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Degrees & Certificates
A degree does not always mean the traditional four years of college or lots of competition for spots. Some degree programs take only one or two years to finish and accept most students who apply. Earning a certificate takes even less time than earning an academic degree. In addition, a degree does not have to mean debt (see Scholarships & Financial Aid > Where to Start).
There are many good reasons to think about getting a certificate or degree. If you agree with any of the following statements, a certificate or degree might be the right choice for you:
- I want the responsibility and extra pay that comes with a higher-level job.
- With more knowledge or training, I can help people more.
- I have ideas about how to do things better and could put them into action if I had a higher-level job.
- I want to build a career and share my ideas with others.
- I’m a good student and I want to continue my education.
There are five basic types of degrees: certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate. Here are some basic facts about each degree:
A certificate is given for completion of a training program that focuses on a particular technical skill or job. Such programs usually last from six months to one year and can be taken after high school. You can receive certificate training in an educational setting — such as a community college, technical school or university — or in a job setting, such as a hospital or health clinic. Some health jobs that support the work of doctors and nurses require certificate training. As a group, these jobs are typically called the “allied health professions.” Examples of allied health care jobs that require certificate training include home health aides, medical appliance technicians and surgical technologists.
An associate’s degree is generally a two-year degree earned at a community college, technical school or university after taking about 20 courses. With an associate’s degree, you will have more job responsibility and receive higher pay than with a high school diploma or certificate. Many of the allied health professions require an associate’s degree. These jobs include technicians and technologists who operate diagnostic machines and the assistants who aid different types of professionals, such as nutritionists and occupational therapists. If you decide to continue your education beyond the associate’s degree, the credits you earned usually count toward a bachelor’s degree.
A bachelor’s degree is given after completing what is typically referred to as a four-year college or university. The difference between a university and a college is that a university also has graduate programs that go beyond the bachelor’s degree, while a college does not. Study for a bachelor’s degree usually includes two years of general study and two years of focused study in a specific field or major. Careers in health care that require a bachelor’s degree include dietician, nutritionist, some scientists and some therapists.
To be eligible for most master’s degree programs, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree. The master’s degree can be earned in one or two years. The degree is becoming more popular for launching people into careers in biotechnology, bioinformatics and mental health counseling. Getting a master’s degree can give you a big advantage when applying for jobs in almost any area of the health field and will increase your salary after a relatively short investment of time. Examples of health careers that require a master’s degree include family therapists, licensed educational psychologists, physical therapists and speech-language pathologists.
A doctorate is the highest degree awarded by an American university, and there are several types. For all types, students must have a bachelor’s degree first. Students who want to become physicians apply to accredited medical schools — four-year programs that result in the degree of medical doctor (M.D.). Students who want to become scientific researchers or teachers apply to university graduate programs in a particular science field and may take six years or longer to complete their degrees, with much of that time spent doing independent research. Upon completion of doctoral study, students are awarded a doctoral degree. The most well-known doctoral degree is a doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D. Other doctoral degrees include doctor of engineering (D.Eng.) and doctor of science (D.Sc. or Sc.D.). Examples of health careers that require doctorates include physicians, psychologists and some pharmacists.