List of Degrees: Most Popular Degree Programs by Level

Postsecondary degrees in the U.S. are available at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. There are many different types of degrees offered at each level, from the professional Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) to the academic Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Read on to learn more about the most common degrees available at U.S. colleges and universities.

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Undergraduate Degrees

There are two broad categories of undergraduate college degrees: associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees. The average amount of time it takes to earn a degree - also called time to degree - is two years for an associate's degree and four years for a bachelor's degree. Some credits from associate's degree programs can typically be applied toward a bachelor's degree, but an associate's degree is not required for entrance to a bachelor's degree program.

Associate's Degrees

Most associate's degree programs are offered at vocational schools and community colleges, although some national universities have also started conferring 2-year degrees. Students who are seeking general education at this level are most likely to earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.) in topics ranging from literature to computer programming. The A.A. and A.S. degrees are most suited to transfer to a 4-year college or university.

Associate's degree programs are also very popular for students who are seeking more direct professional training or credentials. The most common type of vocational associate's degree is the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.). Some schools also offer specific diplomas, such as the Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN). Exact labels for professional associate's degrees will vary between institutions.

Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's degrees are offered at all 4-year colleges and universities, from large public institutions to small private colleges. The two most common types of bachelor's degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.). Some fields offer specialized degrees, such as the Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.), but many schools simply lump these programs under the more general B.A. or B.S. categories.

Whether you earn a B.A. or a B.S. depends as much on your institution as your field of study. Some schools offer a B.A. for humanities and social sciences and a B.S. for applied sciences and research programs, but many institutions divide their degree programs by the graduation requirements.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the most common fields for bachelor's degree students are business, social studies, health sciences and education (www.nces.ed.gov).

Graduate Degrees

Because graduate education is a common way to gain advanced professional training in a very specific subject, the world of graduate degrees is even more complex than the world of undergraduate degrees. It can be loosely divided into three main areas: master's degrees, doctoral degrees and professional degrees.

Time to degree varies based on the type of program. It is typically the shortest for master's programs (one to two years of post-graduate study) and the longest for doctoral programs (five to seven years of post-graduate study).

Master's Degrees

There are two main types of master's degrees: academic and professional. An academic master's program is likely to result in a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Many people earn an academic master's degree with the intention of continuing on to doctoral study.

There are almost as many professional master's degrees in the U.S. as there are professions. Many institutions invent a new degree name when they create a new program, resulting in a large and often confusing range of possibilities. Some of the more common professional master's degrees include the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Education (M.Ed.).

Most 4-year research universities and many liberal arts colleges offer degrees at the master's level. The NCES lists education and business as the two most common fields for master's-level studies.

Doctoral Degrees

The most common type of doctoral degree is the academic Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). This is a terminal degree in most academic fields and is primarily oriented toward training for research, writing and teaching at an advanced level.

However, it is becoming more and more common for some fields to offer their own types of doctoral programs that combine advanced practical skills with the usual doctoral focus on research and pedagogy. Such programs include the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.).

Ph.D. degrees are commonly found at both public and private research universities. According to the NCES, health professions and the clinical sciences confer the most doctoral degrees, followed by education, engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, psychology and physical sciences.

Professional Degrees

Although many graduate professional degrees are technically considered doctoral degrees, they are best understood as a separate category. Professional degrees can be found at law and medical schools throughout the country. The most popular types of professional degrees include:

  • Juris Doctorate (J.D.), a law degree
  • Medical Doctor (M.D.), a physician's degree
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), a dentistry degree
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), a pharmaceutical medicine degree
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