Types of Degrees

This article's topic is the difference between degrees. It will discuss the different types of degrees, what needs to be done to get them, and how they are used.

By Xavier Royer — November 28, 2023


Types of Degrees

This is one of those articles I do occasionally that tries to preempt questions that may seem obvious and make students feel stupid for asking. If no one ever tells you, you will never know unless you stumble across the information somewhere, which hopefully happens before it comes up in conversation. You have to bluff or look like an idiot successfully. This article's topic is the difference between degrees. It will discuss the different types of degrees, what needs to be done to get them, and how they are used.


Certificate

Certificates are maybe the weirdest thing on this list and are tough to conceptualize. They are not full degrees and are closest to minors in scope. Certificates can represent certain classes taken or can be a program by themself. Typically, they are completed to show competence in a specific field skill or specialization. For example, IBM offers a data analytics certificate. Completion of said certificate would imply the holder knows about data science and could reasonably do baseline data analysis. Alongside my master's, I received an international relations certificate. Where the IBM certificate showed evidence of skill, the IR certificate shows that while I am generally good at political science, I know even more about the IR side of the field. Both versions have their benefits and can be a good sweetener on a resume. Just be sure you are getting it from a known entity or university.

Associates

These are two degrees attained usually from community colleges and show competence in a field without the scope of a bachelor. Usually, these credits will be accepted at a 4-year university if a student wants a bachelor. These can be good for some students looking to cut the cost of their education by going to an often cheaper community college before the 4-year university. If this is the route someone is considering, they should quadruple-check that their credits will transfer. Otherwise, they are wasting money rather than saving it.

Bachelors

A bachelor's is a standard 4-year undergraduate degree from a university. Usually labeled under the college, not the major. For example, my Bachelor of Arts, not political science. This is because the degree reflects the college (in my case, arts and sciences), and the major is a subdivision of the college. Universities are made up of different colleges, each housing a category of classes. A business school, for example, is a college within a larger university system. Minors also live within the different colleges. Most bachelor's degrees require students to choose a major and a minor or double major. This can sometimes be hard to express on a resume or CV, so contact campus resources for those questions.

Masters

The first graduate degree level. A graduate degree requires a bachelor's degree to be completed first. Masters are good for busting out of entry-level positions and into the higher tiers of a field. Some fields may make more sense to do a master's after working for a while, so talk to advisors and mentors about that first.

Ph.D.

A terminal degree means the highest you can go. A master's is attained along the way, and then the student conducts their research called a dissertation. These are often book-length and take years to complete. A Ph.D. means someone is an expert in that field, and while Master's holders such as myself do teach at universities, Ph.D.' s are the ones who make up the bulk of the full-time faculty. Doctor is the honorific, so address any professors with a Ph.D. as such unless they say otherwise.

Professional Terminal Degrees

Medical schools and law schools also offer their version of terminal degrees. Law students earn a JD, while medical professionals earn MDs. MDs are also called Dr. *last name*, though law students get the honorific "esquire" added to the end of their name. This is not used nearly as often, typically only in super official written communication (which, to be fair, lawyers see a lot of). Law school is typically three years, while medical school is often four years, with the potential of even more depending on the specialty. Surgeons, for example, have an exceptionally long path.

Veterinarians and Dentists also have similar structures. These types of schools can be attached to a larger university or standalone entities. For example, Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital from the hit TV show House seemed to be standalone. At the same time, Xavier University is about to open a medical school under its current university system.

Xavier Royer

Xavier Royer

I am currently a full time instructor at a William Penn University, a small private university in Iowa. I am the lone political science faculty member there. In my time teaching, I have already connected with an incredible cohort of students in ways I could never have expected. Partnering with SAGE will allow me the opportunity to help even more students across the globe navigate those tricky questions.
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