College Degrees -An Overview
Even though your best friend since middle school—and everyone who sits at your lunch table—already has a college major picked out doesn’t mean you’re alone if you don’t yet know what to do after high school.
There are several types of college degrees. Here are some of your degree options:
Community college degrees
Community colleges or junior colleges are two-year schools designed for students who want an associate’s degree, or for those who want to transfer later for a bachelor’s. Community colleges can help you prepare for a job or jump start your education while saving you money.
Not sure what you want to study in college? A community college can be a good place to figure it out. And it’s generally less expensive to take classes there than at a four-year school.
If you’re using community college as a place to earn credit toward a bachelor’s degree, make sure you talk to a transfer counselor at the college as soon as possible. The counselor can direct you into the right classes and help you search for a four-year school with your major.
And because you’ll likely live at home and drive to campus (though some community colleges do offer dorm-style living), you’ll save money on room and board, too.
If you don’t have a stellar academic record in high school, you can also use community college as a place to build up your GPA.
“If you are a student who needs more help academically, or needs more discipline with temptations, a community college would be an excellent place for you to begin [building] your knowledge, skills and competence,” says Carol Carter, founder and president of LifeBound and author of Majoring in the Rest of Your Life: Career Secrets for College Students.
Technical college degrees
Maybe your dream is to bake lavish wedding cakes shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Or maybe you daydream about designing innovative video games or ripping apart a vintage convertible and restoring it to its glory. Technical colleges and trade schools offer programs like these and more.
If you know exactly what hands-on career you want to pursue and aren’t too interested in taking courses related to other areas, technical college degrees might be the right choice for you. Most programs are career-specific, and credits may not transfer to other colleges. Technical schools are where you go to learn a particular skill that you’ll directly apply to your career.
Technical college graduates can earn certificates, associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, depending on the school and the program.
University or college degrees
If you’re looking for a place to earn a bachelor’s degree, live on campus and prepare for a job, graduate or professional school, look into a four-year college or university. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for many management-level or higher-responsibility jobs.
Ask these questions when you start to evaluate a college or university:
• What major do you want to study, and does the school offer that major?
• Do you want to attend a big or small school?
• Are you sure about your major? If not, are there several majors for you to choose from?
• What kind of research, internship or study abroad opportunities are available?
• Can you afford the college?
• What kind of vibe did you get when visiting campus?
• What kind of climate or location do you want to live in?
• What kind of degree will you need for your field?
• Is the college religiously affiliated?
• Is it a single-gender school?
• Why do you want to attend that school?
• What is the school’s reputation in its community or the career field you’re exploring?
• Does it make sense for you to attend a community college first, then transfer into the college or university?
The size and type of college where you’ll do best varies for each person. It’s OK to look at schools that are very different from the ones your best friends are investigating. Don’t hold back from exploring a potentially great fit just because you’re worried what other people will think.
Graduate school college degrees
It can’t hurt to start thinking about grad school/master's degrees while you’re looking into an undergraduate college. Knowing if and what you want to study in grad school can help you pick a major, pick your classes, or work even harder to get good grades as an undergrad.
To get into graduate or professional school (including law and med school), you first have to earn a bachelor’s degree. (For more on combined degrees, visit nextSTEPmag.com/info/Masters.)
The exception to that is if you’re lucky enough to get into an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree program as an undergrad, where you combine class requirements for both degrees.
Don’t just plan on going to graduate school without doing your research first. You might benefit from a few years of work experience before taking on more school. You might not even need to go. Many career opportunities only require a bachelor’s degree. And your future career field might value work or internship experience more than a higher degree.
“Master’s degrees are helpful if you are pursuing more in-depth knowledge in a chosen field,” says Carter. “Ask yourself, ‘What will this master’s do for me in the context of my short and long-term career goals?’”
Choose your own next step
“There is no one right path for students graduating high school,” Carter says. “No matter what path a student selects, they will honor themselves the most by learning as much as they can, working on their strengths and managing their weaknesses and connecting with people in meaningful ways to grow and contribute to the world.”
For some people, that could mean not even attending college right away. You could defer your admission into a college and take a year to volunteer, travel or work instead. Taking a “gap year,” a year off to pursue other interests between high school and college degrees, is increasingly common.
Make sure that your next step after high school is your best step, no matter where it takes you! Enroll in NextStep University to learn more about college degrees and life after high school.
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