When you think about college, you might picture a traditional four-year program on a leafy college campus. That can be a wonderful option, but you have many more choices. There are different types of enrollments, degrees, campuses, and timeframes. These choices can offer flexibility to meet your needs. Read on to learn about some different options and find one that works for you.

Types of Degrees

There are several types of degrees that you can earn, depending on your program and school:

  • Certificate or license: Awarded when you complete a specific, short-term course of study.
  • Associate degree: Awarded when you complete defined coursework. This is usually two years of full-time study, or 60 credits.
  • Bachelor’s degree: Awarded in arts or sciences programs when you complete four years of full-time study, or 120 credits.
  • Master’s degree: Awarded when you complete a program beyond the bachelor’s degree. The timeframe and credit requirement varies by program. Some common master’s degrees include MA (Master of Arts), MS (Master of Science), and MBA (Master of Business Administration).
  • Doctoral degree: Awarded when you complete advanced and intensive study in a field. Some common doctoral degrees include MD (Medical Doctor), PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), and JD (Juris Doctor).

Types of Institutions

There are various types of institutions offering specific programs and degrees. The differences can be confusing; let’s break them down.

Trade/Vocational School

  • Concentrates on a specific field, like food services or radiology
  • Programs range from five months to three years of study
  • Focused on job training
  • Small class sizes
  • Privately owned and operated

Community College

  • Accessible to and supportive of all students
  • Programs are usually two years long and focused on job training
  • Usually the most affordable college option
  • Often designed to transfer to a four-year college
  • Offer certificates, licenses, and/or associates degrees
  • Small class size format
  • Often possible to live at home/off-campus
  • Public or private — may be self-supported or state-supported

Four-Year College

  • Offer undergraduate Bachelor of Art (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees
  • Some offer graduate and professional degrees
  • Offer a broad range of courses, usually in humanities, social science, and science
  • May be small or large class format
  • Public or private — may be self-supported or state-supported


  • Offer undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees
  • Large selection of majors and research facilities, with greater variety of classes
  • Greater access to faculty and expertise
  • Sometimes larger class size
  • Public or private — may be self-supported or state-supported

Get a head start on college.

Learn about dual enrollment, early college, and other special programs here: Early College Credit and Special Programs.

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