Besides academic courses of study, institutions of higher learning in the US also offer praxis-oriented programs for advanced vocational training. Such programs are found mostly at two-year “community colleges.” In addition to certificates and diplomas, a student can earn an “associate degree” after two years of study.
The typical academic degree earned by American students is the “Bachelor of Arts” (BA) or respectively the “Bachelor of Science” (BS). These degrees are awarded following the completion of four years of studies. In the first two years of their studies, American students take a number of required courses in general subject areas. After the second year, American students take a major (or two), and spend the remaining two years taking courses in these academic disciplines (although they are not limited to them).
Those who decide to pursue their education further can earn a Master of Arts or Master of Science, respectively, in one to two years. These so-called “Master’s Degrees” are offered only at universities, and not at colleges. Likewise, only universities offer professional degrees, as for example the Juris Doctor (for law), the Doctor of Medicine (for medicine), and the well-known Master of Business Administration, or MBA. It usually takes two to four years to complete these professional degrees.
Earning a doctorate (Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D.) in the United States takes between four and six years. The first phase of one’s doctoral studies usually lasts two years and is concluded with an extensive examination in all the subject areas studied until that point. This examination is known as the “preliminary examination” or alternatively as the “qualifying examination.” Following the successful completion of this examination, the student may begin his research for his doctoral dissertation.
Continuative studies which lead to the M.A./M.S., professional degrees, or the Ph.D., are known as “graduate studies.”