Explanation of Degrees

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Your education in California can focus on earning a degree (from an Associate’s to a Doctoral degree) or studying a variety of non-degree programs.

Below, we briefly explain the different educational degrees you may choose when you study in the United States. Following these, we cover a few of the most common non-degree programs.

Educational Degrees

Undergraduate Program

A program leading to a two-year Associate’s degree or a four-year Bachelor’s (also called baccalaureate) degree; generally follow high school or secondary education.

Graduate Program

A program leading to a Master’s degree, doctoral degree, or advanced certificate; advanced study generally following a Bachelor’s degree.

Associate's Degree

A degree granted by a college or university after the satisfactory completion of a two-year, full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent.

Bachelor's or Baccalaureate Degree

A degree received after the satisfactory completion of a four-year or five-year full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent at a college or university. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) are the most common baccalaureate degrees.

Master's Degree

A master’s degree is designed to provide additional education or training in a specialized branch of knowledge, significantly beyond the level of baccalaureate study.

Doctoral Degree

A doctorate degree is the highest level of academic degree in most fields. For research or university teaching, the degree is usually a PhD, while applied professional doctorates include the Doctor of Medicine (MD), the Doctor of Education (EdD), and the Juris Doctor (JD), among others.


Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated PhD, is an advanced academic degree awarded by universities. In the United States, the PhD is the highest degree one can earn and applies to graduates in a wide array of disciplines in the sciences and humanities. The PhD or equivalent has become a requirement for a career as a university professor or researcher in most fields.

Non-Degree Programs

Here are just a few of the non-degree programs you can study in California.


Non-degree award for completing an educational program of study after high school. Certificates are required to become employed in many occupations that don’t require a college degree.

ESL/English Program and Intensive English Program

Provide international students the chance to learn English or improve their English language skills. Can be taken in preparation for a degree program.

Online Program

Education taught completely online with no in-person classes.

Short-Term Program

A variety of topics taught in short timeframes, often 4 weeks or less, including English Language Programs.

Youth Programs

With a variety of subjects, these often give junior high and high school students (generally ages 12-17) the opportunity to experience higher education and prepare for a successful academic future.