Defining Degree Levels

Just about every job has certain educational requirements. These can range from a high school diploma to a professional certificate, and all the way to a doctorate degree. The amount of time it takes to earn your degree or certificate, as well as how in-depth your studies will be, will increase with each level. Also, many career opportunities available to those with high-level degrees may not be available for those with lower-level degrees, depending on the career.

Associate Degree

An associate degree, commonly referred to as a two-year degree, is the lowest post-secondary degree level, and a large number of online associate degrees are offered by top rated online universities, community colleges, junior colleges, and technical colleges. An associate degree will introduce you to your chosen area of study, typically not going much more in depth than covering foundational courses and giving you a basic understanding of the subject. These degrees can lead to a variety of entry-level positions, such as dental hygienist, desktop publisher, architectural drafter, and engineering technician in several different fields.

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is a four-year undergraduate degree. However, while most bachelor's degrees can be completed in four years, some programs can take five years, such as architecture or various areas of engineering. In addition, whether you complete the program full or part time will determine the degree length. Many top online universities and colleges offer online bachelor's degrees in a wide range of subjects, including business, health care, and the arts. There are also some accelerated programs available, which require you to work at a faster pace, but will enable students to earn their bachelor's degree in less time. Whether in an accelerated program or not, though, an online bachelor's degree will give you a thorough understanding of your chosen area of study, essentially acting as an associate degree with more in-depth exploration of the degree subject. In fact, a large number of careers require a bachelor's degree for consideration, including those looking to become social workers, technical writers, secondary school teachers, architects, and nearly all types of engineers.

Master's Degree

A master's degree is a lower-level graduate degree. In most cases, a bachelor's degree is an admissions requirement for a master's degree program, and some programs also require applicants to have a certain amount of professional experience, such as one or two years in the field. Once enrolled in a master's program, you can typically earn your degree in around two years, though some programs may take as long as three or four, depending on the school and whether the student enrolls full or part time. Online colleges and universities offer a wide array of master's programs, including the popular Master of Business Administration (MBA). A master's degree program will give you advanced knowledge in your chosen area of study, going more in-depth into subjects and topics covered than your undergraduate degree. Many master's degree programs will require you to write a graduate thesis or complete a capstone project prior to graduation as well. Some of the careers that require a master's degree include post-secondary school teacher, historians, sociologists, and counselors, psychologists, and therapists in various fields.

Doctorate Degree

A doctorate degree is the highest academic degree you can attain. Many accredited online universities allow students to earn a doctorate degree entirely online. Like a master's degree, applicants are required to hold at least a bachelor's degree before being admitted into the program. A doctorate degree program can take anywhere from three to 10 years to complete, depending on the area of study and the institution. There are two main types of doctoral degrees: research and professional. A research doctoral degree, commonly known as a Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy, is typically used for research and/or educational careers with research institutions or major universities. A professional doctorate degree, on the other hand, is typically usually for a career in practice, such as medicine, law, dentistry, and optometry, and may also be used for education.


An academic certificate is earned through a subject-specific program. Unlike a degree, a certificate program generally doesn't incorporate general education courses or any courses not directly related to the certificate into the curriculum. Certificates can be earned from many of the best online universities in a wide range of subject areas. Certificates are also offered at a variety of levels, including less-than-one-year, one-year, two-year, post-baccalaureate, post-master's, and post-doctorate certificates. The amount of time it takes to complete a certificate program varies, depending on the level of the certificate as well as the subject area. Many students choose to complete a certificate program in addition to a degree program to increase their knowledge in a particular subject, and to make them a more qualified candidate for a position or promotion.

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