on the job. Another plus to earning a BA in Social Work is the ability to continue your education all the way to a doctorate degree if you’d like. It’s a degree with legs and it knows how to use them.
  • Journalism is a pretty interesting field to study and work in. You would be best suited to earn a master’s degree if you intend to pursue a career as a journalist because many employers prefer to hire individuals that have one.

Sources and Recommended Reading

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