Common wisdom encourages people to "get a college degree" in order to improve their work prospects. However, the different types of degrees can be confusing, and while a B.A. may be enough to start work in one field, a Ph.D. may be required to even begin in another. The best course of action is to consider what type of career you want and what types of degrees and amounts of education are typically required of workers in that field before you begin.

Types of Degrees

A bachelor's degree, or B.A., is what most people mean when they say "a college degree." It's the standard degree you receive after four years of full-time study in college. Some students may be able to earn this degree in three years, while others might take five. A master's degree, or M.A., requires an additional two years of study beyond that and a doctorate, or Ph.D., typically requires an additional four years of study after earning a master's degree.

The "A" in "B.A." or "M.A." stands for "arts" and means that the person who received the degree focused on a liberal arts curriculum as a part of their degree program as opposed to a purely science-focused curriculum (which would earn a "Bachelor of Science" or "Master of Science" degree). Ph.D. stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," and it is the highest degree you can earn in the liberal arts.