If you’re a working adult looking for a way to advance your career and earn more, getting your undergraduate degree is a fantastic idea.

But what exactly is an undergraduate degree, what makes it different than a graduate degree, and how many years will it take you to earn one? I’m about to answer these questions and more, so keep reading.

Oh, and I’m also going to share with you how you could earn your undergraduate degree faster and cheaper than you ever thought possible, so be sure to read this article all the way to the end!

What Does “Undergraduate” Mean Exactly?

In higher education, the term “undergraduate degree,” also sometimes called “undergrad degree,” refers to a degree that is typically earned in the first two to four years of study through a college or university. These degrees offer students a combination of general coursework as well as a major, to impart a broad base of knowledge that can be applied to a number of professional fields.

Employers often seek candidates who have obtained an undergraduate degree because it shows a level of knowledge and stick-to-itiveness. That’s why these degrees can give you a leg up on the competition come your job search and help you earn more.

There are two types of undergraduate degrees: associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees.

Recommended Schools

Associate Degrees

Associates degrees usually require 60 credits and two years to complete. Because these degrees take a shorter amount of time to obtain and cost less than a four-year degree, they’re a good option for those with limited resources or who simply wish to enter the workforce sooner.

One benefit of earning an associate degree is that you may be able to have those credits count toward a 4-year bachelor’s degree at a later date, should you decide you want to pursue even higher education. This can be very helpful if you aren’t sure about a specific major or career path. Through a 2-year associate degree, you will get general coursework out of the way, while also increasing your earning potential than if you only had a high school diploma.

Who is This Degree Good for?

Obtaining an associate degree is often the first step students take toward their 4-year degree. No matter your professional goals, an associate degree can help you improve your knowledge and skillset.

Associates degrees are great for high school students who aren’t quite sure of their ideal career path. With this degree, students are able to continue learning, keeping their brain and study habits sharp, while being introduced to new ideas and concepts.

For older working adults who plan to pay their way through college, a 2-year associate degree will allow them to continue working while also lowering costs. Be sure to keep reading because I’m also going to share how you can significantly reduce the cost of a 4-year education!

Program Requirements

To enroll in an associate degree program, prospective students will need to have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent. Depending on the specific program, you may also be required to submit ACT or SAT scores. If that idea brings you dread, either because your scores weren’t ideal or because you took these tests years ago and don’t want to jump through the hoops to order your old scores, OnlineDegree.com can help you find online degree programs that don’t require you to submit these scores!

Requirements for completing an associate degree are determined by each specific college or university, so it’s always a good idea to do some research, contact school admissions and ask for more information.

Examples of Associate Degree Programs

There are a wide variety of associate degree programs in varying fields. For instance, you may decide to get an Associate Degree in Business, an Associate Degree in Nursing, or an associate Degree in Psychology, to name just a few.

Within each of these (and other) programs, you can obtain different types of degrees. The most common are:

Associate of Arts Degree (AA) 

This 2-year degree provides students with broad knowledge in the areas of liberal arts, social sciences or humanities.

Associate of Science Degree (AS) 

Also typically earned over the course of 2 years, this degree offers students subjects in natural or applied sciences like sociology, mathematics, chemistry and more.

 Associate of Applied Science Degree (AAS)

This is a vocational degree that also takes 2 years to obtain. Typically, students who obtain this degree do not go on to earn their bachelor’s degree but instead, enter the work force. Holders of this type of degree can work as a dental hygienist, chemical technician, research assistant and more.

Associate of Fine Arts (AFA)

This 2-year degree focuses on fine art subjects like Visual Arts, American Literature, Information Literacy and more. Many students choose to eventually transfer their credits to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts.

These Associate Degrees can help students unlock better job prospects with higher pay.

Bachelor’s Degrees

The most common undergraduate degree pursued by students is a bachelor’s degree. This degree typically requires 4 years and 120 credits to complete.

Earning a bachelor’s degree will lead to greater employment opportunities compared to an associate degree because employers tend to prefer candidates who have obtained more skills and knowledge and who have specialized (majored) in a specific field of study. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 Population Survey shows that the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is significantly lower than those without one.

Recommended Schools

Who is This Degree Good for?

Bachelor’s degrees provide students with a well-rounded education that is necessary to pursue a specific career, or to further pursue their Master’s and Doctoral degrees. These days, landing a decent job with a competitive salary almost requires a bachelor’s degree.

These degrees are great for those high school graduates who have a clear understanding of their professional goals. Bachelor’s degrees are also the preferred degree for working adults who are trying to advance or completely change their careers in an effort to earn more for their family.

Program Requirements

Each institution will have their own unique set of requirements for enrollment into the program as well as graduation out of the program. Typically speaking, however, you will at least need to have earned a high school diploma or equivalent. You will also need to submit an application and most likely pay some fees. Entry requirements for many bachelor’s degree programs, especially those offered at highly-rated colleges, can be quite competitive.

Again, it’s always a good idea to check with the school’s admission office to obtain specific enrollment and graduation requirements.

Examples of Bachelor’s Degree Programs

The following are some of the most common and popular bachelor’s degrees:

What’s the Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees?

So now you know a bit more about what undergraduate degrees are and the different types available to prospective students. But you may still be wondering what the main differences are between undergraduate and graduate degrees.

To reiterate, undergraduate degrees constitute the first level of post-secondary education or “higher education.” Taking between 2 and 4 years to complete, undergraduate degrees combine general education requirements and courses that are specific to a particular area of study. Undergraduate degrees are enough to pursue specific career opportunities and earn a competitive salary. But undergraduate degrees can also act as a launchpad into graduate degrees.

A graduate degree is one that students may pursue only after earning their bachelor’s degree. These degrees include master’s degrees and Ph.Ds. Graduate degrees are for those who want to someday have a leadership role within their chosen industry as well as earn top dollar.

Graduate degree programs allow for even finer specialization in a specific area of study and usually tack on another two to four years of coursework.

If you’re not sure at this point what is the right degree for you, we recommend focusing on earning your bachelor’s degree, as that’s the one that’s going to help you stand out from other candidates come job hunting. Once you’ve gained a few years of experience in the workforce, you can always decide to go back to school to earn your master’s or Ph.D.

Benefits of Earning an Undergraduate Degree

If you’re not convinced that obtaining an undergraduate degree is the right choice for your career, here are a few reasons why it’s a great idea:

  • You’ll have more and better job prospects compared to no-degree holders!
  • According to studies, more than 80% of all job openings advertised online require at least a bachelor’s degree. Compare that to only 50% of jobs that require only a high school diploma. These numbers clearly indicate high school diploma holders have significantly fewer chances to connect with the right employers.
  • Undergraduate degrees prepare you for a specialized career, and those are typically higher paying. For working adults who are already employed, a bachelor’s degree can help you get that promotion and move up the employment ladder.
  • The BLS indicates the higher your education, the bigger your paycheck. According to recent data:
    • High school degree holder earn, on average, $37,024 annually
    • Associate degree holders earn $43,472 annually
    • Bachelor’s degree holder earn $60,996 annually

Can I Earn an Undergraduate Degree Online?

Yes! In fact, according to a recent article, roughly 6.3 million students have found that earning their undergraduate degree online is the fastest and easiest way to do it!

Here are some of the main benefits of earning your undergraduate degree online:

It’s More Affordable

An online education typically costs just a fraction of what a traditional brick and mortar education will cost. That’s because physical colleges have a lot of overhead costs to operate, and they always pass those costs onto YOU, the student.

OnlineDegree.com can help you find online degree programs that also offer big upfront discounts. In addition, we offer students FREE classes for credit. Yes, you read that right. Simply sign up – it’s 100% FREE to do so –  and take as many free classes as you’d like in a variety of interesting subjects. Then, we’ll connect you with those programs that will accept these credits, thereby saving you EVEN MORE money and helping you earn your degree in far less time!


If you’re a working adult with family responsibilities, it can be next to impossible to try and obtain your degree by going to night or weekend classes at your local community college. You just never know when you’ll have to stay late at work or when your kid will get sick. Life happens, and often at the most inconvenient times!

When you learn online, you can study when and where is MOST convenient FOR YOU! Set your own schedule and never have to worry about missing an important family event ever again.

Adult Friendly

Many schools that offer online programs are adult friendly. This means in addition to being more affordable and flexible, they also do things like waive the need to submit SAT or ACT scores and also have open admissions. With open admissions, you can sign up for an undergraduate degree 24/7 365. You DON’T have to try and get your application package in by a specific date like most traditional colleges require.

Are You Ready to Get Started with Your Undergraduate Degree?

Hopefully now you recognize the value of obtaining your undergraduate degree and that earning it online is the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to do it. If you’re wondering how to find the right online program for you, we’ve got you covered!

OnlineDegree.com is 100% free for you to use. We provide you the tools to meet your education goals so you can learn your way to a more satisfying and prosperous life. By using our Smartplan, you can easily find ways to save time and money in just a few mouse clicks.

Our Smartplan will help you find:

  • FREE courses you can take for credit
  • Available tuition discounts
  • Schools that are “adult friendly” and offer flexible enrollments and course schedules
  • Schools that don’t require SAT or ACT scores
  • And much more!

It only takes two minutes to sign up and get started on your journey toward earning your undergraduate degree and a brighter future.

What are you waiting for? Get started today.

Recommended Schools




About the Author
Grant founded OnlineDegree.com with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.