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With college costs skyrocketing, making sure you have the right degree targeted isn’t a luxury.

It’s a necessity.

That’s why it’s critical to know about the various types of college degrees before you start your college hunt—so you can look for schools that are in your academic “wheelhouse.” This will help you shape your academic plan over the next four years (or more) and help you determine how much money you’ll need to earn a degree in your chosen career field.

Get To Know College Degrees

To begin, the major types of college degrees can be broken down into these primary categories:

Undergraduate Degrees

Associate Degree: These degrees are common at community or junior colleges, and trade and professional schools. Typically, an associate degree requires about 60 hours of course work, which, if you attend school full-time, translates into two years of college. In most cases, you can earn a two-year associate degree for $8,000 or so.“Knowing the types of college degrees makes it easier to decide your academic path.”

Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree usually means attending a four-year college or university, and requires about 120 hours of class work. Costs vary for bachelor’s degrees, but in general, it costs $21,000 for a standard four-year public college, and about $40,000 for private colleges and universities (including tuition, room and board).

Graduate Degrees

Master’s Degree: A master’s degree, by definition, demands that you go above and beyond normal levels of academic achievement. Primarily offered by public and private universities, master’s degrees encompass an additional 60 hours of class work (about two years). But there is an exception—many colleges allow master’s degrees to be limited to 40 or 50 hours of course work, if you write a graduate thesis paper in your field of study. Average costs for a master’s degree at a public university is about $24,000, while the cost at a private university is about $35,000. But studies also show that a master’s degree is worth about $400,000 over a 40-year career.

Doctorate Degree: M.D., Ph.D., J.D.—these degrees, which usually involve medicine, education, or law, can take as little as three years of course credits to complete in the case of a law degree or four years or more for a M.D. or Ph.D. That amounts to at least 64 credit hours of academic courses. Doctorate degrees are the highest level of accomplishment for college graduates and usually offer the highest potential for income.

Knowing the types of college degrees makes it easier to decide your collegiate academic path. Get to know them, and factor in those degrees into your college research process.