It is an official credential. The length of courses, and the number of courses vary depending on which college is attended. In the U.S.A. high schools give out diplomas to graduating students. These are not degrees.
There are hundreds of different academic degrees, but they are often grouped into a few categories:
- Associate's degree: this is typically a 2-year degree, often obtained at a junior college.
- Bachelor's degree: this is typically a 3 or 4-year degree.
- Licentiate: a degree given in some countries. It carries the permission (licence) to teach and practice in the area concerned. Its level varies according to the country, mostly at bachelor's level or above. Sometimes it represents a higher degree.
All other degrees are known as "higher degrees".
- Master's degree: this is typically a 1 or 2 year degree, earned by attending advanced courses and doing projects.
- Doctoral degree: this is typically a 4-to-6-year degree, where a person must write a thesis based on new research in their field of study.
In medicine, membership of specialist societies are also degrees, and Fellowships are higher degrees. Examples: MRCP = Member of the Royal College of Physicians. These degrees require postgraduate training and practical experience.
The college courses needed for a master's degree, or for a doctorate, are often highly-advanced, difficult subjects, and they would be extremely difficult to understand unless a person had already attended the undergraduate courses. The reason the upper-level courses are so difficult, so hard to understand, is that they assume the person already knows, perhaps, 1,000 technical terms learned in earlier college courses. This is similar to having to know the Latin names of all 206 bones in the human body, as just part of those technical terms.
In many countries these degrees are shown by letters which the person is allowed to put after their name, e.g. John Smith, BA. A bachelor's degree is usually the degree received at the end of a first degree. While the student is studying for a degree he or she is an "undergraduate". When he graduates he is a "graduate". He may continue with his studies and receive a master's degree or do some original work and write a thesis to get a doctor's degree (which does not mean a Doctor of Medicine).
A Juris Doctor (JD) is earned by completing law school in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other common law countries. In the United States and elsewhere, those holding a JD must pass an examination in order to practice law.
Some examples of degrees:
- Bachelor of Arts (BA)
- Bachelor of Science (BSc)
- Bachelor of Music (BMus)
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master of Science (MS or MSc)
- Master of Music (MMus)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Doctor of Medicine (MD or MB, ChB or other variations)
- Doctor of Music (DMus)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or D.Phil)