22 Jul

Degree in US Education System

Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate, and Associate Degree


It is important that you know the various degrees offered by U.S. and Canadian institutions as you plan to pursue academic opportunities in North America.

The degrees offered in the United States can be divided into two categories: Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees.

Undergraduate Degrees

Bachelor’s Degrees, offered at universities and four-year colleges, is achieved when the required number of credits is fulfilled, which on a full-time status schedule takes about four years.  Some students may choose to be enrolled on a part-time basis, in which case they would take longer than four years.  Students who transfer from one institution to another or change their major fields of study also usually take longer than four years because they have to make up for credits they don't yet have. In a Bachelor Degree program, a first year student is referred to as a Freshman; second through fourth year students are referred to as Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors respectively.

Associate Degree programs typically take two years to complete and are offered at two-year colleges also known as Junior and Community Colleges.  Associate Degrees can be classified as Terminal or Transfer programs.  In Terminal programs, graduates go on to work in specific careers.  In Transfer programs, students have coursework that allow them to transfer to four-year Bachelor Programs, entering as third year students.

Please note that international students must be enrolled on a full-time basis.

Graduate Degrees

Graduate Degrees, specifically the Master’s and the Doctorate Degrees, generally require a student to have earned a Bachelors Degree to be admitted.  They are programs that offer studies of greater intensity, specialization, self-direction and training through in-depth research and coursework.  Because Graduate programs assume that students already have basic knowledge in their fields of study, most Graduate coursework require discussion and participation in informal seminar-type classes where faculty and students exchange ideas.

Master's Degrees

There are two types of Master’s Degrees: Academic and Professional.  Academic Master’s Degrees, mainly the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.), usually involve up to two years of work and are awarded in the fields of the Arts, Sciences, and the Humanities, as well as in technical fields such as Engineering and Agriculture. In these degree programs, students have the choice of taking a thesis or a non-thesis path of study. The degrees are the same but the academic work is different.  Programs with a thesis involve more research and writing while non-thesis programs include more coursework.

Professional Master’s Degrees are designed to take the student to a specific profession through the application of knowledge in a much more structured curriculum aimed at a specific field.  Such degrees include the Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.), Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), etc.  Other fields that fall under this degree type include Journalism, Urban Planning, and Architecture. Professional Masters Degrees are generally not designed for students to go on to a Doctoral Degree program.

Doctorate Degrees

Doctorate Degrees in most cases are designed to train and certify students into becoming research scholars, and in many respects, to becoming professors and faculty members at colleges and universities.  Examples of Doctorate Degrees awarded are the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in the academic fields and the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and the Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) in the professional fields.

To earn a Doctorate Degree, a student must first pass a qualifying or comprehensive exam after completion of all required coursework and when both the student and the academic advisor believe that the student is ready. Secondly, the student must write a dissertation based on a completed and original piece of research study and then defend the dissertation before a panel of faculty members who specialize in that discipline. Completing these two processes takes anywhere from five to eight years beyond earning the Bachelor’s Degree.

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