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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. View article »

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  • 0:04 Differences in Degree Programs
  • 0:33 Two-Year Degrees
  • 0:56 Academic Transfer Programs
  • 1:37 Career-Focused Programs
  • 2:07 Four-Year Degrees
  • 3:13 Specialized Bachelor's…

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Video Transcript

Differences in Degree Programs

When choosing between 2-year and 4-year undergraduate degrees, it can be helpful to consider the different degree options available at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels.

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.

Academic Transfer Programs

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

Career-Focused Programs

A career or professional associate's degree program is intended for students who wish to enter the workforce upon completion. The most common degree awarded is an Associate of Applied Science. These programs typically reduce some of the general education requirements in favor of more career-focused courses.

Possible subjects vary widely but may include automotive technology, hospitality management, office assistant, culinary arts, and accounting.

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4-Year Degrees

The most common 4-year degree program is a bachelor's degree. 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.

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

Specialized Bachelor's Programs

Although B.A. and B.S. programs are the most common, there are also specialized bachelor's degree programs that emphasize specific topics and/or prepare graduates for certain careers. In these programs, there may be fewer general education courses. Some of these include a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Journalism, Bachelor of Social Work, and Bachelor of Applied Science.

It is important to note that although a bachelor's degree generally takes 4-years to complete, 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.

There are both academic-focused and career-focused 2-year and 4-year degree options, leading to different types of associate's and bachelor's degrees.

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