Which Penn State Degree Is Right for You?

If you’re thinking about going back to school and aren’t sure where to start, consider some of these pointers as you think about how advancing your education can help you meet your career goals.

Undergraduate Degrees

If you’ve completed high school or have received your GED, you can consider an undergraduate degree. Generally speaking, there are two main types of undergraduate degrees: associate and bachelor’s degrees. You might want to get started by pursuing an associate degree, which is typically a two-year program (and usually about 60 credits) that can help to prepare you for a career. An associate degree is about half of a bachelor’s degree and can frequently be transferred directly into a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is typically a four-year program (and often about 120 credits) that focuses on a particular area of study, or major. You do not need an associate degree in order to apply for one of Penn State’s online bachelor’s degrees. You can apply for one of our bachelor’s degrees if you hold a high school diploma or have earned a GED. Also of note, there are both bachelor of arts (BA) degrees and bachelor of science (BS) degrees. A bachelor of arts degree provides students with a more qualitative perspective on the topic with more courses in the humanities, social sciences, and languages. A bachelor of science degree generally has more quantitative content, which means you will take more courses in statistics, math, or economics.


Maybe you aren’t quite interested in a full degree program at this time, but you still would like to increase your knowledge in a particular subject-area. In that case, you may want to consider pursuing a certificate. Certificate programs typically take less time to complete than a degree since they require fewer credits (or classes) to complete the program. Certificates can bolster your skills and knowledge in specific subject-matter areas. However, one point to note regarding certificates is that students pursuing a certificate at Penn State are technically considered “nondegree-seeking students.” Federal student-aid regulations require students to be in a “degree-seeking” status in order to be eligible for federal student aid, including the Federal Direct Stafford Loan program. As a result, certificate students are not eligible to receive federal financial aid. We offer both undergraduate and graduate certificate programs. It is also worth noting that it is possible to earn a degree and a certificate simultaneously.

Graduate Degrees

If you’ve already received an undergraduate degree, you might want to consider a graduate degree. It’s important to know that you are required to hold a bachelor’s degree before you can be considered for admission to graduate degree programs at Penn State. Also, undergraduate degree credits do not transfer into graduate degree programs. As you explore all of your graduate degree options, you may realize there are a few different types of graduate degrees. Master of science (MS) and/or master of arts (MA) degrees both prepare students for research-oriented careers. The purpose of an MA/MS degree is to prepare a student to enter a doctoral program or work as a researcher in a university setting. MS degrees are typically more quantitatively focused (think math and science). MA degrees, on the other hand, tend to focus more on the liberal arts. A master of professional studies (MPS) degree and a master’s in business administration (MBA) are both professional degrees and are often considered “terminal” degrees because they prepare students to immediately begin active and effective participation in their professions upon completion. Unlike MA and MS degrees that focus on research and theory, MPS degrees tend to focus more on practical, industry-specific skills.

Professional Goals

Regardless of the type of program you are considering, it’s really important to consider your ultimate personal and professional goals as you decide which route is best for you. You might want to do some informational interviews of people who are currently working or who have worked in your ideal job.

For many students, going back to school is ultimately about career advancement. While Penn State World Campus does not offer job placement services, we have career counselors who can assist you with developing a plan for professional growth and help you figure out your career interests and goals. Penn State also has one of the largest dues-paying Alumni Association networks in the world! As a Penn State World Campus student, you’ll have access to that network to aid in your search as well.

If you have more questions about how to get started or what programs we offer, please reach out to our Penn State World Campus admissions team to talk about your options. We have incredible counselors that are eager to assist you in any way they can. You can call our admissions team Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET). You can also live chat with our admissions counselors right on our website. Or, you can always reach out to the admissions team via email at pennstateonline@psu.edu.