What Is the Highest Degree in College?

Wondering about which is the highest degree available in college? In this article we will detail about the doctorate degree you can pursue at college.

TCM Staff

14th September 2022

Everyone knows that going to college is a great way to learn new skills that can lead you to more (or better) job opportunities and potential salary increases. Although earning a degree can be incredibly expensive, there’s no denying just how beneficial having one can be. But of all the degrees, which one is right for you?

There are different levels of degrees, each of them having different prerequisites. Once you are admitted into a program, you’ll also find that every degree, program, and school has differing requirements, curricula, and outcomes. Regardless of your reason for wanting to pursue higher education, it’s important to find out what benefits you can get from each type of degree.

This guide can help you distinguish between each degree, starting from the lowest and going all the way to the highest degree you can earn. Let’s take a look at the various university degree levels!

Types of degrees you can earn

The College Degrees in Order

  • Associate’s Degree
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Master’s Degree
  • Doctorate

Associate’s Degree

Out of all the college degrees, an associate’s degree is the lowest you can earn after high school. Associate’s degrees are offered in various levels of colleges but are commonly available at technical and community colleges. 

To earn one, you’ll typically have to complete 60 credit hours. However, if you study full time, you can earn your associate’s degree in about one to two years. Depending on the program or major you choose, you may need to complete a practicum. For example, it’s common to see practicums and internships as requirements in technology and healthcare programs.

Although an associate’s degree only takes about two years on average to complete, it actually helps to prepare the students so they can join the workforce right away once they graduate. Out of all the different college degrees, it’s the quickest to earn and can often cost less, making it possible to get your return on investment more quickly. 

Additionally, if you choose to pursue your bachelor’s degree later on, an associate’s degree serves as a foundation you can build upon. Most colleges will accept transferable credits from your associate’s so you can fast-track the process of earning your bachelor’s degree.

Educational Requirements to Pursue the Associate’s Degree

To be eligible to apply to colleges so you can earn your associate’s degree, you must meet the requirements below:

  • You must be at least eighteen (18) years old at a minimum during your scheduled first class day (but you can apply while you’re seventeen, as long as you’re 18 on the first day of classes)
  • You must meet the minimum GPA required by some educational institutions
  • You must have a diploma proving you graduated high school (alternatively, you must have passed the GED or an equivalent test)

The requirements may vary from school to school. To avoid any issues, it might be a good idea to inquire with your schools of interest prior to applying.

Types of Associate’s Degrees

Within the associate classification, there are also different types of degrees. Let’s take a look at some of them.

(AA) Associate of Arts

Associate of Arts programs focus on humanities, social sciences, arts, or business. You can often use them as a stepping stone for a bachelor of arts (BA) degree later on should you choose to continue your education.

(AS) Associate of Science

If you want to transfer to a four-year bachelor's degree program in a science or math-related field down the line, the Associate of Science might be a good choice.

(AAS) Associate of Applied Science

AAS degrees are focused on vocational and technical skills. For this reason, AAS programs are designed to prepare you to work in a specific occupation or field after you graduate. You’ll see Associate of Applied Science programs in fields like hospitality management, computer science/technology, law enforcement, paralegal studies, and more. AAS degrees aren’t commonly used as a stepping stone to a four-year degree, but some schools have already begun accepting AAS transfer credits.

Bachelor’s Degree

Out of all the types of degrees in college, the bachelor’s degree is the most common one. Most high school graduates who seek higher education will usually look to earn a four-year degree. The bachelor’s degree is the most common of the university degree levels as it is offered in public and private colleges and universities.

Bachelor’s degrees typically take students four years to complete if they study full time. However, there are some accelerated programs that can shave several months off that duration. Students must complete 120 credit hours on average to earn their undergraduate degree.

If you’ve previously earned an associate’s degree, most schools will allow you to transfer up to 60 of your previous credit hours and count them toward your bachelor’s degree. These transferrable credits can dramatically decrease the amount of time you need to earn your bachelor’s — sometimes by as much as half.

Educational Requirements to Pursue the Bachelor's Degree

If you want to be eligible for admission to a bachelor’s degree program, you’ll need to meet the requirements below:

  • You must have your GED or your high school diploma
  • You must meet the minimum GPA requirement set by your programs and schools of interest (it’s worth noting on rare occasions, some schools don’t have a GPA requirement)
  • Some schools may still require your test scores for the ACT or SAT
  • You must have your letter(s) of recommendation (from high school teachers or mentors, managers and bosses from a past/current job, sports coaches, worship leaders, etc)
  • You must have your personal statement or essay ready as most colleges require them

As always, confirm the requirements with your chosen programs/schools prior to sending in your application.

Types of Bachelor Degrees

As the second of the degrees in order, bachelor’s degrees have several types. Let’s take a look at some of them!

(BA) Bachelor of Arts

The Bachelor of Arts degree usually focuses on communication skills, critical thinking, and of course, the humanities. You’ll typically see majors like Communications, English, History, Social Sciences, and more. Earning a BA can often help you establish a career in fields like HR (human resources), education, government work, and advertising.

(BS) Bachelor of Science

Choose the Bachelor of Science if you want a future career in a math or science-based field. BS degrees emphasize teaching quantitative skills that can help you launch careers in fields like computer science or finance.

(BFA) Bachelor of Fine Arts

A BFA is a degree that specializes in — you guessed it — the arts. Graduates who have earned a BFA often majored in visual, performing, or fine arts. Students can specialize in theater, drawing, painting, creative writing, and even graphic design. Graduates can work in art-focused careers such as museum curation, writing, theater production, and design.

Beyond a BA, BS, and BFA, students can also learn a BAS (Bachelor of Applied Science), B.Arch (Bachelor of Architecture), and a BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration).

Master’s Degree

While the master’s degree is not the highest college degree, it’s still a major achievement that can help graduates find better job opportunities that can also potentially raise their earnings. Master’s degrees require 30 credit hours on average, which students can complete within one to two years. There are some accelerated programs that allow students to finish their master’s within 12 months.

To earn a master’s degree, you must complete a mix of projects, coursework, and research. The final requirement for this degree is often a capstone project, thesis, or final cumulative exam.

The master’s degree is a fantastic choice for individuals and working professionals who desire career advancement and want to move up the ladder (usually into management or admin roles). A master’s is generally required if you want to pursue a PhD later on.

Related: Graduate vs Undergraduate

Educational Requirements to Pursue the Master's Degree

To apply to graduate programs, you must meet the requirements below:

  • You must have a bachelor’s degree (unless you do a bachelor/master combined program)
  • You must meet the 3.0 minimum GPA (some schools may have a lower minimum threshold)
  • On certain occasions, you may need to take an entrance exam
  • If your schools and programs of interest require them, you must have your standardized test scores (for example, the GMAT or GRE)
  • You must complete the application and have all the requirements, including your recommendation letters and personal essays

It’s worth noting that some master’s degrees will require you to have a specific bachelor’s degree completed. Check with your schools to see whether you meet the requirements prior to applying!

Types of Master Degrees

There are many different types of master’s degrees available, with the most common ones being:

(MBA) Master of Business Administration

Often considered an extremely flexible master’s degree, the MBA helps students build valuable leadership and management skills. These skills are transferable across various industries and are often considered quite desirable by potential employers.

(MPA) Master of Public Administration

The MPA is the ideal master’s degree for students who want a career working in non-profit organizations or the public sector. MPAs teach students skills they need to be able to tackle unique issues affecting social service or government organizations effectively.

(MHA) Master of Healthcare Administration

This type of master’s degree is becoming more and more popular these days. MHAs center on topics and skills around healthcare organization management.

(MA) Master of Arts

The MA focuses on fields related to the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Programs usually include languages and linguistics, education, literature, communications, history, music, and geography.

(MS or MSc) Master of Science

Students earn a Master of Science if they choose a field or discipline considered as part of “the sciences,” such as engineering, chemistry, health, biology, and statistics. It’s worth noting that some fields like the social sciences or economics can fall within the MA or MS categories. In this case, the school decides which they want to classify their program(s) under.

Other types of master’s degrees include MFA (Master of Fine Arts), M.Ed (Master of Education), LL.M. (Master of Laws), MPH (Master of Public Health), M.Pub (Master of Publishing), and MSW (Master of Social Work.

Doctorate Degree

What's the highest degree you can get? A PhD!

After completing your master's degree, you might still want to continue your education and specialize in that field of interest. Doctoral degrees are regarded as the highest college degrees an individual can aspire to earn and are offered by many public and private universities. A doctoral degree is a graduate degree that takes about 4-6 years on average including coursework and research, somewhat similar to a master's degree. 

 A Ph.D. takes several years (minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 6-8 years) to complete. It usually involves a major research project and the completion of an original dissertation. It requires you to attend a series of rigorous classes in your field of research and subsequently pass a qualification exam in order to begin work on your dissertation, the final project in your doctoral program.

A doctoral degree makes you qualified to work in areas of research and professors at the post-secondary level. This level of education is often challenging and requires a full-time commitment. 

Educational Requirements to Pursue the Doctorate Degree

To qualify for admission to a doctorate program, you must meet some requirements like the ones below:

  • You must have a master’s degree OR you must have a bachelor’s degree and all the other criteria set by the program/university
  • You may need to take some standardized tests specific to your program
  • You must complete the application and have all the requirements, including your recommendation letters and personal essays

It’s worth noting that it’s not very common to find PhD programs that accept students who do not have a master’s degree.

Types of Doctorate Degree

The most common doctoral degrees available are:

Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. degree commonly known as Ph.D. is designed to prepare you for careers in research either at the university or in industry. It is the most well-known type and teaches you to discover new knowledge within your chosen academic discipline. Ph.D. degrees are offered in a wide range of subjects including technical fields like physics, maths, and biology, and in humanities subjects like philosophy and social sciences economics, and sociology. 

Professional or Clinical Doctorates

The professional doctorate is designed to train people with practical skills to become leaders within a specific professional setting such as nursing, education, psychology, and more. Examples of professional doctoral degrees include Doctor of Nursing Practice commonly known as DNP, Doctor of Psychology commonly known as Psy.D degree, etc.

Honorary Doctorate

An honorary doctorate degree is awarded to honor or recognize individuals that have demonstrated exemplary achievements or contributions within a particular field or discipline.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the highest degree in order?

Looking at the different degrees in college, the order appears to be:

  1. Associate’s 
  2. Bachelor’s
  3. Master’s
  4. Doctorate

Alternatively, a student may choose the route of associate’s > bachelor’s > professional degree.

Is PhD the highest degree?

The highest degree in college is often the PhD. In some countries, there are some degrees that require a PhD, meaning there is a higher rung on the ladder. However, in the U.S., the Doctorate is considered the highest possible academic reward. Therefore, the answer to the question “what is the highest degree?” is the PhD.

What is an 8-year degree called?

Let’s take a look at how long degrees usually take:

  • Associate’s = 1- 2 years
  • Bachelor’s = 4 years on average
  • Master’s = 1-2 years
  • Doctorate = 4-6 years, but candidates can take up to 7 or 8 years

Most likely, the doctorate is considered the 8-year degree.

What is the lowest university degree?

The lowest possible degree you can earn in college or university is an associate degree. Find out more about this degree in the Associate’s Degree section above.

What’s the highest GPA you can get?

The highest GPA you can earn generally depends on the scale used. The 0-4 scale is most commonly used, and on this (unweighted) scale, the highest is a 4.0. 


Choosing the right degree can help you set yourself up for your ideal future. It may benefit you to plan far ahead before you make the extremely important choice of which degree to pursue. You don’t always have to go for the highest degree possible, but it might be worth remembering that there are some fields that require a PhD. Good luck!

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