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Bachelor’s vs. Master’s Degrees: The Differences Between Bachelor’s & Master’s Programs

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Introduction to Higher Education

Higher education is schooling beyond the secondary level. In other words, it is the education you can pursue after graduating from high school (or in some cases, passing a high school equivalency exam).

Perhaps the most widely known institutions of higher learning include colleges and universities, but there are other types. Professional schools that provide instruction on law, theology and medicine, as well as teacher-training schools and institutes of technology also fall under the umbrella of higher learning.1

Higher education programs at colleges and universities can be divided into two categories: undergraduate degree programs and graduate degree programs. In a nutshell, associate and bachelor's programs are undergraduate-level programs, while master's degree programs and doctoral degree programs are graduate-level ones.

But what sets these programs apart? What are some differences between a bachelor's program and a master's program?

What Is a Bachelor's Degree?

A bachelor's degree is a type of undergraduate degree that is sometimes referred to as a "four-year degree." A bachelor's degree is more advanced than the other type of undergraduate degree, the associate degree. Bachelor's degree programs typically have a large general education component comprised of classes that may or may not be directly related to your chosen major.

There are three different types of bachelor's degrees offered in the United States, though not all types are offered at every institution: Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). Generally speaking, a Bachelor of Science program is more math and science focused compared to a Bachelor of Arts program which is more humanities focused. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the emphasis of a Bachelor of Fine Arts program is on the arts (e.g., acting, music, creative writing or photography).

Despite its nickname—the four-year degree—a bachelor's degree program can take more or less than four years to complete. For instance, while Colorado Technical University's online bachelor's degree programs are designed as 48-month programs, it is possible to complete them in less time by taking more courses each session. Additionally, other factors such as military experience, standardized test scores or transfer credits could reduce the number of courses you need to take.2

CTU offers online and on-campus bachelor's degree programs in the following disciplines:

  • Accounting (BSACC)
  • Business Administration (BSBA)
  • Computer Engineering (BSCE)
  • Computer Science (BSCS)
  • Criminal Justice (BSCJ)
  • Electrical Engineering (BSEE)
  • Healthcare Management (BSHCM)
  • Information Technology (BSIT)
  • Management (BSM)
  • Nursing (BSN)
  • Project Management (BSPM)
  • Psychology (BSPSYCH)

Apply to a bachelor's degree program today.

What Is a Master's Degree?

A graduate degree refers to any degree that is more advanced than a bachelor's degree. These fall into two general categories: master's degrees and doctoral degrees (doctorates). In most fields of study, a master's degree is not terminal (terminal means that a degree is the most advanced type you can pursue, and in most fields of study, that degree is a doctorate). Because of this, a master's degree can be thought of as the first "level" of graduate education.

As with bachelor's degrees, there are different types of master's degrees: Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), Master of Education (M.Ed.) and Master of Business Administration (MBA), are just a few examples. How long it takes to earn a master's degree will depend on an individual program's requirements (for instance, CTU's Master of Science in Nursing—Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) program requires more credits and therefore may take longer to complete than a Master of Computer Science (MCS) program).

CTU offers online and on-campus master's degree programs in the following disciplines:

  • Business Administration (MBA)
  • Computer Science (MCS)
  • Criminal Justice (MCJ)
  • Healthcare Management (MHCM)
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Management (MSM)
  • Nursing (MSN)

Bachelor's Degree Requirements vs. Master's Degree Requirements

Bachelor's degree requirements and master's degree requirements do differ.

To start with, bachelor's degree programs take longer to complete because they require more credit hours and are typically designed as four-year programs. Master's degree programs, in contrast, can take half that time or less, depending on the school and the number of credit hours required by a particular program (most of CTU's online master's degree programs are designed to be completed in 18 months).

Another difference between bachelor's and master's degree programs lies in the relatedness of each course to your chosen field of study. In a bachelor's program, you might find that a number of required general education courses may not be directly related to your chosen major. Meanwhile, you're likely to find that the required courses in a given master's degree curriculum will be more focused on your specific field of study.

Admission requirements also differ in bachelor's vs. master's programs. A high school diploma or GED is required for admission to a bachelor's degree program, while a bachelor's degree is required for admission to a master's degree program. Further, certain master's programs (e.g., nursing) may require that you meet certain licensing criteria and that you possess a bachelor's degree in the same field.

Bachelor's Degree Salary vs. Master's Degree Salary

Is the average bachelor's degree salary higher than the average associate degree salary? Or is the average master's degree salary higher than an undergraduate degree salary?

It turns out that yes, in general there appears to be a salary difference between bachelor's and master's degree holders. According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,3 the more education someone has, the higher their median weekly earnings and the lower their unemployment rate.

Of course, a generalization is just a generalization. Some occupational groups have higher median wages than others, and individual occupations even within an occupational group can also have different median wages. Other factors like years of experience and geographic location could impact earnings as well. Nonetheless, there is evidence that pursuing more education leads to better wage and employment outcomes overall.

What Degree Should You Pursue?

If you've decided that you want to advance your education, the decision to pursue a bachelor's or a master's degree will largely depend on the level of educational attainment you currently have. The reality is that you can't pursue a bachelor's degree unless you have completed high school or passed the GED, and you can't pursue a master's degree unless you've already successfully completed a bachelor's degree program.

If you already have a bachelor's degree, you may be wondering, Is a master's degree worth it? But whether any degree program is worth the time and financial commitment will vary from person to person. Honestly assessing your career goals and personal circumstances is the only way to make a decision that is right for you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Finder is a resource that can help you get an idea of the entry-level education requirements for various occupations and could serve as a helpful starting point.

1 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, "Higher Education,", (visited 2/10/2023).
2 Transfer credit is evaluated on an individual basis. Not all credits are eligible for transfer. See the University Catalog for transfer credit policies.
3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Education Pays," Sept. 8, 2022,

CTU cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. Not all programs are available to residents of all states.
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