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College Degrees and Professional Certifications Explained
Do you know the exact degree or certification you need for the job of your dreams? You can find the descriptions of the major degrees and certifications job-seekers may need, depending upon your career path.
For more information about planning to go or return to college, please visit our College Planning Resources.
We've broken these degrees and certifications into:
High School Diploma and GED
General Educational Development (GED) Diploma: The certificate students receive if they have passed a high school equivalency test.
High school diploma or recognized equivalent: A document certifying the successful completion of a prescribed secondary high school program of studies, or the attainment of satisfactory scores on the Tests of General Educational Development (GED) or a similar state-specified examination.
College Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's, Professional, Doctorate, and More
Degree: An award conferred by a college, university, or some other educational institution as official recognition for the successful completion of an academic or vocational program.
Associate's degree: The standard degree awarded by two-year colleges and institutes that normally requires at least two but less than four years of full-time equivalent college work. The associate's degree prepares graduates for the workforce or for progression toward a bachelor's degree.
Bachelor's degree: The traditional degree given by American colleges and universities. It normally requires at least four years but not more than five years of full-time equivalent college-level work. The bachelor's degree prepares graduates for entrance into the workforce or for progression toward a higher degree or certification.
Master's degree: A post-bachelor's degree program that requires completion of a program of study of at least the full-time equivalent of one academic year but not more than two academic years of work. The best known degrees are Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.), but there is a huge variety of others (in most industry fields). Some master's degrees are designed to lead to an eventual doctoral degree. Many other master's candidates are in professional programs, preparing for a special kind of work, such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Social Work (MSW), or the Master of Architecture (MArch).
Doctoral degree: The highest degree you can earn for graduate study, with a focus on advancing knowledge through original research. The doctoral degree classification includes such degrees as Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Public Health, Doctor of Nursing Science (D. NSc.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in any field (agronomy, arts, business, food technology, education, engineering, humanities, public administration, ophthalmology, radiology, sciences, etc.).
Post-baccalaureate certificate: A focused and professionally oriented program of study that requires completion of additional credit hours beyond the bachelor's degree. These programs are designed for persons who have completed a baccalaureate degree but do not meet the requirements of master's degree programs. Examples include refresher courses or additional units of study in a specialty or subspecialty.
Post-master's certificate: A focused program of study that requires completion of additional credit hours beyond the master's degree but does not meet the requirements of academic degrees at the doctoral level. Examples include refresher courses or additional units of study in a specialty or subspecialty.
Professional degree: An earned degree that focuses on the practical application of knowledge and skills -- in one of the following fields: chiropractic (DC, DCM), dentistry (DDS, DMD), medicine (MD), optometry (OD), osteopathic medicine (DO), pharmacy (Pharm.D), podiatry (PodD, DP, DPM); divinity/ministry (BD, MDiv), law (LLB, JD), rabbinical and Talmudic studies (MHL, Rav); or veterinary medicine (DVM).
Other Degree Programs & Certifications
Certifications: A document that certifies that you have met a certain standard in educational degree, continuing education, experience, and testing. Certifications vary by type and industry. Many professions (such as account and teaching) require ongoing certification while many technical-vocational fields require certifications based on a set of core courses (and often not requiring a college degree). Learn more in this article published on Quintessential Careers: Certifiably Empowering: Hot Fields in Which Certification May Boost Your Career.
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