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Two Year Degrees Vs. Four Year Degrees: Learn the Difference

There are distinct differences between a 2-year and 4-year degree besides the obvious length of time it takes to complete the degree. Some differences include the types of degrees awarded, the course requirements and career options for graduates.

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Differences in Degree Programs

A 2-year degree program most commonly results in an associate's degree, and these degrees may be earned at community, technical and vocational colleges. A 4-year degree, in comparison, is most commonly awarded as a bachelor's degree at a college or university.

2-Year Degrees

While a number of colleges and universities offer both 2-year and 4-year degrees, community colleges generally focus on 2-year associate's degree programs and 1-year certificate programs. Some of the more common types of 2-year degrees include an Associate of Arts, Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science.

Many associate's degree programs are equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor's degree program and are designed for students planning on transferring to a 4-year college or university. These transferable programs typically award students with an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science. By earning a transfer degree, many general education requirements for a 4-year degree can already be met. Some of these general education requirements may include studies in:

  • English composition
  • Natural science
  • Social and behavioral science
  • History and government
  • Humanities
  • Ethnic studies
  • Communication

A career or professional associate's degree program is designed to reduce some of the general education requirements and is intended for students who wish to enter the workforce upon completion. The most common degree awarded is an Associate of Applied Science.

4-Year Degrees

A bachelor's degree generally takes four years to complete, but this can vary depending on the field of study and the individual. For example, a student who is on the fast track and goes to summer school may complete the degree in less than four years, while bachelor's degree programs in some areas of study, such as engineering or architecture, may take five years to complete.

A bachelor's degree is required for various entry-level positions and can give the graduate a competitive edge in the job market. Students most commonly earn a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, but other types of specialized bachelor's degrees are available, such as a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

A Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) program is a broad course of study based on the humanities, as well as theoretical and general studies in a certain major. Students may earn a B.A. in a wide variety of subjects, such as:

  • English
  • Communication
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology
  • Theatre arts

A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) program is focused on a particular field of study with a technical emphasis. Like with the B.A. degree, most students spend the first two years of a bachelor's degree program studying general education courses. The next two years are spent studying for the major. Possible B.S. majors include:

  • Chemistry
  • Computer science
  • Engineering
  • Physics
  • Microbiology
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