College Degree Levels

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By DeVry University

October 12, 2021
6 min read

If you've considered furthering your education, you've likely spent some time thinking about the different college degree levels available to you. Choosing which type of college degree you wish to pursue can be an important early step in your education.

In order to make an informed decision regarding the level of degree you wish to earn, you first need to understand the differences between various degrees. In this article, we'll list the major college degree levels in order and provide you with an explanation of what each degree might be like. You'll be able to explore all this information and more as we cover the following topics:

Types of College Degree Levels in Order

When people discuss college degree levels, they are typically referring to an associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree or a doctorate. In many cases, these degrees can build on each other. For instance, you may need to have a bachelor's degree in order to pursue a master's degree, and you may need a master’s degree to pursue a doctorate. On the flip side, however, you don’t necessarily need to pursue an associate degree before pursuing a bachelor’s.

To get into the different degree levels in a bit more detail, here are some brief explanations of associate, bachelor's and master's degrees.

Associate Degree

An associate degree is the first degree level offered in higher education. These undergraduate degrees, like bachelor’s degrees, are open to people just beginning their college careers and are generally geared toward helping students lay down foundation skills and knowledge to help prepare them for entry-level employment or further education.

Typically, an associate degree takes around two years to complete, though depending on the school and the program, you may be able to finish the degree program faster with transfer credits or take a more intensive course load. At DeVry, many of our associate-level degrees can be earnedin as little as 1 year and 4 months*—or even more quickly with qualifying transfer credits.

In many cases, an associate degree can serve as a building block for future education. At DeVry, we offer stackable degree options that can allow you to put qualifying credits earned during one of our associate degree program toward a higher degree level such as a bachelor's, should you choose to continue your education with us1.

We offer several different associate degree programs in areas such as technology, business and healthcare.

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree, typically a four-year degree, is an undergraduate credential that focuses on a specific area of study in order to help students develop an understanding and working knowledge of a subject. Bachelor's degrees are the highest level of undergraduate degree, and any education pursued after earning a bachelor's degree is considered graduate education.

Most bachelor’s degree programs are designed to take around four years to complete, though some students may finish the program faster or slower. Like an associate degree, how quickly you can earn a bachelor's degree depends on the number of incoming qualifying transfer credits you have, the area of study, breaks you might take and the intensity of your course load. At DeVry, you can earn many of our bachelor's degree in as little as 2 years and 8 months*— or even more quickly with qualifying transfer credits.

A bachelor's degree can represent an important milestone in your academic journey. As the highest level of undergraduate degree, it may be able to help you prepare for graduate level courses and degree programs. A bachelor’s degree may also help prepare you to pursue a career in a field that interests you. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many employers list a bachelor's degree as a requirement for employment2.

At DeVry, our bachelor's degree programs cover several areas of study, including business, technology, accounting, healthcare, liberal arts and media arts. Our bachelor's degree offerings also encompass the widest range of topics of any degree level we offer.

Master's Degree

A master's degree is the first level in what are considered graduate (also called post-graduate) degrees. As such, a master's program can differ greatly from undergraduate degree programs. In an undergraduate program, coursework tends to be much more structured, and feature a lot of in-class or online learning. While a master's degree may also follow this kind of structure, some can be more research-based depending on the school and the program. A research master's degree can require a significant amount of independent work from the student and can feature less in-class time. At DeVry, our master's degrees follow the more structured format, which you may see referred to as a taught master's degree.

Earning a master's degree typically takes around two years, though this amount of time can be influenced by incoming transfer credits and the intensity of your course load. Assuming a full-time schedule, no breaks and an average course load, earning your bachelor’s and a master’s degree can take roughly six years from start to finish.

At DeVry, we offer master's degree programs in topics such as technology, business, accounting and healthcare.

Differences Between the Levels of College Degrees

The primary differences between college degree levels are the amount of time it can take to earn each and the depth of the coursework. An associate degree, for example, may cover topics in less detail or intensity than a bachelor's or master's degree program would.

In addition to these differences, each of the college degree levels can help students prepare to work toward different opportunities. Both associate degrees and bachelor's degrees can prepare you for more entry-level positions in your area of study, while a master's degree may help prepare you for a higher-level or more specialized position. However, there are certain fields where a master's degree may be required for even some entry-level positions2.

Still, hiring requirements can vary from employer to employer, so it may help to remember that even because you may not meet the minimum requirements for a specific job at one employer does not necessarily mean that you will not meet the position requirements for another.

Which Degree Should I Pursue First?

What degree you pursue depends on you and your career or personal goals. That being said, many people choose to work through college degree levels in order, though as previously mentioned an associate degree may be passed over if you choose to pursue a bachelor's degree program from the start. A bachelor's degree can often be a prerequisite for a master's degree program, should you choose to pursue one.

Choosing whether to earn a bachelor's degree or an associate degree first should come down to your personal goals and circumstances. An associate degree can take less time to complete, and may be a useful way to add a of credential to your resume in a shorter amount of time. At DeVry, degree programs are often stackable, meaning that you can leverage the credits earned during a lower-level program the program toward a higher-level degree at DeVry in the same subject1. We also offer what we call embedded credentials, meaning should you choose to start with a bachelor's degree at DeVry, in many cases you will earn an associate degree during the course of the program, and be able to include that credential on your resume while you continue to earn your bachelor’s.

Ready to Learn More?

If you're looking into pursuing a degree, DeVry can help. Explore our various degree programs and find out which of our programs and degree levels is right for you!

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Related Information


*Not including breaks. Assumes year-round, full-time enrollment.
1At the time of application to the next credential level, an evaluation of qualifying transfer credit will occur and the most beneficial outcome will be applied.
2https://www.bls.gov/ooh/occupation-finder.htm