How to choose and get a college degree
More and more the job market is requiring workers to be educated beyond a high school degree, and that means that more and more people are going to college. You might be one of them – or maybe you’re thinking about becoming one of them. No matter what level you are studying at, or what stage of life you are in, if you are going to take college classes, you are going to have choose something to study. A read through this guide should help you understand the different types of degrees available as well as the different areas in which you can concentrate in, and most importantly, how to determine which of these are best for you.
Who me? College?
You might be thinking to yourself, “College? College isn’t for me. I hated school every minute I was in it, and I swore I would never go back!” Perhaps you already have a degree and wonder why you would ever want of need another. Or maybe you think that you are to old for school – or you have a family that needs taking care of… Well, let me be one to tell you that there really are no excuses. If you want to do college and you live in America, you can do college. It might take a bit of sacrifice, but you can do it. The whole system is set up so that you – or anybody else who wants to – can do it. (That is, provided you were born of white European descent and didn’t grow up in significant poverty – in which case the system is stacked against you. But I digress…)
There are a number of alternate ways to go through school these days and most of these have been set up to accommodate for non-traditional students. There are schools that offer night classes, weekend classes, on-line classes, and some that have special commuter schools. Degrees can be completed in very short periods of time, or very slowly over a long period of time.
Types of Colleges – Types of Degrees
There are a number of different types of degrees that you can get from colleges and universities, not all of which have always existed, and a number of different sorts of colleges granting those degrees.
Community colleges usually offer associate’s degrees, which require two to three years of full-time class work. People getting associate’s degrees typically transfer to a college to work on a bachelor’s degree, or sometimes are able to enter right into the work force, especially if their degree is in technology of some sort.
Community colleges sometimes offer certificates or diplomas in technical trades as well – degrees for technology specialists or a whole host of specific medical trades like surgical technician, x-ray technician, or respiratory therapist, for examples.
Junior colleges are very much like community colleges, only community colleges are usually public and junior colleges private.
The bachelor’s degree, also called the baccalaureate, is traditionally a four year full time program that many people now finish in five full years (and many others in longer than that, but not full time). There are several types of bachelor’s degrees: The Bachelor of Arts (BA) is awarded to most liberal arts students; the Bachelor of Science (BS) is awarded to students who have taken most of their hours in hard sciences like math, chemistry, biology, or physics; the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) is given to those who have specialized in performance or visual arts, like music or painting; and the Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd) is awarded to some students heading into the teaching profession.
Bachelor’s degrees are awarded by colleges and universities, and are usually sufficient to land an entry level job. Some bachelor’s degrees are also professional degrees. For example, there are two types of nursing degrees: The RN (Registered Nurse) degree is usually also a four year BS degree. Licensed Practicing Nurse (LPN) degrees are a shorter program and LPNs are not able to do some of the things that an RN can. Other bachelor’s degree programs that are also professional degrees include, accounting, sports training (though these are now sometimes master’s programs), or engineering. There are a couple other professions, like architecture or criminal justice, which usually require 3-2 programs, in which the first three years are spent in a bachelor’s degree program, and then the other two years are spent in a specialized professional school.
Beyond the bachelor’s degree, there are post-baccalaureate, or graduate, degrees. The first level of graduate degrees are known as master’s degrees. Master’s degrees usually take between 2 and 3 years of full time work and sometimes require writing a significant research paper, known as a thesis and usually consisting of between 100 and 150 pages. The most common types of master’s degrees are continuances of the bachelor’s degrees: The Master of Arts (MA); Master of Science (MS); Master of Fine Arts (MFA); Master of Education (Med); and the Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Students who receive master’s degrees and want to continue studying beyond that generally enter a doctorate program. The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is awarded to those who have mastered a field of the liberal arts, social sciences (which doesn’t always include those studying to be psychologists, which is an applied science profession, to which the doctorate is sometimes known as the PsychD), or hard sciences (which doesn’t include medicine, which is also an applied science). Doctorates who study education receive the EdD and usually use it to be principals or high schools, college professors, or college presidents.
There are also professional graduate degrees. These usually take between 2 and 5 years and include components of traditional memorization style education as well as practical applications of that knowledge. These degrees are usually earned in professional graduate schools which are attached to colleges or universities – for example, the University of Michigan Medical School, Harvard Law School, or Calvin Theological Seminary (independent of but on the same campus of Calvin College). Examples of professional graduate degrees include the Juris Doctor (JD), a law degree; the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO); cleric degrees (for religious leaders) like the Master of Divinity (Mdiv) or the designation of Rabbi; or Doctor of Dentistry (DDS or DMD).
What do people do with each of these degrees?
What can you do with a bachelor’s degree? Or a master’s degree? Or a doctorate? Well, for one thing, you should know that studies show that 10 years out of school after a bachelor’s degree program most people are working in fields not directly related to their major (statistics are somewhat different for folks graduating from professional schools or graduate schools).
But what can you do with each of these degrees? Essentially, if you have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree that isn’t in a professional program like nursing, engineering, or teaching, your degree equally qualifies you for a variety of entry level jobs. What sort of jobs you can get may depend greatly on your previous work experience and especially on internships that you held during school. Unless you have significant research experience, a BA in psychology is pretty similar to a BA in sociology or philosophy.
What these liberal arts degrees do prepare you well for is graduate school. With a master’s degree, you can do a number of more things with a bachelor’s. You can teach at either the high school or community college level – most states don’t require folks with master’s degrees to get teaching certificates. With an MA or MFA in English writing or journalism you can definitely get writing jobs of various sorts – like editing or writing for a local newspaper. With an MBA you’re ready to enter in at the middle management level or help a local business step it up. And with an MA in theology, like the program I’m starting right now, you can use the paper from your diploma to roll joints and smoke it up with the hippies squatting behind the seminary.
If you go to the doctorate level, you will be able to teach at a college or university, write books about things that only a few people are really interested in, or lead research teams. Actually, there are a fair number of things that require doctorates these days. Part of that is that there are a lot more PhD bearing people around now than there were 50 years ago, and part of that is that there are a lot more specialized information and research jobs than there used to be.
Professional graduate degrees are really where its at, in terms of degrees that will get you jobs – jobs that are useful to society – and jobs that will get you money. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, architects – aren’t these what we all dreamed of becoming one day? Go for it, why can’t you be what you want to be? Too old to be a doctor? You would be surprised at how old some students are.
Decide what your purpose in going to school is!
This might seem obvious, but to determine what sort of degree you want to get, it is extremely important to decide what your real purpose in going to school is – and this will probably go all the way back to the question of what your purpose in life is. Most modern ethicists argue that all people act more or less in their own interest all the time. This is called egoism, specifically psychological egoism – that even when we say that we are doing something for someone else, we are really doing it for what it does for us (like it might make me feel like a good person when I sell my possessions and give the money to the poor).
Anyways, this just to point out that a chain of questions about what you are going to school for will almost always come back to this one answer: “Because I want to be happy!” and you think that this will somehow make you happy.
And so you need to think about what from school will really make you happy. You might decide that you really want to be able to have a family with a bunch of kids and supply them with everything that they could ever need; and you want to give your spouse amazing presents all the time, and take vacations all over the world. If this is the case, then you are going to have to find a job where the income is significant enough to support your lifestyle.
Maybe earning potential isn’t your goal, but there is a future outcome that is your goal: you want to be a writer or an artist or a musician. Well, studying your craft is what will bring you there, and sometimes that will probably mean getting a college degree, but sometimes it might mean dropping out and studying under a master somewhere. Take Chris Thile for example. He’s the guy who plays mandolin with Nickel Creek. He went to college and started studying music, but then he realized that it would be a lot easier and faster for him to study music outside of college because there wouldn’t be as many other things that he had to do. On the other hand, a lot of the greatest writer have come out of specialized schools for writing, like the creative writing workshop in Iowa.
Love of learning
Or perhaps you just love to learn, and so going to school is something that is a very pleasurable experience for you. You would go to school forever if you could. I know for most people it sounds strange to hear about people who love school that much. These are usually the people who get PhDs so that they can continue studying and teaching about the things they love.
Another reason you might go to college would be to get married. At the school where I studied, we joked about how many girls came to get their M.R.S. degree… This might not sound like a good idea, but I will defend it briefly. Your parents want you to go to college, and they want you to get married so that you are never really able to move back in with them. Even if you don’t really want to go to college, you can still make your parents very happy by going to school, meeting the right one, and leaving the nest forever.
Of course, there are a whole host of other reasons to go to school. You might go to school simply because you can – your financial aid is better than what you’re making anyways; or because you need to stay on your parents’ insurance. If you’re an athlete, there are a bunch of other reasons to go to school – or at least one: competition. NCAA athletics are amazing. There is no feeling like pulling on your college jersey and getting hyped for battle. Even if you yourself are not an athlete, sports can be a big reason why people choose certain colleges. If you love to watch football, you should go big and find a DI school with a big stadium.
Synthesizing the information
Now that you have thought about all the different sorts of schools and degrees that you can get, and the various sorts of things that you can do with a degree; and now that you have considered what factors are most important to you in choosing a degree type, it is time to put all this information to work and figure out what it all means for you. Go in reverse of the order that we just went in:
What are your priorities in getting a degree? What is it that you decided would make you happy?
Now think about the outcomes of specific degrees: Which of these professions or lifestyles would really fulfill your reasons for going to school? Which of them would fulfill the things that you said would make you happy?
Finally consider what degrees you will need to have in order to pursue the profession that you picked out, and what schools offer that degree or those degrees.
Some extra information
Getting career counseling might seem like a weak or unnecessary thing for you to do, but I should think that getting it right and choosing the right path in the first place could save you a great amount of time and money in the long run. There are probably hundreds of websites that will do career counseling for free or cheap. Usually this consists of taking a bunch of skill and interest assessment tests and then trying to figure out how to take your skills and interests and find a job that best utilizes those skills and interests. I mean, who could ask for anything better, provided your skills and interests are of the type that will make you lots and lots of money – or at least lots and lost of friends (preferably with lots of money…).