The United States has over 1,000 colleges. These institutions are also known as community colleges. In many states, community colleges are operated either by a division of the state university or by local districts subject to guidance from a state agency. Students who choose a two-year program route in higher education study to earn an associate/intermediate degree. Associate degrees are awarded by a community or technical college showing that you have completed a program of study with a broad base in general education and a concentration in a specific area.
To obtain an associate degree, you must earn 60 semester credit hours, which often takes about two years. Programs generally consist of three parts: general education requirements, requirements within your major and electives.
There are different types of associate degrees. Both the A.A. degree (Associate of Arts degree) and A.S. degree (Associate of Science degree) are designed to prepare students to transfer to a 4-year college or university. Some community colleges have automatic enrollment agreements with a local college, meaning that the community college will provide the student with their first two years of study and the university provides the remaining years of study, occasionally all on one campus.
Other associate degrees, such as an A.A.S. degree (Associate of Applied Science degree), are designed to prepare students to join the workforce immediately following their two years of study. These degrees, also called occupational or vocational, are sometimes preferred by employers in science and technology-related industries for mid-level jobs.
Four Year Programs
Thousands of colleges and universities offer four-year programs in which students earn a bachelor’s degree. The undergraduate/college bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete and is comprised of 120-128 semester credit hours (60 of which may be transferred from an associate degree at a community college ).
The four years spent as an undergraduate at a university are typically known as the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. The curriculum of many undergraduate programs is based on a “liberal arts” philosophy in which students are required to study courses from a range of subjects to form a broad educational foundation. These general education programs include study in English composition, social sciences, humanities, history, mathematics, and natural sciences.
After they have met the core curriculum requirements, students at most institutions are asked to choose a specific field of study, also known as the major. This is usually in an academic area that is of great interest to the student, and one in which they will likely seek a career in the future. The final two years are spent taking more courses that are more directly related to their major. Other four-year colleges and universities emphasize preparation for special professional areas—fine arts, pharmacy, engineering, business, agriculture, and other specialized fields.
However, degrees in law and medicine are not offered at the undergraduate level in the US. Instead, they are offered as professional study after completing a bachelor’s degree. Neither law nor medical schools require or prefer a specific undergraduate major, although medical schools do have set prerequisite courses that must be taken before enrollment. Undergraduate students who are preparing to attend medical school following their undergraduate careers are known as pre-med.
The two types of bachelor’s degrees offered are B.A. degrees (Bachelor of Arts degrees) and B.S. degrees (Bachelor of Science degrees). If you choose to earn a B.A., the majority of your coursework will be in the arts, social sciences, humanities or fine arts. Students who earn a B.S. degree take the majority of their courses in physical or mathematical sciences.
Students who major in certain fields such as business, engineering or science find that the curriculum is often more tightly structured than it is in the humanities or socials sciences. Business, science and engineering majors may have to take more courses related to their major field of study and have fewer electives, or optional courses.