Types of Academic Degrees in the United States

Colleges North America

There are approximately 2500 degrees in the American higher education system, which can be divided into five groups:

  • Associate degrees (community colleges)
  • First Professional Degrees
  • Bachelor degrees (undergraduate studies)
  • Master’s degrees (graduate studies)
  • Doctorate degrees

Associate degree – academic degree?

An associate degree is the completion of a community college (state) or a junior college (private). This degree is usually achieved after two years of study. The associate degree is an academic degree in the United States, but is not recognized as an academic degree in many European countries.

There are different types of associate degrees:

  • Associate of Arts Degree
  • Associate of Science Degree
  • Associate of Applied Science Degree

Terminal degrees and transfer programs

There are different programs: Terminal degrees and Transfer programs. The terminal degrees are geared towards a professional activity and are not taken into account in a later Bachelor’s degree. The transfer programs can be continued in a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college. There are cooperation agreements between the community / junior colleges and certain four-year colleges / universities. It is much cheaper to study at a community college and many use this inexpensive alternative for the first two years before moving to a university.

Associate of Arts Degree

If you have successfully completed a study program in Social Sciences, Humanities or General Studies, you will receive the Associate of Arts Degree.

Associate of Science Degree

The Associate of Science Degree is awarded upon completion of a degree in Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology.

Associate of Applied Science Degree

You get an Associate of Applied Science Degree in application-oriented courses. It leads into professional activity. This degree is possible in the following areas:

  • IT (data processing technologies)
  • Commercial (business and commerce technologies)
  • Medicine (health services / paramedical technology)
  • Natural science technologies
  • Technik (mechanical / engineering technologies)
  • Administration technology (public service-related technologies)

Recognition of associate degrees in Germany

In Germany, the Associate of Science and Associate of Arts degrees are usually not recognized as academic degrees. However, if a certain number of subjects have been completed, they can be recognized as university entrance qualifications.
Associate of applied science degrees are not counted as university entrance qualifications, but often as vocational qualifications in the dual system.

Bachelor’s Degree

In the United States, a college degree is completed after four years with a bachelor’s degree. The title is then called Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Sciences (B.Sc.), in some cases the subject is mentioned in the title, e.g. Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.). The course of study is as follows: general subjects in the first year or two, then choice of main subject, choice of minor subjects.

Depending on the final grades, the reputation of the college, the results of the entrance tests, the degree will be recognized in a further study or not. Therefore, if possible, you should pay attention to the reputation that college has.

Master’s Degree

The master’s degree in the USA takes one to two years as a full-time student. To be admitted, you must have an American or European bachelor’s degree, a German university or university of applied sciences, state examination or a master’s degree.

At some universities, you have to present a certain number of credit points to get the master’s degree. Depending on the university, you also have to write a thesis, the master thesis. There is an admission restriction for the Master’s study places and each case is examined individually.

You can start a doctorate with a master’s degree with a minimum grade of “good”.

Doctorate Degree

The Ph. D. (Latin Philosophiae Doctor) corresponds to the German “Doctor of Science”.

In order to be able to hold the academic degree of a Ph. D., one must have completed a scientific research doctorate or a doctoral program with an average duration of four years.

There are also the “professional degrees” that are obtained after successfully completing a degree, for example, Medical Doctor (MD) after studying medicine.

Admission requirements for a doctorate course are a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree with honors (BA Hons.)

University degrees in the United States: titles, abbreviations, and length of study

Designation Abbreviations Duration (min.) Duration (max.)
Associate of Arts AA 2 years
Associate of Science AS and others 2 years
Bachelor of Arts BA 4 years
Bachelor of Science and others BS 4 years
Doctor of Medicine MD 8 years 8 years
Doctor of Philosophy Ph.D. 4 years 11 years
Doctor of Psychology Psy.D. 4 years 4 years
Doctor of Philosophy in (clinical) Psychology Psy.D. 4 years 4 years
Master of Arts MA 1 year 2 years
Master of Science MS 1 year 2 years
Master of Business Administration MBA 1 year 2 years
Master of Laws LL.M. 1 year 2 years
Professional Master of Engineering ENPM 1 year 1.5 years