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What Are the Different Types of Degree Programs?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are many different types of degree programs in the world, but the most common levels are the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Within these levels of degrees, every subject taught in universities is available. There are also technical degree programs and specialized degree programs, some available only in certain countries. Programs usually have different foci depending on the level of education they are designed to promote.

Bachelor's degree programs are the most common undergraduate degrees, although associate's degree programs are available as well. These programs are usually somewhat broad, although students do typically pick a specialization. Degrees at this level can be divided up into programs like the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.), and Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.). Each of these subcategories has special qualifications, usually relating to the type of academic work that must be done in order to obtain a degree. Depending on the country, this degree can take three or four years to complete.

The next level is the master's degree program, which is often offered in a specific subject. Depending on the degree system, this may not be identified in the actual name of the degree. Master's degrees are often fairly specific and allow students to take classes primarily in one subject. Sometimes these are offered with honors.

A doctoral degree is the program a person must complete in order to teach or perform other high-level tasks. It is usually the highest degree available in a country. This type of program focuses exclusively on a small area of study, such as anthropology or geology, and usually involves original research and teaching experience.

Other degree programs do exist as well, although many of them have been standardized in order to make student exchange and gauging qualifications easier. There are medical degrees, judicial degrees, and foundation degrees. Many specialized degrees relate specifically to certain positions. For example, some systems divide degree programs up between professionals and technicians.

Sometimes, a person's truncated or failed degree program can still result in a degree. For example, there are posthumous degrees and honorary degrees, which are achieved through living life in certain ways. These degrees are primarily meant as compliments, not as functional degrees.

The three-tier system is ubiquitous across the world, as are the subjects taught in those programs. Even so, the meaning of the programs does not always translate directly. For example, a master's degree in Scotland is different from a master's degree in England. These differences can make the entire international degree program more complex for potential students going outside their own countries.

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Discussion Comments

By lluviaporos — On Jul 23, 2014

@umbra21 - There are a lot of degree programs that are very specific and are still worth taking though. The more specific they are, often the more likely there will be work at the end of the course, since highly specified skills are usually more rare and in demand.

By umbra21 — On Jul 22, 2014

@Ana1234 - Yeah, I think sometimes people get fooled when a decent school offers a program that they aren't necessarily known for and it's just to get money from the students. If you want to go to a particular school, but they aren't known for the program you want to take, then maybe go there for a year and then transfer or do something like that.

College degree programs always seem quite convoluted from the outside, so don't be afraid to ask questions of the enrollment office at the school either. Ask them about cross crediting and switching majors and basically every contingency plan you can think of, because life happens and sometimes you need to be as flexible as possible. If your program allows you to do this, then that's definitely a good thing.

By Ana1234 — On Jul 21, 2014

The most important thing about choosing a degree program is how employers and other schools see it. It doesn't matter if it sounds impressive and it doesn't even really matter if it has a good curriculum. If no one respects the name, then it's a worthless piece of paper at the end. And it's definitely not going into debt to get that piece of paper.

So do a lot of research before you commit to anything. Ask people in the field you want to enter who they consider to be reputable. Don't get sucked into doing years of work and spending thousands of dollars on something that won't do anything for you when you get it.

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