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Understanding Certificate & Degree Options

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Training Certification

Length: Weeks to months (1-2 classes)

Where: Community college, trade school, or training center

Training Certifications are a great way to "try out" a career of interest as well as gain skills and get into the workforce in a very short period of time. Often, students complete entry-level certifications so they can work in their field of interest while they continue their education.

Examples: Nursing Assistant, Phlebotomy. Peer Support Specialist, Emergency Medical Technician, and so much more.

Certificate of Completion

Length: 1-2 years

Where: Community college or trade school

Certificates of Completion are undergraduate credentials that focus on hands-on skills for specific careers. Students typically enter into the workforce upon graduation. Most Career & Technical Education programs (CTE) offer certificates of completion.

Examples: Medical Assisting, Master Automotive Technician, Accounting Clerk, Computer Aided Drafting, Welding, Addiction Studies, and many more.

Associate Degree

Length: 2-3 years

Where: Community college

Undergraduate degree

There are a few different types of Associate Degrees:

Associate of Applied Science (AAS): Intended for students who want to learn technical skills in a specific area and enter into the workforce upon graduation.

Associate of General Studies (AGS): Intended to allow students to design a course of study to meet their individual interests.  Not designed for transfer.

Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer (AAOT):

  • Intended for students who plan to transfer to a university and earn a bachelor's degree. Academic advisors help students create an academic plan to meet general education and degree requirements aligned with chosen transfer institution and major. Example AAOT Plan

  • All public Oregon universities have agreed to accept credits included in the AAOT, waive lower division general education requirements, and allow junior standing upon transfer.

  • AS, ASOT, AAT degrees are aligned with specific university bachelor degree programs.

  • Benefit: Students often choose to start their college education at a community college to take advantage of the lower tuition costs, use their Oregon Promise grant (can only be used at Oregon community colleges), and enjoy the many advantages of a community college education before transferring to complete their Bachelor's degree at a university.

Bachelor's Degree

Length: 4-5 years

Where: College or University

Undergraduate degree

Students choose a major of study and complete general education requirements (such as math and writing) as well as courses related to their major. Students may also choose a second major (called a double major) or a minor (additional coursework in another area of interest).


Students may choose to start their education at a community college and then transfer to a university to complete their Bachelor's degree.

Depending on the major, students may graduate with the following types of degrees:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)

  • Bachelor of Science (BS)

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Graduate Degree

Length: 1 to 6 years (after completion of Bachelor's degree)

Where: Universities

Graduate degrees are more advanced educational pathways that students may choose to pursue after completing a Bachelor's degree.

Students need to research whether a specific major is required for their Bachelor's degree or if they can choose any major. Additionally, specific pre-requisites may be required for application to graduate school. Academic Advisors help students with researching graduate school degree and pre-requisite requirements.

Master's degrees: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Doctoral Degree: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD - given in many fields of study),  Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Medicine (MD), Juris Doctora (JD - law school), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), etc.

What Type of Degree, Certificate or Training Is Right For Me?

I know what I want to study...

It is common for students to have an idea about possible careers or majors that interest them, but they do not know the type of degree or certificate they need in order to enter the workforce. For example: if you want to be a nurse, what kind of education do you need? And, where can you go to school to get that education? Rest assured, all colleges and universities provide academic advising. Academic advisors help students identify the appropriate certificates or degrees they need to reach their career goals. Advisors also help students plan for transferring to another school if they need additional education or more advanced degrees. So don't feel like you have to have all the answers - Take advantage of academic advising to get your questions answered. At the same time, it is valuable to spend time educating yourself about academic pathways and requirements so that you can make informed decisions about where you want to go to school and what type of program you want to pursue. Learning about program requirements such as required courses, electives, and practicum or internship opportunities is a good way to find out if a program or major is going to be a good fit for you. Recommended strategies to learn more about options in your area of interest: 1. Review academic program webpages to learn about program requirements, degree options, coursework, and career options. 2. Reach out to Admission or Program Advisors to get your specific questions answered. 3. Attend college or program informational sessions or campus tours. 4. Explore the College Catalog for detailed information about requirements and coursework for each degree & certificate.

I am unsure about what I want to study

To be honest, many students come to college without a clear picture of what they want to study. This is very normal. Additionally, most students will change their major more than once as they discover new options and learn more about their interests and goals. College is an excellent place to explore your options and try out programs to see what is a good fit for you. ​If you are unsure about what you want to study, you will be identified as an exploratory or undecided student. ​Recommended strategies for exploratory students: 1. Take advantage of Academic Advising. They are experts in helping students explore career and academic programs that might be a good fit. 2. Connect with Career Services at your school. They are also career exploration experts and provide a variety of resources including, career assessments and counseling, job shadowing, internships, and more. 3. Review academic program webpages and College Catalogs to explore all that the school has to offer. 4. Take a Career Planning or College Success class, if available. These classes support exploratory students with career and academic planning. 5. Your Academic Advisor will help you choose classes that fulfill general education requirements (such as math, writing, communication, etc.) as well as classes that allow you to explore your interests. 6. Talk to your Instructors about your interests - they are great resources for career exploration.

Strategies for Researching Degree Options

One of the best ways to make an informed decision about what you want to study and where you want to go to school is to spend some time educating yourself about academic pathways and degree requirements. Reviewing academic program information such as required courses, available electives, and practicum or internship opportunities is a great way to find out if a program or major is going to be a good fit for you. 


Ask yourself the following questions to assess if you will enjoy the program and create success for yourself:

  • Do the courses seem interesting? 

  • Do you have options to take electives that interest you?

  • What are the math and writing requirements?

  • How much flexibility or personal choice do you have in designing your plan of study?

  • Are there entrance requirements or pre-requisites needed before you can start the program (see below)?

  • Are there requirements that might be deal breakers for you?

If a program's list of classes looks miserable to you, then you might want to look for other options.  Although it is unreasonable to expect that every required class will bring you joy, it is important to find programs that generally sound interesting and meaningful for your interests and learning goals.


Pay attention to entrance requirements, pre-requisites and other selective admissions requirements:

  • Pre-requisites are classes you need to take before you can start a specific program or take a specific class

  • Selective or restricted admissions means that the program requires an application for acceptance and not everyone will be admitted. Applications may require specific pre-requisites, test scores, essays, interviews, or other criteria.


There are TWO ways to research program and degree requirements for any college or university you are interested in:

  • Academic Program Webpages - Program webpages are a great way to get an overview of the academic program and career field, research degrees or certificates offered, read student stories, explore program requirements, identify faculty, and get a general "vibe" about the program. You can usually find this information under a tab such as "Academic Programs" or "Academics".

  • Course Catalogs - All colleges and universities have a course catalog online. You can look up specific programs and get detailed information about graduation and admission requirements as well as program requirements, course requirements, and sample academic plans.

Program Research Tools

Central Oregon Community College

Explore the degree and certificate offerings at COCC

What Can I Do With This Major?

Explore careers aligned with different college majors

Oregon State University - Cascade

Explore the undergraduate and graduate degree offerings at OSU-C. Check out Careers aligned with OSU-C majors.

Oregon Career Information System

OCIS - Look up careers of interest and learn about the educational requirements.


Oregon Higher Education

Explore academic programs at Oregon colleges, universities & trade schools

Occupational Outlook Handbook

Click on a career cluster and then a career of interest to find information about "How to Become..."

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