Diploma, Certificate, Associate Degree, Or Bachelor’s Degree – What’s the Difference?

You’re a high school grad or a working adult and you want to continue your education. You know that there are many different types of programs that lead to a certificate or diploma, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate. What do these terms mean? How do you choose what’s right for you? Here’s the lowdown on the different levels of study offered by career schools, colleges, and universities.

Continuing Education: These are individual courses that are typically offered to working adults. Classes are often held in the evening or on weekends to accommodate students’ busy schedules. Programs run the gamut-from cooking or painting to traditional liberal arts courses such as writing or history, and technical programs in auto repair or computers. Classes may last only one night, or continue over several weeks.

These classes do not lead to a degree or certificate. They are taken one at a time, for enjoyment, to acquire specific knowledge, or to help the student advance in the workplace. Sometimes, credits from continuing education courses can count towards a degree, if the institution is accredited.

Certificates and Diplomas: The terms are roughly interchangeable. Programs usually last one year, if courses are taken full-time.

For example, a typical medical assisting program will require the completion of 30 course credits. A course may count for anywhere from one to five credits, depending upon the duration and difficulty of the course. Most classroom courses count for three credits. Medical assisting programs often require the completion of four or five core subjects, such as an introduction or overview course, basic anatomy, and medical terminology. These count for twelve credits. An additional twelve credits must be earned in an area of specialty, such as administrative or clinical medical assisting. In addition, students must earn credits in a laboratory or clinical workplace environment.

Associate Degree: Taken full-time, most associate degree programs last two years.

For example, an associate of applied science in electronics and computer technology might require 71 credit hours. Courses might include communication skills (seven credits), humanities (three credits), social sciences (three credits), professional development (five credits), math and science (eight credits), electronic circuits (14 credits), digital computer systems (15 credits), electronics and controls (eight credits), and computer networks (seven credits).

Many community colleges offer two-year associate degree programs. Upon graduation, students may choose to continue their education by applying to a four-year college and earning their capstone project writing service online bachelor’s degree during the next two years.

Bachelor’s Degree: Taken full-time, most bachelor’s degree programs take four years to complete when commenced after high school graduation or earning a GED. Some programs (such as engineering) may take five years.

A typical bachelor of science in business administration degree will require a minimum of 124 credit hours. Courses might include communication skills (15 credits), humanities (nine credits), social sciences (nine credits), professional development (five credits), math and science (12 credits), business core (36 credits), and 39 credits in a concentration such as accounting or sales and marketing.

Generally, in liberal arts colleges, students are required to concentrate on a major (English, math, history, chemistry). Credits may be tallied as semester hours. For example, a program in political science may require 44 semester hours of classroom study for graduation. That’s about five and one-half hours per semester. Courses vary in how often they meet-seminars may meet only once a week, or others may meet twice a week.

Master’s Degree: The next step after a bachelor’s degree is a master’s degree in a specific academic discipline. Programs typically last eighteen months to two years, although some colleges offer combined bachelor’s-and-master’s-degree programs that you can complete in five years. Increasingly, adults are earning their master’s degrees online, particularly in business (MBA), psychology, religion, and education. Most master’s degree programs culminate with a thesis or “capstone” project.

Doctoral Degree: The top rung of the educational ladder is the Ph.D or doctorate. The time frame tends to be flexible, because most doctoral candidates are working adults. Programs generally require a major research thesis that may take several years to complete. Doctoral programs are available online.

Choosing the Program That’s Right for You

How can you decide what’s right for you? The best way is to do your research online. Log onto a reputable college directory website. Browse through the schools and programs. Check out online programs, too. See if the schools are accredited and if they offer financial aid. When you’ve narrowed down your choices to the top four or five, then request free information. Once you’ve done your research you can apply to as many schools as you want. In less time than you think you’ll be ready to enroll!

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