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Postsecondary Degree, Certificate, or Job Training: Which is Right for You?

Do you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher? How about a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker? The type of higher education or training you will need to choose depends on what kind of career you wish to pursue.

Postsecondary Degrees & Awards

Professional Degree – Completion of the degree usually requires at least 3 years of full-time academic study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Examples are lawyers (JD), optometrists (OD), physicians (MD), dentists (DDS), and veterinarians (DVM).

Doctoral Degree – Completion of a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree usually requires at least 3 years of full-time academic study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Examples are postsecondary teachers and research scientists.

Master’s Degree – Completion of the degree usually requires 1 or 2 years of full-time academic study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Examples are educational, vocational, and school counselors; and clergy.

Bachelor’s Or Higher Degree, Plus Work Experience – Most occupations in this category are management occupations. All require experience in a related non-management position for which a bachelor’s or higher degree is usually required. Examples are general and operations managers; and judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates.

Bachelor’s Degree – Completion of the degree generally requires at least 4 years, but not more than 5 years, of full-time academic study. Examples are accountants and auditors; and elementary school teachers, except special education.

Associate Degree – Completion of the degree usually requires at least 2 years of full-time academic study. Examples are paralegals and legal assistants; and medical records and health information technicians.

Postsecondary Vocational Certificate – Some programs last only a few weeks, others more than a year. Programs lead to a certificate or other award, but not a degree. Examples are nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants; and hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists.

State License – Some occupations require licensing by the state before offering services directly to the public. That means passing an examination after getting a college degree, as well as having practical work experience in that field. Examples are architects, civil engineers, and interior designers.

Work-related Training

Work Experience In A Related Occupation – Most of the occupations in this category are first-line supervisors or managers of service, sales and related, production, or other occupations; or are management occupations.

Long-Term On-The-Job Training – Occupations in this category generally require more than 12 months of on-the-job training or combined work experience and formal classroom instruction for workers to develop the skills necessary to be fully qualified in the occupation. These occupations include formal and informal apprenticeships that may last up to 5 years. Long-term on-the-job training also includes intensive occupation-specific, employer-sponsored programs that workers must complete. Among such programs are those conducted by fire and police academies and by schools for air traffic controllers and flight attendants. In other occupations-insurance sales and securities sales, for example-trainees take formal courses, often provided on the jobsite, to prepare for the required licensing exams. Individuals undergoing training generally are considered to be employed in the occupation. Also included in this category is the development of a natural ability-such as that possessed by musicians, athletes, actors, and other entertainers-that must be cultivated over several years, frequently in a non-work setting.

Moderate-Term On-The-Job Training – In this category of occupations, the skills needed to be fully qualified in the occupation can be acquired during 1 to 12 months of combined on-the-job experience and informal training. Examples are truck drivers (heavy and tractor-trailer), secretaries (except legal, medical, and executive), and food processing workers (bakers and butchers).

Short-Term On-The-Job Training – In occupations in this category, the skills needed to be fully qualified in the occupation can be acquired during a short demonstration of job duties or during 1 month or less of on-the-job experience or instruction. Examples of these occupations are basic machine operators (such as in manufacturing plants), retail salespersons, waiters and waitresses.

Information Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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