The past 10 years was a banner decade for higher education, with the U.S. seeing its highest number of enrolled students to date: in 2019 alone, almost 20 million Americans entered various colleges and universities both in the country and around the world. In fact, experts are expecting this number to get even higher, thanks to more accessible tertiary educational institutions and further interest in academics.
It’s not just the wealthy either: a study shows that more and more low-income and mid-income families are starting to send their kids to college to attain something higher than a high school degree, an option that wasn’t available before to this demographic.
But why is getting a post-secondary degree so popular? Well, according to studies, many people opt to go for higher education after high school for one simple reason: they believe that a post-secondary degree will open up job opportunities for them, ideally something that’s above rank-and-file positions in companies. And it makes sense: roughly 75% of professional positions (with managerial roles and higher) require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to apply.
What is a Post-Secondary Degree?
Basically, a post-secondary degree in any kind of educational degree that a person can attain when attending a tertiary educational institution, whether it’s a community college, a vocational/technical school, an undergraduate college, or a university. A post-secondary degree is meant to show employers that you have mastered a certain set of academic and practical skills that make you very valuable to the workforce.
Different types of post-secondary degrees are awarded by different types of institutions: associate’s degrees are usually awarded institutions that offer two-year programs (usually public colleges and/or community colleges), while bachelor’s degrees are often awarded by schools offering four-year programs or higher (usually colleges and universities). Higher degrees, like Master’s and Ph.D’s, are usually granted by private institutions, either specialized graduate schools, research institutions, or private universities.
Beyond an AB Degree, post-secondary degrees come in many shapes and sizes, each of which also carrying different connotations of skill and added value. Even a “basic” post-secondary degree like the Associate’s Degree can bump up a person’s salary by up to 20%, with bachelor’s degree holders earning an extra 66% or more depending on their major and the school they graduated from.
But the pinnacle of academic achievement, of course, is the coveted Ph.D. Having these 3 letters beside your name can earn you, on average, an extra 33% more than Bachelor’s degree, or even Master’s degree, holders.
Types of Post-Secondary Degrees
Depending on your field of study, post-secondary programs usually grant around four or five post-secondary degrees, each one with connoting a different level of expertise about a particular subject. Associate’s programs, which usually lead to an Associate’s Degree, are the shortest programs a student can take. Bachelor’s programs, on the other hand, usually take anywhere between three to five years to complete, again depending on your field of study.
Meanwhile, graduate degrees take longer and are usually more expensive, with professional degrees available to career doctors or lawyers. Ph.D’s, on the other hand, are usually granted to researchers, career academics, and scientists. As for how long it takes to get a doctoral degree, it depends entirely on the student: generally, a Ph.D. student takes around 8 years to complete the program, due to research burdens and other factors.
An Sc.D, on the other hand, is usually granted to students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field, and is comparable in both level of difficulty, length of program, and prestige as a Ph.D. (although this is quite different in Europe, where an Sc.D is considered higher than a Ph.D.).
Most Associate’s Degrees are usually awarded to students after attending an education program that has a focus on occupational or professional advancement. These degrees are usually geared towards providing people with a higher understanding of professional settings and prepares them for employment in managerial (or higher) roles, or highly specialized occupation. Usually, an Associate’s Degree is granted after a two-year program, although some degrees can take up to four years to fully complete.
In general, most Associate’s Degree holders come from the business or nursing professions, as most Associate’s Degree programs focus entirely on preparing their students for their chosen occupation (sometimes at the cost of foregoing other academic subjects). However, more academically-inclined students usually use their Associate’s Degree for their Bachelor’s Degree program, cutting the latter’s completion time in half (as most of the freshman and sophomore courses in the Bachelor’s program would have been completed during a student’s time in the Associate’s Degree program).
The most popular, and well-known, post-secondary degree out there, a Bachelor’s Degree holder earns a whopping 84% more than people who only hold a high-school diploma (or General Educational Development diplomas). Bachelor’s Degrees are usually granted after completing a four-year program, however, many students take around six, even eight, years to complete, either due to a lack of interest or because of financial reasons.
Bachelor’s Degree programs are usually built around a more holistic educational experience for students, teaching them not just employable skills, but also academic subjects designed to unlock their critical thinking skills.
Advanced degrees refer to post-secondary degrees that are attained even beyond tertiary education. These degrees are meant to be pursued after a Bachelor’s Degree and are meant for career professionals or academics. It usually takes around 3 to 8 years to finish an advanced degree, depending on the program and the field of study.
Master’s Degrees are usually pursued by students who wish to perform at an even higher function at a specific subject. Master’s Degrees usually require the applicant to already hold a Bachelor’s Degree and is required to further a particular field of study within their chosen expertise. Depending on the program, a Master’s Degree can take around two to three years to complete, although some colleges offer combined Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programs that take 5 years total to complete.
Ph.D. refers to Doctor of Philosophy, while Sc.D refers to Doctor of Science. In the United States, both degrees are considered of equal quality, with the latter usually conferred to students completing a STEM program. In Europe, however, Sc.D’s are usually considered much higher than Ph.D’s, with Sc.D holders usually attaining this degree only after a lifetime’s worth of research.
Getting a doctorate is the highest possible academic achievement a person can attain, and Ph.D. holders in the country earn more than 100% more than people who hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Doctoral degree holders are almost always at top positions in their field.