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Foreign Student Series: Colleges and Degrees

In part five, we discuss how students can save money by attending a community college for their first two years of study. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

We answer questions from two students this week in part five of our Foreign Student Series on American higher education.

Sylla Hamed in Ghana wants to know the difference between a university and a community college. And Marcelo Porto Nicola in Brazil asks about the difference between an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree.

Undergraduates are students in the first four years of higher education, or what Americans call college. In the United States, that means the four years after twelfth grade.

But the work does not all have to be done at the same college.

For example, a student may first attend a two-year school, also called a community college or junior college. Students who complete a two-year course of study earn an associate degree.

Starting at a community college can save a lot of money if students want to go on to a four-year college or a big university. Many four-year schools will accept this work as the first two years toward a bachelor's degree.

To earn a bachelor's degree, students usually take general subjects during their first two years. After that they take classes in their major area of study.

Students who major in a scientific area receive a bachelor of science degree, known as a B.S. Students in the arts and humanities get a B.A. -- a bachelor of arts. Schools may also offer specialized degrees, like a bachelor of music.

After students have a bachelor's degree, they may go on to earn a graduate degree -- either a master's degree or a doctorate.

A master's degree generally takes two to three years of full-time study. A master of business administration, for example, takes about two years to complete. A doctorate can take much longer. It is the highest degree offered in graduate school. Some programs require six years of study or even longer after college.

A student may earn a doctor of philosophy degree, known as a PhD, or a professional degree in an area like medicine, law or education.

We will talk more about graduate programs later in our series.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. Our Foreign Student Series can be found online at If you have a general question, write to or use the Contact Us link at Please tell us your name and where you are. We might answer your question in our reports. I'm Steve Ember.