What is an Undergraduate Degree?

By CVO Staff
October 2021

If you are nearing high school graduation, then you may have seen and heard the phrase “undergraduate degree” come up over and over again. But exactly what is an undergraduate degree, and how do you get one? 

The term “undergraduate degree” is a general description for a handful of degree types available to students who have not yet earned a graduate degree — another general description for another type of degree. Usually, those pursuing undergraduate degrees are recent high school grads, or first-time college students. 

In this article, we will take a closer look at the different types of undergraduate degrees. We will also break down the pros and cons of earning various undergraduate degrees, plus answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

What Can You Do with an Undergraduate Degree? 

Perhaps the question should be “What can’t you do with an undergraduate degree? 

In this day and age, most careers beyond entry-level positions and minimum wage require a degree of some kind. For some careers, two years of general education and some focused studies are sufficient. For even more careers, it is required that an applicant have two additional years of study.    

what is an undergraduate
There are two types of undergraduate degrees: associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees

Different Types of Undergraduate Degrees

Generally speaking, there are two types of undergraduate degrees: associate degree and bachelor’s degree. Any student in the process of earning one of these degrees can be referred to as an “undergrad” or an “undergraduate student.” 

Associate Degrees

An associate degree is an undergraduate-level degree that consists of basic academic knowledge and/or technical skills. Students usually pursue an associate degree when they are interested in a trade or when they are preparing to earn a bachelor’s degree. 

Associate degrees are mainly offered at community colleges, junior colleges, and technical colleges, though some four-year colleges and universities also offer them. 

Earning an associate degree typically requires completing 60 credit hours of coursework, which takes two years when pursued full time. There are four types of associate degrees: Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Science, and Associate of Applied Arts. 

Associate of Arts (AA)

Associate of Arts degrees are abbreviated as AA. These degrees are broad in nature, with required coursework covering a little bit of every subject making up the Liberal Arts. For example, writing, humanities, and social science classes are usually included in the AA degree requirements. 

AA degrees are typically pursued by students who intend to continue on to complete a bachelor’s degree in another subject related to the Liberal Arts. 

Associate of Science (AS)

Associate of Science degrees are abbreviated as AS. Like AA degrees, AS degrees are broad in nature, but typically cover coursework more focused on math and science. Students who intend to transfer into a Bachelor of Science degree program may choose to first complete an Associate of Science degree. 

Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

Associate of Applied Science degrees are abbreviated as AAS. 

AAS degrees tend to be more focused in nature, and are usually earned by students who intend to go into a vocation. A few common AAS degrees include: 

  • AAS in Radiological Technology
  • AAS in HVAC
  • AAS in Web Design

Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)  

Associate of Applied Arts degrees are abbreviated as AAA. Like the AAS degree, AAA degrees are focused on a particular subject, and are usually earned by students who intend to go straight into their career without earning a bachelor’s degree. A few common AAA degrees include:

  • AAA in Visual Arts
  • AAA in Digital Arts
  • AAA in Performing Arts 

Associate degrees are most commonly offered in the United States, though some colleges in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong also offer them. In the United Kingdom, what we call associate degrees are called foundation degrees. 

The Pros & Cons of Earning an Associate Degree

Pros:

  • A flexible degree that can be completed part-time, or at an accelerated pace
  • Typically takes about two years to complete, less time than a bachelor’s degree
  • Credits earned as part of an associate degree can often be transferred into a bachelor’s degree program 
  • The overall cost of earning an associate degree is considerably less than earning a bachelor’s degree 
  • Much less competitive admissions process 

Cons:

  • The average salary for those with an associate degree is less than for those with a bachelor’s degree
  • You are likely to compete for jobs against those with a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Most supervisory and managerial positions require a bachelor’s degree or higher
what is an undergraduate degree
Those with an associate degree may find themselves competing for jobs against those who have a more comprehensive bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate-level degree that consists of both general education and focused, major-specific coursework. It is not required for students to have already earned an associate degree in order to pursue a bachelor’s degree. However, any student who intends to further their education with a master’s or doctoral degree must first complete a bachelor’s degree. 

Bachelor’s degrees are offered at four-year colleges and universities. While most students still choose to complete their bachelor’s degrees on campus and in person, more and more bachelor’s programs are becoming available to complete entirely online.   

Earning a bachelor’s degree typically requires completing 120 credit hours of coursework, which takes four years when pursued full time. There are two types of bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts.

Bachelor of Science

Bachelor of Science degrees can be abbreviated as BS, SB, BSc, or ScB. Bachelor of Science degrees take four years to complete when pursued full time. They consist of approximately two years of general education, followed by an additional two years of coursework specific to the student’s choice of major. Most students who complete a Bachelor of Science degree intend to pursue a career in a research-based field. 

A few common examples of Bachelor of Science degrees include: 

  • B.S. in Computational Mathematics
  • B.S. in Psychology
  • B.S. in Political Economics 

Bachelor of Arts

Short for artium baccalaureus, Bachelor of Arts degrees can be abbreviated as BA or AB. Traditionally, Bachelor of Arts degrees consist of 120 credit hours, and take full-time students about four years to complete. The first two years of a BA degree are made up of general education courses, while the final two years allow a student to specialize in a chosen subject. Because BA degrees tend to require fewer maths and science courses, most students who choose a Bachelor of Arts degree intend to pursue a career relating to the Liberal Arts. 

While the vast majority of bachelor’s degrees can be categorized as either Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, some universities offer additional Bachelor of _____ degrees. There are quite a few, but some especially common ones include:

  • Bachelor of Accountancy (BAcc)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Design (BDes)
  • Bachelor of Education (BEd)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Music (BMus)
  • Bachelor of Theology (BTh) 

The Pros & Cons of Earning a Bachelor’s Degree

Pros: 

  • A more competitive degree than a high school diploma or an associate degree that leads to more job opportunities 
  • Highly customizable 
  • Those with a bachelor’s degree have a higher average salary than those with a lesser degree

Cons: 

  • High cost that usually requires taking out loans 
  • Earning a bachelor’s degree takes 4+ years to complete
  • Bachelor’s degrees are much more common now, and therefore some employers may prefer those with a higher, graduate degree
what is an undergraduate degree
Generally, associate degrees consist of 60 credits and take two years to complete, while bachelor’s degrees consist of 120 credits and take four years to complete.

What is the Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees? 

A graduate degree is a more advanced category of degree type than undergraduate degree. There are some positions and some industries which require workers to have a graduate degree, as graduate degrees equate to additional years of schooling. 

A student must have earned an undergraduate bachelor’s degree before they can begin working on a graduate degree. 

Graduate degrees are highly specialized. They typically consist of about 30 credits of coursework directly related to a student’s area of focus. Many graduate degree programs culminate in a special research project or written thesis.

Types of Graduate Degrees 

The various graduate degrees can be broken down into two categories. 

Master’s degrees are the most common type of graduate degree. A student can earn a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), or Master of Business Administration (MBA). 

Doctoral degrees are abbreviated as Ph.D. Additional types of doctoral degrees include Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), and Juris Doctor (JD).

Is Having an Undergraduate Degree Enough? 

Previously, most people had high school diplomas while a considerable few were able to earn a college degree. As time went on, associate degrees became more popular, with bachelor’s degrees being the degree that set job applicants apart from one another.

These days, most people who attend college earn at least a bachelor’s degree. This could mean that if you want, or need, to set yourself apart, a bachelor’s degree as the bare minimum might prove unworthy. 

However, a bachelor’s degree is traditionally “enough” for most jobs. A few careers — such as medical doctor, university professor, lawyer, and dentist — require a graduate degree as the minimum.   

undergraduate vs graduate degree
While most jobs require a bachelor’s degree, some careers such as medical doctor, dentist, and lawyer require a graduate degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Undergraduate Degrees 

What are the four types of degrees?
The four types of college degrees are associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. Associate and bachelor’s degrees are undergraduate degrees, while master’s and doctoral degrees are graduate degrees. 

What is the difference between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree?
Both bachelor’s degrees and associate degrees are considered undergraduate degrees. Much of the coursework required to complete an associate degree is also included among the coursework for a bachelor’s degree. While a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete, an associate degree takes two years.  

What is an undergraduate? 

An undergraduate, also called an undergrad, is a college student who is pursuing, or has already earned, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.  

What is a graduate student? 

A graduate student, or grad student, is a college student who is pursuing, or has already earned, a master’s degree or doctorate. 

What is the average salary of someone with an undergraduate degree? 

According to Zip Recruiter, the average salary of those with a bachelor’s degree is $51,212. Meanwhile, those with an associate degree make an average of $45,989 per year. 

Should I get a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree?
Whether you choose to pursue an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree may depend upon your budget and the amount of time you have. But the biggest consideration should be your career goal. 

An associate degree can lead to a well-paying job as a dental hygienist, nuclear technician, air traffic controller, web developer, and radiation therapist, among dozens of others. However, earning a bachelor’s degree can lead to even more job opportunities at a likely higher salary. 

How much does a bachelor’s degree cost?
According to U.S. News & World Report, the average tuition cost of a bachelor’s degree ranges from $38,496 to $60,593. The total cost is partially determined by whether a bachelor’s degree is earned at a private college or a public college. If the latter, the cost is further dependent upon whether the student is attending as an in-state or out-of-state student.  

How much does an associate’s degree cost? 

The average cost of an associate degree is $7,140 when earned at a public college. Those who choose to earn their associate degree at a private college are likely to pay closer to $14,587. 

Are certificates considered degrees?
No, certificates do not carry a degree title. Though they can be earned at any time to effectively supplement either an undergraduate or graduate degree, certificates on their own will not be enough to qualify someone for a job that requires a college degree.   

Conclusion

There are two types of undergraduate degrees: associate degrees and bachelor’s degree. While two years of general education coursework are required to earn an Associate of Art, an Associate of Science, an Associate of Applied Art, or an Associate of Applied Science, a Bachelor’s of Art or Bachelor’s of Science requires four years of more focused studying. Both types of undergraduate degrees can lead to high-paying careers, though typically more opportunities are available for those with a bachelor’s degree. An associate degree is not required to earn a bachelor’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree is required to earn a higher-level graduate degree.  

If you have enjoyed our article about undergraduate degrees, then be sure to check out these other informative articles: 

 

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