College degrees in order: A complete list

Associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate. Listing college degrees in the order they're typically earned tells part of the story — but read on to learn more about each.
Written by Maura Deering on
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College degrees in order of education level start with an associate degree, followed by a bachelor's degree, master's, and doctorate. This guide introduces each degree and details time lengths, prerequisites, common fields of study, and reasons to pursue the degree.  

Whether you're just starting to think about college or considering graduate school, this page might help.

Associate degree

Length of time to complete: One to two years
Number of credits required: ~60

High school graduates or GED completers who pursue an associate degree may want to enter the workforce quickly, save money, complete prerequisites toward a bachelor's, or explore a field of study before committing to a four-year program. 

Community colleges and technical schools award business administration associate degrees and computer science associate degrees, along with degrees in other popular areas like healthcare, liberal arts and sciences, and criminal justice. Learners looking for flexibility while they work or attend to family responsibilities or those interested in accelerating their studies can explore online associate degree options.

Associate degree curriculums may include internships, practicums, or capstone projects. In addition to a high school or GED transcript, you may need a minimum GPA or ACT/SAT scores.  

Associate degree types

Associate degree types include the three listed below. 

An associate of applied science appeals to students anxious to begin working in positions like paralegal and registered nurse. Associate of arts and associate of science degrees serve students interested in bachelor's programs or entry-level jobs. 

  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)

Bachelor's degree

Length of time to complete: Four years
Number of credits required: ~120 

Bachelor's degrees prepare students to enter many professions, including accounting, engineering, and information technology. They also provide a gateway to graduate study.

Four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees. Online bachelor's degree programs offer opportunities to earn accelerated bachelor's degrees in one to three years. 

Admission typically requires a high school diploma or GED certificate, ACT/SAT scores, minimum GPAs, and prerequisite courses.

Bachelor's programs often offer internships and require graduates to complete capstone projects, practicums, or research papers. The four-year curriculum includes roughly two years of general studies and two years of major coursework. 

Students can often transfer in after earning their associate degrees for the final two years of a bachelor's program. 

SEE: Getting an internship with a tech company: Your how-to guide

Bachelor's degree types

Featured below are types of bachelor's degrees. They prepare you for careers in architecture and business administration or graduate study in the arts, fine arts, sciences, and humanities. 

  • AAS-holders often return to school to advance their careers with a bachelor's of applied science.
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS)
  • Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.)
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS)

Master's degree

Length of time to complete: One to three years
Number of credits required: ~30 

Bachelor's degree-holders pursue master's degrees to advance their careers, increase their salaries, enter administrative or management positions, or prepare for doctoral study. 

You should expect an intensive program with internships, a capstone project or thesis, and comprehensive examinations. Enrollees specialize their studies in specific areas within their fields of study, such as nurse anesthesia or software engineering.  

Master's programs, especially those in executive-level business topics, may carry big price tags. But master's degrees can increase graduates' salaries by approximately 20%. 

You can opt for online master's programs, which may also offer the cheapest master's degrees

Some of the most in-demand master's degrees include advanced practice nursing, business administration, computer and information sciences, engineering, and healthcare administration.  

Master's degree types

A master of science covers areas like nursing, engineering, computer science, and biological sciences. Specific professional degrees include MBAs, healthcare and public health leadership, education, and social work. Many published writers hold MFA degrees.

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Publishing (M.Pub.)
  • Master of Science (MS)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)

SEE: Best online MBA degrees

Doctoral degree

Length of time to complete: Four to eight years
Number of credits required: Highly variable

Large research universities award doctoral degrees. Some, such as online Ph.D. programs, are offered remotely. 

Doctoral programs may require bachelor's or master's degrees, recommendation letters, and research proposals. 

Doctorates in areas like law, business administration, and medicine can be expensive. Many learners take out loans and apply for scholarships. 

Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, may offer teaching or research assistantships and stipends. This assistance can reduce or eliminate tuition costs.

Doctoral programs require several years to complete and prepare graduates for academic roles, executive positions, and top-level professional careers, including attorneys, doctors, psychiatrists, and educational administrators. 

You should expect extensive research projects or dissertations, clinicals and residencies, and/or comprehensive exams.

Doctoral degree types

The degrees listed below illustrate the range of doctorates available. For students who want to become faculty members at large research institutions or professionals like dentists, doctors, and lawyers, a doctoral degree often provides the only path.

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
  • Juris Doctor (JD)

READ THIS: Best online doctorate in business administration 2022

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