Colleges & Degrees & Options

There are many different kinds of post-secondary educational institutions, and a wide variety of degrees, certificates, and licenses available now.  The Governor of Utah set a goal to have 66% of the people in Utah to have completed a post-secondary (after high school), degree by 2020.  To help spread understanding of avenues available to help achieve this goal some of the options will be outlined below.  This list is not meant to be completely comprehensive, nor is it meant to go into depth on every option.  Rather the purpose of this is just to help increase understanding of what is out there, and help teach that a degree doesn’t have to take 4 years.  For those interested in further learning about a specific degree, or college you are encouraged to contact the institution providing the educational opportunity you seek and ask for more information.  You can also contact your school counselor, watch for college nights, or research online.

Types of degrees and options

Classes to further education

(any length)

Sometimes it is helpful to take a class in order to improve knowledge in a particular area.  For example someone interested in astronomy for personal reasons could take a class on astronomy.  Another example is that someone could take Spanish classes to help them in their professional career.  Classes could be taken for post-secondary credit, or for free from online sources such as the Khan Academy.  Several colleges and universities across the nation also offer free courses that can be taken for personal education with charges only applying if college credit is sought. For those with an interest, these free classes can be the beginning of working to obtain an actual degree.


(Months - years)

Certificates are awarded to show specialization in a specific field or forum.  How certificates are obtained varies depending on the type of certificate sought.  Technical colleges, for example Bridgerland Applied Technical College (BATC), offer a wide variety of certificates.  An example of a certificate from a technical college would be a welding certificate. To obtain a welding certificate from the BATC, 960 hours of coursework must be completed.  Unlike Bachelors and Associate degrees, certificates normally only require coursework directly related to the job at hand.  Welding certificates do not require English or Social studies courses, instead they focus on welding specific 30 hour segments such as Oxy-fuel gas welding.

Other certificates are available as well.  An example is, Utah State University (USU)offers a Law and Societies Area Studies Certificate.  The Law and Societies Area Studies Certificate involves coursework from a variety of different areas; such as Business, Sociology, Journalism, etc., and requires 24 credits with a B or higher (3.0) to be earned. This certificate isn’t a degree, and it doesn’t function as a Bachelors in any sense, but it does provide education in Law studies, as well as looking good on an application for students interested in pursuing a higher degree in Law.

Certificates are mainly offered at Technical colleges, and can usually be completed in less than 2 years.  Certificates taken at other institutions are rewarded upon completion of another degree, typically a Bachelors or Associate. Many jobs are looking only for a certificate, especially those in the technical field such as welding, carpentry and auto-body work.

Applied Associate

(6 months - 2 years)

Applied Associate degrees are starting to become more popular in today’s marketplace.  These degrees take the learning from a certificate, and add on a few college classes (generally under 30 credits), to maximize the education experience.  An example is that the student who worked towards their welding certificate could also take English 1010, Math 1010, and other basic college classes to earn an applied Associate degree.  This allows the student to hone basic skills such as college level writing, that can help them in their professional career, while also getting a degree that shows the extra work put in.  Students can normally earn this degree without having to pay the ever increasing cost of a Bachelors degree, and without having to invest a huge amount of extra time on things not related to their career choice. In addition employers are usually willing to pay a little extra to compensate for this degree above what a certificate would bring in.


(Generally 2 years or 4 college semesters)

Associate degrees are 2 year degrees, and are generally awarded upon graduation from a junior/community college.  When college students refer to their “generals” they are normally making reference to what constitutes earning an Associate degree.  Junior colleges and community colleges usually have 2-year attendance blocks with students earning an Associate degree upon finishing those 2-years.  Universities, such as Utah State University, do not generally offer Associate degree’s as students are expected to complete all 4 years at these institutions and earn a Bachelor’s degree.  Associate degrees do provide a solid education as they cover a wide variety of topics.  This degree encompasses students taking their English 1010, Math 1010, Biology, and other general classes.  An associate usually requires between 50-60 credits to be earned.  There is some degree of specialization as there are different types of Associate degrees, for example, Associate of Arts or Associate of Science.  An advantage to earning an Associate degree is that 4-year colleges will generally accept transfer credits that are part of that degree.  An example is that a student may attend Utah State University Eastern (USUE) for 1 semester and then transfer to the University of Utah (U of U).  The U of U may accept these classes or they may not.  If a student attends Utah State University Eastern and earns an Associate degree and then transfers it is much more likely that U of U will accept all the coursework completed under that degree.  For some students this can be a huge advantage by transitioning them from high school, to smaller junior/community college class sizes, and then up to a university.

Associate degrees completed at Junior Colleges, or Community Colleges are generally cheaper than Bachelor’s degrees, while also leading to jobs that pay more on average than individuals with only a high school diploma would expect to earn.


(Generally 4 years or 8 college semesters)

Bachelor’s degrees allow students to learn the Associate Degree materials to help broaden their perspective, and then specialize in a field that interests them.  Bachelor’s degrees are normally between 115-130 credits, with the average probably falling around 120.  These degrees incorporate the 50-60 credits from the Associate degree (often called generals), and add on 30-40 more credits from a specific major, and another 15-25 credits from a minor field of study, with the rest being elective courses.  An example is the Sociology degree from USU, it requires 120 credits; 36 specific to Sociology, a minor that requires at least 12 credits, the completion of the general classes (English 1010, etc.), and electives until 120 credits has been reached.

Bachelor’s degrees provide employers with the knowledge that a student has completed a degree that normally requires 4-years, or 8 semesters.  This shows dedication to a field, and also conveys a spectrum of understanding from the materials covered.  Bachelor’s degrees also provide stepping stones in the pathway of learning for individuals interested in going on to earn Master’s or Doctorate degrees.  A huge advantage technology has provided is the opportunity to earn Bachelor’s degrees online.  For people who want to improve their education, but still have to work while doing so, online degrees can help provide that route to a better, or more satisfying career.

Individuals who earn bachelor’s degrees earn more on average than individuals who don’t earn them over the course of their careers.  From a financial perspective it is an investment that must be weighted more and more.  There is greater long term potential, but there also exists the rising cost of post-secondary education, and the resultant student loan debt that can be accumulated.


(Time for Bachelors plus 1 - 3 years, 5 - 8 total years for Bachelors & Masters)

Master’s degrees go above and beyond bachelors and provide specialized training in a specific field of study.  Programs that award Master’s degrees are application programs, meaning that you have to apply for acceptance into them.  Even if a student earned a Bachelor’s degree at a University, it doesn’t guarantee admission into a Master’s program at the same institution.  Master’s programs can be used to obtain degrees necessary for specific jobs, or to provide more specialized knowledge into a field of study.  These programs range from 1-3 years, and also have the benefit of a growing online market of schools and degree options.  Many Master’s programs will require some type of internship, or hands on work experience as part of their graduation requirements.  It can be helpful to research a career before starting any post-secondary education to determine if a Master’s degree will be necessary to obtain a job in the desired field.  Some examples of jobs that require at least a Master’s degree are School Administrators (principals) and Mental Health Therapists.  Some Master’s programs require that the individual has worked within the given career field for a period of time before they will be accepted.

Many Master’s programs have pre-requisites, and planning ahead can ensure that these pre-requisites are met in a timely manner to allow admission into the program.  Undergraduate classes that are taken while working towards a Bachelor’s, Associate, or Certificate can also help students better understand their interest and motivation in pursuing higher education.


(Time for Bachelors plus 3 - 6 years, 7 - 11+ total years for Bachelors & Doctorate)

Doctorates are the most specialized degrees given in a specific field of study.  These degrees are obtained after a Bachelor’s degree has been earned, and generally require 3-6 years of additional coursework for completion.  Similar to a Master’s degree, Doctorate degrees usually have a component of internship, and/or hands on experience as part of their graduation requirements.  As these programs are intensive there is an application process involved.  Students planning on pursuing a Doctorate should begin planning at the start of their post-secondary education in order to ensure that they have the skills, resources, and social contacts necessary to get accepted into, and be successful in a Doctorate program.   There is an online market for Doctorate programs, but not as many options exist as for the other degrees.