What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree?
If you want to get ahead with a college degree, you have several degree choices, ranging from an associate’s degree to a doctorate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the higher your degree, the more income you earn and the less unemployment risk you face.1
Two of the most common degrees are a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. What’s the difference between these two degrees, and which one is right for you?
Get Your Bachelor's Degree
In the United States, most entry-level jobs for college graduates require a bachelor’s degree. The BLS lists 142 occupations for bachelor’s degree holders,2 compared with 40 occupations for associate’s degree holders3 and 33 occupations for master’s degree holders.4
Getting your bachelor’s degree generally takes four years, although some career-focused bachelor’s degrees are attainable in only three years. As a student in a bachelor’s degree program, you’ll take general education classes in subjects such as math, English, science, and history, in addition to your major-specific classes.
In many cases, you can earn an associate’s degree and later apply that college credit toward a bachelor’s degree program. If you’re wondering how a bachelor’s degree could help your career prospects, start browsing information about jobs that require a bachelor’s degree.5
You could gain an advantage in the job market with a bachelor’s degree, as only 23% of American adults ages 25 to 64 have at least a bachelor’s degree.6 In fact, according to a recent news report, “college grads are getting nearly all the jobs,”7 as the chart below illustrates:
By the way, why’s it called a “bachelor’s” degree, anyway? Isn’t a bachelor an unmarried man? Check out one explanation.8
Consider Getting Your Master's Degree
In general, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree before you can get a master’s degree. While a master’s degree generally takes less time than a bachelor’s, you’ll dig deeper into a specialized knowledge area, without general-education requirements. When you get a master’s degree, you’ll join an exclusive club, as only about 10 percent of full-time workers age 25 or up have a master’s degree.9
One main reason to get a master’s degree is better potential income. According to the BLS, “In 2013, the median annual wage for full-time workers ages 25 and over whose highest level of education was a master’s degree was $68,000, compared with $56,000 for those whose highest level was a bachelor’s degree—a $12,000 a year wage premium.”10 For additional insights about master’s degrees, see the BLS’s article “Should I get a master’s degree?”11
Yes, getting a master’s degree is more challenging than getting a bachelor’s, even though it can take less time. During your master’s program, you’ll probably work more closely with professors than you did during your bachelor’s degree program. To become a master, you’ll likely need to do some original research and defend it, as well as pass some comprehensive exams.
If you’re wondering how a master’s degree could help your career prospects, start browsing information about jobs that require a master’s degree.12
The Choice Is Yours
Whether you’re just thinking about college or you’ve already taken some college-level courses, now’s the time to move forward with a degree. An associate’s degree could be perfect for certain career fields, as well as a steppingstone to higher degrees. For a broader range of possible job prospects, get your bachelor’s degree. If you want to strive even higher professionally, a master’s degree could be within your reach.