What is an Undergraduate Degree?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

If you're considering attending a college or university after high school, or are looking to return to school to pursue a degree, you have several options to consider. Even after you've settled on a subject or area of study, you may still have choices to make between traditional, online, and hybrid programs, or between the types of undergraduate degrees you can earn. So what is an undergraduate degree and how do you pursue one?

Types of Undergraduate Degrees

The term "undergraduate degree" may lead you to think of a traditional four-year bachelor's program. However, there are two categories of undergraduate degrees that can be distinguished by the amount and level of coursework required to complete each.

Associate Degree Programs

Pursuing an associate degree may be the next educational step taken following a high school diploma for those looking to further their education but desire a shorter time commitment than a four-year bachelor's program. An online associate degree typically requires two years of full-time study at the undergraduate level. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment rates for those with an associate degree are lower than for those with just a high school diploma (3.4% vs. 4.6% respectfully).1,2 Thus, an associate degree may enable graduates to apply for certain jobs for which they wouldn't qualify with just a high school diploma.

Furthermore, transferring qualifying credits from a completed associate degree toward future bachelor’s degree program requirements may be possible depending on the degree program and the university. For example, AIU accepts up to 75% of the qualifying credits needed toward a degree program from, applicable credits earned at another accredited institution. This can be helpful if you aren't sure whether you plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree, as an associate program may offer a desirable educational base on which to build later as opposed to taking the time to start a bachelor's program from scratch.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor's degree programs may be thought of when discussing traditional four-year degrees; however, coursework completion can take longer than four years. An online bachelor's program involves more extensive and advanced study in one's area of concentration than an associate program requires. Furthermore, holding a bachelor's degree may enable job candidates to qualify for more positions than those who only hold an associate degree or high school diploma. Data from a Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 Population Survey shows that the unemployment rate is lower among those with a bachelor's degree than those without one.2

The Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

Undergraduate degree programs are the first level of post-secondary education students can pursue and involve a mix of general education requirements and courses specific to one's particular area of study or degree specialization. Moreover, undergraduate degrees are designed to offer a solid foundation on which to build future knowledge and education, in addition to the development of skills needed to pursue career opportunities in one's chosen area of study.

A graduate degree, however, is any degree students may pursue after earning their bachelor's. This can include master's degrees and Ph.Ds.

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs offer students the opportunity to develop more knowledge and specialization in a specific area of study, and may be required or preferred for certain mid-to-high-level positions in a number of industries. A master's program may take two years to complete, though some professional programs can be completed faster. However, graduate students may choose to take longer to continue working full-time while attending classes part-time.

Ph.D. (Doctoral Degree Programs)

A Ph.D., or terminal degree, is typically the highest-level graduate degree in an area of study. Doctoral degrees provide advanced specialization in one's field and are intended to show the degree holder's significant level of ability. Ph.D. programs typically take longer than master's degrees to complete and may average up to eight years to complete.3

If you're not sure what type of degree may best suits your educational and professional goals, keep in mind that you may opt to enter the workforce – either after high school or after completing an associate or bachelor's degree program – to gain professional experience before deciding whether you want to continue your education. Certain graduate programs cater to working professionals, and offer the chance to pursue an advanced degree while still working full-time.

Ready to learn more? Explore online degree programs at AIU.

1. “Unemployment Rates and Earnings by Educational Attainment” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm (Viewed October 3, 2018). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
2. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat07.htm (Viewed October 3, 2018). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
3. “12 Reasons Not to Get a PhD” CBS News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/12-reasons-not-to-get-a-phd (Viewed October 3, 2018).

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended these programs, go to www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures. American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment or salary. Not all programs are available to residents of all states.
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