Your Definitive Guide to College Degrees and Majors

There are a lot of decisions that a person can make in a matter of seconds, like: “Do I want to eat an apple or an orange?” or “Should I wear a white shirt with these jeans or a black one?” or “Do I use gravy to top off my steak or should I just keep it simple?” Choosing a degree is NOT one of them!

Definitive Guide Degrees and Majors fact 1

Numerous factors should be considered when finding the right fit. Considerations people have to make when choosing their direction for further education could include cost, location or proximity from home, culture fit, career potentials, financial gains, etc. This is so important because the upcoming 2-6+ years are important to shaping a person’s future. 

Statistics show that the number of Doctorate graduates are not as high as that of an Associate’s, primarily because, if you put it in a career’s perspective, the easiest degree to get your foot in the employment door is an Associate’s degree. However, the barriers to entry for the Doctorate’s are a lot higher considering the level of mastery that you should have after the program. To put it into perspective, for every five associate degree graduates, there is one doctorate graduate (1.01 million college graduates earn associate’s degrees in a year vs. 184,070 earn doctorate or professional degrees).

This is why we have laid it down for you to see every aspect in the process to make an informed decision and to help you achieve your short term and long term goals.

The College Degrees/Majors in the US

To start with, we have the four kinds of degrees that you can choose from:

Associate Degree

Some 1.01 million college graduates earned Associate degrees in 2015. Across the types of degrees, the Associate degree is, in essence, the shortest and easiest one to achieve. It takes only two years in either a community college, vocational schools, or universities to complete. This commonly requires you to accomplish about 60 credits as a full-time student. 

One of the major benefits of taking an associate degree before a bachelor’s degree is the cost per credit. Said credits can be applied to complete your bachelor’s degree, making it the more cost-effective move – assuming that the college/school that the Associate degree came from is regionally accredited.

As soon as you complete the Associate program, you can get a job or use the credits you have accumulated and transfer it into your general education (gen ed) requirements needed to continue four years in university to obtain our next type, the Bachelor’s Degree.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate program, also known as a Baccalaureate degree, divided into three elements: general education, core courses, and electives.

General education is during the first few years of college and consists mostly of liberal arts (humanities, arts, and sciences). The core courses are more specific to the career path that you are to choose. 

And lastly, electives are subjects that are not necessarily required or are outside of the course of study. The tip for this is to choose your electives once you’ve selected from the required courses.

It continues to be one of the requirements to set foot into a more favorable professional career path. Two of the most common bachelor’s degrees are Bachelor of Arts (BA), which is more geared towards the liberal arts, and Bachelor of Science (BS), which focuses more on applied sciences.

Did you know that in 2015, 1.98 million college graduates earned bachelor’s degrees?

Master’s Degree

Around 820,100 graduates earned master’s degrees in 2015. A Master’s degree is a graduate program that lasts between 1.5 to 2.5 years of specializing in a certain area of study (if done full-time, if part-time, it could take up to 5-6 years). Like the bachelor’s degree or an undergraduate program, the Master’s degree also requires a minimum grade point average (GPA) and acceptance score on an entrance exam like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This course delves deeper into more advanced materials discussed during the bachelor’s degree.

Graduating from this would easily open doors for high level or executive-level positions in companies. A master’s degree can also give you an exponential increase in earning potential, on average about 20% higher than someone with a bachelor’s degree. Between 2016 and 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected an increase of jobs requiring a Master’s degree by about 17%.

Graduating with your Masters degree may also offer you opportunities for doctorate degrees.

Doctorate

The highest of all degrees is also known as the Doctorate Degree, which usually takes 4-6 years to complete along with dissertations and a major research project. Some Doctorates require a Master’s degree, but other programs may accept those with just bachelor’s degrees.

There are two types of Doctorate degrees. The first is Research-oriented (a.k.a. The Ph.D.). In this case, ph – Philosophy denotes research and learning for further knowledge than actual philosophy in itself.

The second kind, the Professional application degree (a.k.a. Applied Doctorate), focuses on applying for the subject/courses in the context of actual day-to-day scenarios in the field and creating solutions to the issues at hand.

Roughly 184,070 people earned doctorate or professional degrees in 2015.

Definitive Guide to College Degrees and Majors - Dividers

College Trades and Certificates

If you want to get into the workforce faster, another option would be to acquire Certificates and diplomas from trade schools. These are certifications specific to the career path you have chosen or can be a means for you to learn another craft and shift to a new industry.

For instance, assuming that you graduated with a marketing degree and it just so happens that you have the creative eye to get into makeup artistry, you can sign up to get an esthetician license or a full cosmetology license and branch out into working with cosmetics brands with your new-found skills as well as your marketing expertise from your previous background. That way, the employers would see you as more valuable and a strategic hire than someone with a marketing background. This would easily get you higher in the ranks while doing what you love.

It is also recommended to choose the type of state-accredited trade school that offers hands-on learning to get the most out of your program.

Most commonly, trade certificates can be acquired from either:

  • A Community college – this is more of a classroom setting being taught by instructors that are specialists in their field of choice. 
  • Trade school – this typically offers a more flexible schedule as a trade school does not follow the same academic calendar.

IN SUMMARY:

Degree# of units/credits (on ave)# of years to completeSchooling Pre-requisiteGPA requirement
Associate602Minimum high school GPA, Minimum test scores (ACT or SAT), Passing grades of pre-requisite courses, letters of recommendation, Essay on goals2.0 or above
Bachelor’s1203-7High school and Associate degree transcripts, Application form, Letters of recommendation, Supplemental essays, College entrance exam scores2.0 or above
Master’s30-50Full time: 1.5-2.5 yearsPart-time: 5-6 yearsCollege Degree Transcripts, Letters of recommendation, Personal Essays / Career Goals, Standardized Test Results3.0 or above
Doctoral604-6Transcripts of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, GPA standards specific to the degree program, letters of recommendation, GRE test scores (Graduate Record Examinations), some may require GMAT (Graduate Management Admission test) or standardized test results relevant to the field of study, statement of their purpose, application forms3.3 or above
Trades / Certificates9-30<1none2.0 or above
Definitive Guide to College Degrees and Majors - Dividers

On-Campus/Traditional and Online Degrees

Seeing as we have gone through all of the degrees you can look into for your future, the next step is to select the kind of learning method that would best suit you, your preferences, and your current situation. More than a year ago, choosing between on-campus learning and online learning/distance learning would not even be a difficult decision to make. Having the ability to widen your network through your classmates/coursemates would have been one of the major drivers for choosing on-campus learning.

But after the year that we have all had during 2020, schools and universities alike have had to adjust to the new standards adhering to physical distancing measures. One of which is the shift from traditional learning or on-campus learning to online programs. On the traditional learning side, universities and their new learning programs have become more considerate of the variabilities of each student’s learning capabilities. This is where asynchronous and synchronous learning comes in. 

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Synchronous learning is similar to how one would attend classes in a normal setting but putting everything online. So this means having a set schedule per class and vital log in times, all while the class is happening concurrently.

  • The usual methods of synchronous learning include: online video calls, teleconferencing, live-chatting, and live-streaming lectures
  • Synchronous learning is the first step a student may take when transitioning from traditional learning to fully online. Since it has the same classroom settings, such as peer to peer interaction, active discussions, and the professor’s immediate feedback, adapting to this kind of learning method should not be as difficult for the student.

Asynchronous, on the other hand, is more flexible and adaptable to the student’s schedule. All the classes are pre-recorded, available online, and each student has the liberty to partake during a time that fits their schedule.

  • The usual methods for asynchronous learning would be pre-recorded classes, self-guided lessons, an online library of e-books, lecture notes, or forums/discussion boards for the class.
  • Generally, there is also a set period (one week or so) to submit class requirements.

Both learning methods are effective depending on the type of student or learner you are. The only potential issue that online learning, whether synchronous or asynchronous, may bring about would be technical issues, e.g., connectivity issues, crashing systems, or lack of reliable tech needed to attend said classes.

Although on-campus learning may be put on a halt, for the time being, it doesn’t mean that online learning benefits are not as sizeable as that of traditional. 77% of educators claim that online learning is comparable or may even be better than traditional learning because this arrangement can be flexible enough for different types of learners or those with less workable schedules.

Since our world’s situation is nowhere near normalizing, it would be best to adapt and use what we have and move forward. To keep learning with what resources and infrastructure we have available. Between 2015 to 2026, the number of non-traditional students/students enrolled in online courses is projected to increase by 8.2%, which would amount to about 39% of total college enrollment.

More and more colleges and universities are redesigning their structures to accommodate this shift in teaching styles. This will create long term changes in the schooling industry worldwide and improve existing schools of thought regarding teaching different students.

IN SUMMARY

TraditionalOnline Courses
SynchronousAsynchronous
Set Schedulex
Flexible Schedulexx
Real-Time Classesxx
Real-time participationxx
Pre-recorded Classesxx
Set a schedule for submission of requirementsxxx
Definitive Guide to College Degrees and Majors - Dividers

How To Choose A Degree

Just like choosing between multiple options, selecting a degree is highly dependent on the circumstances or the scenarios you are in. Perhaps you are in a financial rut, and you have to immediately find a good-paying job to either sustain your lifestyle, support your family, pay for a new purchase, or have the cash to spend, then maybe the Associate degree is for you. It will get your foot in the employment door much faster than the rest of the degrees. 

However, the job market has been incredibly competitive in recent years, so having an associate degree greatly limits the quality options you have for employment. To put it into perspective, two decades ago, there are 59.7% more bachelor’s degree graduates now, which makes looking for a job even more cut-throat than before. So if you’re looking at greater financial gains in the medium to long run, a bachelor’s degree will help you achieve just that. 

But assuming that you want more from the four years of blood, sweat and tears you’ve churned out earning your bachelor’s degree. Say you want to increase your marketability and have more specialized skills and knowledge about your course to augment your earning capabilities even more. Then the Master’s degree is an option. Aside from this being highly rewarding, this program usually also expands your network in your field of study, making it an even more strategic move to help you climb up that steep, steep career ladder. In 2013, the highest earning potential of a master’s graduate was 21% higher than that of an employee with only a bachelor’s degree. 

Let’s push it a little bit further and say that you want to make an even greater impact in the industry that you’re in while improving your skillset and securing top-level positions – all while increasing your sense of accomplishment, getting you even closer to self-actualization.  Then having a Doctorate might be for you. This would mean a longer commitment to learning, researching, analyzing, and potentially solving issues or offering solutions to problems that are currently prevalent in your industry. Between 2000 and 2018, the number of Doctorate graduates increased by 125%, according to the US Census Bureau.

So again, the selection of how far you would want to further your education highly depends on your goals in life – your ‘why’ or what you would want to live by. Consider all options available and your capabilities and weaknesses, financial capacity, and interests while choosing the type of degree you want to get. 

Definitive Guide to College Degrees and Majors - Dividers

Typical Roadblocks Students Face When Choosing A Degree (And How To Overcome Them)

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. In most cases, we all experience certain roadblocks that might hinder our selection process. Being an adult means we already have certain structures in our lives that might hinder us from getting our degrees or furthering our education. A few of which are:

Time

One of the most common rebuttals are, “I have no time to go back to school” or “I barely have any time left in the day to study,” – which both are just a matter of prioritizing a person’s day to day tasks. Thanks to technology advancements, online schooling or asynchronous learning have empowered people with the thirst to learn to study and adjust according to their schedules. One could easily fit in their modules when they aren’t working, making it easy for you to finish your degree on your own time.

Finances

Not a lot of people can fully support their willingness to learn on their own. However, a few options are available to you, especially if you’re already working. Some employers are open to financing or ‘investing’ on valued employees that will, in turn, give them sizeable returns in the long run. 

If now through your employer, some schools or universities also offer scholarship programs or grants. You have to look for the diamonds in the rough that would fit your profile. 

Another option could be through tax breaks. You can consult with an IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agent to see if you are eligible.

Interests and weaknesses

An example of this is drawing. Off-hand, the courses applicable to drawing are fine arts, architecture, and maybe structural engineering. Now, if one is weak in calculus, engineering should be out of the question. Architecture has some math, but generally, most can handle the challenge. Fine arts would enhance those bare drawing skills, but the financial reward would be mostly dictated by circumstances, luck, and course skills. Therefore, from what was said, if financial gains are the goal, architecture would be the best choice because it would offer the greatest financial payback one could get.

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So with all of these in mind, make sure to give yourself enough time to think things through and process all the pros and cons of choosing your next step. Make sure to:

  1. List down all your options.
  2. Take a step back and review or reflect on how this will impact yourself and your life goals.
  3. Seek advice from trusted people around you, such as mentors or advisors
  4. Take a deep breath and take the plunge.

Who else would know better about what you should do with your life than yourself? As Albus Dumbledore once said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”.

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