By Michael Feder
Most people are familiar with a bachelor’s degree — often the entry point into a college education. It’s perhaps the most ubiquitous level of college educational attainment among the four types of degrees a person can earn: an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate.
For many people, a bachelor’s degree is a stepping stone from high school to being prepared to enter the workforce. A bachelor’s degree can equip people with the necessary education and skills for various industries and signal to employers that a person is qualified for a position and has committed the time and discipline needed for the job. According to a 2018 Gallup poll on higher education, the No. 1 reason Americans pursue higher education is to get a better job or a new job altogether.
A master’s degree follows a bachelor’s degree and is a means to furthering one’s knowledge and skills and demonstrates a mastery of a professional practice. This degree may be required for employment in specific industries — like research or teaching — and may help demonstrate leadership abilities to employers.
These degree paths may seem linear, but it’s not always cut and dry. Some people pursue a second bachelor’s degree, while others may feel that a master’s is necessary for their personal and career goals. For example, suppose you’re entering a profession that requires a certain level of education, trying to earn a promotion or starting a new job. In those cases, it’s important to understand the difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
Whether you’re dreaming of a new career or you’re hoping to expand your knowledge and expertise with college degrees, knowing the difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree can help you achieve your goals.
A bachelor’s degree is often a four-year program of study in which students develop skills and understanding of their program of choice at a college or university, online or in person. Students typically complete a bachelor’s degree immediately after high school, but it’s common for adults to complete their degree later in life.
A bachelor’s covers the core educational elements of an area of study — known as general education — that gives you working knowledge of a wide variety of topics before you take courses focused on the major or specialty in which you want to focus. Students can also expect to take elective credits to help expand their knowledge in the field or a similar area of interest. These courses may consist of lectures, exams and hands-on experiments.
Bachelor’s degree programs can be in the sciences or the arts and may include academic areas like business, nursing, computer science, psychology or English. During their program, students can expect to generally complete about 120 credits of study.
Many students take a general education they achieve at one institution, often a community college, and then transfer those credits to a different institution to complete their degree. This process can help save money in the long run.
Students often pursue a bachelor’s degree to help enhance their career opportunities. In 2021, nearly 38% of the U.S. population had a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, over the past several decades, a bachelor’s has become a requirement by employers for consideration for many jobs. A bachelor’s degree is one of the most commonly required degrees for employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Earning a bachelor’s degree can be done in various ways. Students used to earn these degrees exclusively through in-person courses. However, online programs have grown in popularity.
To earn a bachelor’s degree, start by choosing a school and filling out an application. Consider whether you want in-person or remote learning, what subject matter you want to major in, and the cost of attending the school. If you’re uncertain about your major, you can speak with prospective schools, your employer, your family or professionals in the field you’re considering.
Once a school grants you admission, you’ll complete your undergraduate degree requirements (a mix of general education classes and classes within your major) and work toward graduation. Degree requirements depend on your major.
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
One of the most common bachelor’s degrees, a Bachelor of Arts generally focuses on a discipline of the arts or humanities. This type of degree program is centered more on each student’s individual exploration of a given subject. BA students tend to have more leeway when it comes to planning and completing their studies compared to the stricter requirements that are usual for a BS or BFA.
Bachelor of Science (BS)
A Bachelor of Science, or BS, degree tends to focus more on science and math compared to a BA or MFA. The focus of study generally remains on the specific subjects related to the degree. There is much less focus on the exploration of other subjects compared to a BA or MFA program.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
A BFA is very similar to a BA degree but generally focuses on the arts, specifically the performing arts, visual arts and music. These programs tend to emphasize hands-on learning in a studio setting. The lectures and exams that are common in BA and BS programs are less common in BFA programs.
Within almost every professional field, a variety of bachelor’s degree programs can expand your expertise and prepare you for success. Understanding the difference between degree programs can help you plot the next steps of your educational journey. Some examples of bachelor’s degree programs are:
Earning a bachelor’s degree can open up new and exciting professional opportunities. These opportunities include careers such as:
By earning a degree, you’re showing future employers you’re committed to furthering your education and your expertise.
For many, jumping right into an entry-level career aligned with their undergraduate education is perfect. That being said, there are more options out there that are worth considering. It can take time to figure out exactly what to do with an education.
Make sure to research the education requirements for your career of choice to go into your college experience with a plan. If you need further assistance on how to enter the workforce after you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, consider talking with a career coach or the alumni department at your university.
There can be a lot of pressure to enter the workforce after completing an academic degree. However, that isn’t the best for everyone. Thinking about and deciding on a path toward personal goals can help prepare students for a fulfilling life long after graduation.
Of course, there’s also the option to pursue further education, either in the form of another bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.
A master’s degree is an advanced graduate degree that can be pursued after you have completed the bachelor’s degree requirement. Earning a master’s degree helps establish your expertise in your field and can help prepare graduates to take on more responsibility and pursue leadership positions.
A master’s degree tends to be much more rigorous than a bachelor's degree program and requires a more specialized focus of study. A master’s degree generally takes less time than a bachelor’s degree (usually about two or three years) and takes about 30 to 60 semester credits to complete.
People pursue master’s degrees for a variety of reasons. Some students are looking to increase their chances of employment or seek more job security. Others are switching careers. Additionally, earning a master’s gives you more opportunities to conduct research and contribute to your chosen field.
There are three types of master’s degrees, which align very similarly with the kinds of bachelor’s degrees:
Though the specifics depend on the specific master’s degree program, there are various prerequisites generally required of most graduate degree programs:
Unlike bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees don’t require general education courses. Instead, your coursework will likely focus on your specialized field of study.
Master’s degree programs are meant to prepare you for a higher level within your career. Some examples of master’s degrees are:
Unlike a bachelor’s degree, which involves a broader level of study, a master’s degree requires you to dive deeper into your chosen subject and develop a higher level of expertise by the time you graduate.
Careers that require a master’s degree are often at a higher level of leadership or scholarship. A master’s education can signal competency and commitment to an employer and may be a requirement for consideration for employment. Some examples of jobs that often require a master’s degree are:
An advanced academic degree can help you reach specific career goals, earn a promotion or move to a new role at a different company. Your degree depends on your career goals and the educational requirements to achieve them. For some, a master’s degree may not end their academic journey. Graduates can take their advanced degrees further into doctoral programs and postgraduate study.
If you’re looking to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree, University of Phoenix (UOPX) can help. From education to business, your degree can take you in a number of directions. Learn more about degree programs from UOPX and discover the one that’s right for you!
About University of Phoenix
As pioneers in online higher education since 1989, University of Phoenix is an accredited online university for working adults. We are proud to offer quality educational pathways through flexible, career-focused online degrees, certificates and professional development courses that fit into your life and options to save you time and money. Our students are supported every step of the way, including career services for life.
Let us help you take the most direct path to your future career goals. We’re ready when you are.
More than 100 online programs aligned to 300+ occupations.
Online courses and certificates
Explore professional development and earn credentials.
Ways to save
Learn ways you can save as you pursue your goals.