First things first - What is the difference between degrees, majors, minors, and certificates?
Some of the questions students frequently ask are…
- What field of study should I pursue?
- What major could help me land a good job?
- Will employers value any additional courses I take during college?
All of these questions revolve around building the right educational plan for yourself and putting together a resume that will help build a good career. But to do this you first need to understand the different options community colleges offer.
If you are unsure which to select, it is advised to take a step back and explore your options by trying out different courses or doing more research.
A degree is what you earn at the end of completing your major and other college coursework requirements. There are four kinds of academic degrees, that vary in length, course/major options, etc.
Associate’s degree - available at community colleges
Most associate degrees are two-year programs offered by community colleges that will allow you to focus on a major subject, such as computer science, health sciences, arts, technology or industry, and other career-focused majors. Here is a great article on the benefits of degrees offered by your local community college.
A great option is to transfer your credits to a regular university at the end of the 2-year program and convert it into a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Popular associate degrees people pursue are
- Associate of Arts (AA)
- Associate of Science (AS)
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
Bachelor's degree - available at some community colleges
A bachelor’s degree program is usually 4 years but in certain cases like engineering and architecture, it may be 5 years as well.
Master’s degree - not available at community colleges
Advanced 2- year program you can do after completing a bachelor’s degree
Doctorate degree - not available at community colleges
A doctorate degree is the most advanced degree you can get in a specific field. It may take anywhere between 6 to 8 years depending on the field of study.
Related: Do community colleges offer bachelor's degrees?
The area of study you focus on while pursuing your degree is often referred to as your major. If you are wondering if you can choose a major at a community college, the answer is yes. There are over 1,800 college majors, varying from forensic psychology to aviation.
Your choice of major will appear on your degree when you graduate to give future employers and/or graduate programs an idea of what you studied and/or your level of knowledge in a specific area.
Minor - available only at community colleges offering 4-year programs
A minor is always optional. It is an additional area of study you can take alongside your major. Some students choose to take minors relevant to their major. For example, a Business major student might take on a Consumer Psychology minor.
Others students may choose to take minors completely unrelated to their majors. So an Environmental Science major might choose a Theatre Art minor simply because they have an interest in it.
Minors are, however, typically offered at 4-year colleges where students have the flexibility to pursue degrees with higher credits.
Certificate - alternate to doing a minor and available at 2-year community colleges
A college certificate is a short course ranging from a few months to a year. Essentially, a certificate acts as evidence that a student completed education and/or training in a specific field.
People are usually interested in certificate courses for three reasons.
- Taking them independently, people with jobs do these courses to learn new skills that will help them advance in the workplace.
- Taking them with a degree program they can act like a minor which will strengthen your resume. An example could be a marketing major doing a certificate course in digital advertising. This would make him stand out to potential employers.
Employers are crying out for highly skilled workers in areas like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) alongside ‘soft’ skills like creative thinking, time management, and teamwork. Local community colleges excel in these and other areas of professional certification. More on this below in Tips for taking certificates/ minors.
- Taking them purely for interest and passion may not add directly to your skill set when applying for a job but many people take short courses like music and art because it is something that excites them. People sometimes even take them for practical reasons. For example, a course in woodworking can help you build things around the house.
All you need to know about majors at community colleges
If you’re looking for a relatively affordable option to pursue your 4-year bachelor’s degree or a 2-year associate bachelor’s degree, community college is a great option for you. Over the years, many states have passed laws that now allow community colleges to offer a four-year bachelor's degree.
However, it is important to note that the types of bachelor's degrees offered do vary with each state. For example, legislation in Michigan strictly limits community college bachelor’s programs to those in maritime technology, cement technology, and culinary arts.
So, to find out which type of baccalaureate degree you can major in, make sure to visit your community college website.
The 24 states that offer a bachelor’s program are:
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- and Wyoming.
More states are expected to start allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in the coming years.
“With students leaving higher education with mounds of student debt, this would be an opportunity to have access to high-quality, affordable [education] and hopefully [they] leave community college with little to no debt and a bachelor’s degree in hand,” Steven R. Gonzales, interim chancellor of the Maricopa Community College District.
Tips for choosing the right major for yourself
When it comes to selecting a major, there are no right or wrong answers. Your choice depends on what field of study you are passionate about and wish to pursue as a career. Before making your final decision here are a few factors to consider.
Some people grow up dreaming about a certain job they want to do while others figure out what interests them along the way. Understanding what field you enjoy is the key to knowing what major to eventually pick. Once you have a general idea of your preferred career field, choose a major that will help you work toward that goal. Click here for a list of courses.
How Much Do You Want To Earn?
For some students, how much a career path pays is a strong driving force towards choosing it, and understandably so. With the drastic increase in student debt, your choice of major can impact whether or not you are able to pay off in a timely manner.
According to a study by Fortune, petroleum engineering, computer programming, computer engineering, computer science, and electrical, electronics, and communications engineering are the top five majors with the highest starting salaries.
Doing What You Love
Picking a major that you are passionate about is extremely beneficial in the long run.
According to an article by Life Hack “When you value money over pursuing your passion, you will find yourself in an endless cycle of misery. Work will not feel like a journey or adventure, but more of a taxing nuisance on your mind and body that has to get done”.
So, if you feel like you’re unsure about what you’re passionate about, take some time to find different courses and opportunities in various fields to get a better idea of what your options are.
Can you double major in community college?
In case you are wondering if you can major in two things in community college, then yes, it is absolutely possible to earn a double major.
However, it is important to note that not all community colleges offer that choice, so make sure to find out whether the college you’re looking to apply to has a double major program or not. For example, The City College of New York offers the option of taking up two majors just as long as they both lead to the same degree.
However, it is imperative to weigh your pros and cons before making a decision.
Pursuing a double major means additional course time, this means that rather than completing your associate’s degree in two years, as done traditionally, it may take you a year or so more to finish.
The choice of whether you wish to pursue a double major or not is typically made after completing freshman year. A double major can be extremely beneficial if you are passionate and have a clear vision of how to utilize your majors in the future.
It is important to make sure you don’t confuse a double major with a dual degree. A double major earns you a single bachelor’s degree with two specializations. On the other hand, a dual degree means that you earn two separate degrees/diplomas in two specific fields.
A good example of a double major would be a business management major with an accounting major. This combination can help you prepare to one day have your own start-up business.
In contrast, an example of a dual degree could be if a student earns a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology and a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA). This combination can prove to be extremely beneficial for students in the industrial-organizational psychology field.
Interested in graduating with honors? Read more about community college honor societies.
All you need to know about Certificates/ Minors at community colleges
Now that you know all about degrees and majors, it's time to move on to the additional courses you can take alongside your major.
Typically, as mentioned above, community colleges don’t offer minors unless they offer 4-year programs. Students there are looking to graduate with the minimum amount of credit. A minor would require more as community college degrees equate to 60 credits.
However, a fix around for that as briefly explained earlier, is that community colleges do offer certifications.
The difference between a minor and a certificate is that a minor is made up of a group of classes around a specific subject matter, which consists of 18 to 30 credits. For example, a digital marketing major might minor in print journalism. With this combination, the minor complements the major.
A certificate on the other hand usually only consists of 9 credits but like a minor, it is also composed of a group of classes associated with a particular subject matter. For example, a human resource major might take up a society for human resource management certificate. With this combination, the certificate supplements the major and allows students to gain more specific knowledge of their field.
Moreover, minors can only be taken with a major, which means you have to be enrolled in a degree program with a major to have a minor. Certificates, however, can be taken independently and this is the true power of certificate courses.
They can not only add to your initial resume by technically helping you ‘minor’ in a subject during a 2-year program, but you can also use them throughout your career to constantly upgrade your skillset to compete in the workplace.
Tips on choosing the right certification to go with your degree
Choosing a certificate that best compliments your major may be challenging, below are a few tips to consider before making your final decision.
Before choosing your certificate program you have to consider the market trends in your field of interest. Talk to counselors at your college or better still, successful professionals from the industry of your choice. You will be surprised how a seemingly unrelated certificate course can add so much value to your resume.
As an example, you might discover a short course in woodworking is highly valued with a degree in architecture, because it comes in handy when you are building physical models of buildings or a certificate course in psychology can complement your marketing degree very well because it helps you understand consumer behavior. If you are interested in building a stronger resume, here is a list of some great courses under $50.
Certain certificate courses can get you employed immediately and some simply add extra value to your resume in the long run. Community colleges are well aware of their surrounding workforce needs and generally build certificate courses to address talent shortages in their surrounding marketplace.
Your college counselors will be able to help you find a course that can quickly get you a job.
Typically, before completing your certification, you will need to pass a state/national examination. Analyze the results of previous students for the program you are interested in. If the pass rate is high, it may suggest that the program is well taught and capable of preparing you for future employment otherwise you might want to avoid that specific course.
Community colleges have majors just like any other university program. While they may not offer minors with 2-year programs a great workaround for that is a certificate course that can add the same degree of value to your resume.
Certificate courses at community colleges are also highly valued by working people to enhance their skillsets so that climb up the career ladder. If you’re looking to apply soon, local community colleges near you are a great place to start.