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Going Back to College: Getting Started
(Continued from 1)

Once you have defined your educational goals, you can determine the program of study:

Certificate.
A certificate signifies the completion of a specialized number of courses, generally required for vocational or technical training.

Associate degree.
An associate's degree is generally the completion of two years of full-time academic study or a total of 60 semester credit hours. Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees are often offered by community and junior colleges.

Bachelor's degree.
A bachelor's degree generally comprises the completion of four years of full-time academic study, or a total of 120 semester credit hours. A Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) is generally a degree in one of the humanities, while a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) is a degree in one of the sciences.

Master's degree.
A master's degree is the completion of one to two years of full-time academic study beyond the bachelor's degree. For example, a Master of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) degree.

Ed.D., Ph.D. or Doctorate.
One of the highest level of academic study. A Ph.D or Doctor of Philosophy is generally based on at least three years of graduate study and the completion of a dissertation. An Ed.D. is a Doctor of Education, and requires at least three years of graduate education in specialized study, as well as a a major research contribution.

When you have determined your program of study, decide which school you will attend.

Community, Junior, and Vocational Colleges.
Community and junior colleges usually offer two-year degree programs that enable student's to earn an associate degree. The associate degree can then be transfered to a four-year college toward a bachelor's degree. Community colleges also offer certificate programs or workforce development job training in preparation for the job market. They are generally less expensive than four- year colleges and have less stringent admissions requirements. Vocational colleges provide a variety of training opportunities in fields such as technology, business, culinary arts, cosmetology, graphic and fashion design, paralegal training, and health and medical training.

Four-Year Colleges and Universities (Public and Private).
Four-year colleges and universities offer four year degree programs that enable students to attain a bachelor's degree in wide variety of disciplines. They also often offer graduate degree programs that lead to a master's, doctorate, or professional degree. Universities are generally larger than colleges and often emphasize more scholarly or scientific research. Generally, the larger the school, the larger the class size, with some classes being taught by graduate students.

- Public colleges and universities are subsidized by the state they are located in and are generally less expensive than private colleges, although they may have less financial aid available. Non-resident students may have to pay higher rates.

- Private colleges are funded through endowments, tuition, and other private sources. Tuition is usually higher than a public school, but larger financial aid options may be offered to offset the cost of tuition. Private schools are often smaller than public insitutions, with smaller class sizes, offering more personalized attention to students.

You can begin your search in our Degree Programs section. There may be several schools that offer the program you are interested in. Research colleges and universities to find the best program for you, whether it is a traditional campus-based program, a campus and distance education program, or a full distance degree. Find out if any local colleges or universities offer the program, and if classes are available at a convenient time. Many schools offer accelerated programs, night or weekend classes, and distance learning opportunities. Classes may be offered through television broadcast, correspondence, the Internet, or other multi-media. Many adults prefer a blended approach, by taking some classes online and others on the campus.

You'll also need to determine how many of your prior credits will transfer to the school and if the college provides credit for examination or prior learning. (For more information, see How to Accelerate Your Degree Plan and Getting Full Credit.)

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