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The Difference in Degrees

Remember, any college degree is better than no college degree!

Elizabeth Hoyt

August 20, 2019

The Difference in Degrees
Do you know the difference between an AA, BA, BS, BFA or MFA? You should – especially if one is going to have your name on it in the near future! Distinguishing the different degrees can easily become alphabet soup, unless you understand what each really means. It’s easy to confuse bachelor’s degrees with one another, since the variations are comprised of general education requirements, along with some elective courses.

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In the United States, there is not a set standard program for each that colleges must follow, which is why there can be many variations on the two degrees. There are also schools within the U.S. that award BS degrees for all majors, like MIT. They’re also similar in that both types of bachelor’s degrees typically require four-years of full-time study in order to complete the amount of academic courses necessary. Such graduation degree requirements can vary and usually depend on the school, major and the intensity of a particular student’s schedule.

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You likely won’t have to choose which degree you’d like to work towards because it will automatically fall under one of the three categories once you’ve chosen an area of study. Also, keep in mind that most employers pay little attention to the difference between types of bachelor’s degrees when making hiring decisions. Should you continue your education, a master’s degree would be the next level of completion. Even further is a doctorate (PhD), which is a highly specialized, expert degree. We’re breaking down the tiers of degrees so you can get a better understanding of what you’re working towards.

Certificate or Diploma –

• Most likely offered within a technical or vocational field, as in the occupational fields of an associate’s degree
• Often leads to a specified job within a field, such as a Certificate in Office Administration

Associate’s Degrees –

• Completion of a two-year program equates to an Associate of Arts (AA) or an Associate of Science (AS)
• A degree awarded after completion at a two-year college
• Often at a community college, technical college or junior college
• Two types of associate majors are offered: technical/vocational and non-vocational or university paralleled
• The technical and vocational specialties are generally for entrance into an occupational field, falling under one of six categories*: 1. Business & Commerce Technologies 2. Data Processing Technologies 3. Health Services / Paramedical Technologies 4. Mechanical/Engineering Technologies 5. Natural Science Technologies 6. Public Service-Related Technologies
• The university paralleled degrees are often referred to as transfer degrees, since they mirror the first two academic years of a four-year college curriculum, given in “Arts and Sciences” or “General Studies”
(*according to The Higher Education General Information Survey or HEGIS)

Bachelor’s Degrees –

Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) fall under the category of bachelor’s degrees. It is commonly referred to as the undergraduate degree and is the first level of a complete college education.
Bachelor of Science (BS) –
• Typically requires more courses within a specified major than a Bachelor of Arts
• Considered the more technical degree, in comparison
• Likely in fields such as math or science (economics, engineering and accounting are among the usual fields)
• Awarded more often in the natural sciences than the humanities
• Awarded more often in pre-professional academic majors versus purely academic
• Students receiving a BS have a sharper career focus, such as engineering or journalism
• Provides students with more specialized training, often involving technical and analytical skills
Bachelor of Arts (BA) –
• Focuses on a wider selection of courses in social sciences
• Fewer hours studying your major, more elective courses
• The degree’s goal is prepare the graduate with a well-rounded education, not for a specific job
• The more popular, more traditional degree of the two
• Awarded after completing courses within liberal arts or social sciences
• Often requires additional coursework requirements in language arts, literature or social sciences
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) –
• Awarded for studying and completing coursework in the fine or performing arts fields
• Available at most universities, but usually within an art school
• Commonly referred to as a “professional” degree due to the rigorous study/training within a student’s given major

Master’s Degrees –

• Includes Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
• They make up the first level of graduate degrees
• Usually takes one to two years of additional courses to earn after a bachelor’s degree

First Professional Degrees –

• A degree that requires at least two years of previous college coursework for program entrance
• Requires a minimum of six years of college coursework for completion
• Degrees awarded under a first professional degree include, but are not limited to: JD Law, MD Medicine, DVM Veterinary Medicine, DC Chiropractic, DDS or DMD Dentistry, OD Optometry, DO Osteopathic Medicine

Doctorate Degrees –

• Doctorate degrees are the highest level of graduate degrees
• Doctoral programs typically consist of independent research culminating in a dissertation or presentation of study results, in addition to additional coursework
• Can be awarded in humanities, arts and sciences • Title is often specialized by the doctoral program (ex. Doctor of Education, Ed.D; Doctor of Philosophy, Ph.D.)

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