What Level of Education is Right for Me?

university students studying
young graduate holding her degree

What Level of Education Should I Pursue?

It can be difficult to figure out which level of education is right for you. Regardless of age, many people are still unsure about their dream career. If you feel the same, you’re not alone. Maybe you’re fresh out of high school or unhappy with your current job. Or you may be wondering how to get promoted in your current field.

Many people think of typical four-year degrees when they picture college. However, a bachelor’s degree isn’t right for everyone. You can choose from certificates, two-year degrees, or go as far as your Ph.D. Each has its unique benefits.

Keep reading to learn about your options.

Different Levels of Education

For this article, we’ll focus on the different levels of education you pursue at colleges and universities. Thus, you won’t see anything about trade schools or alternative education centers below.

When considering pursuing higher education, you should know what you want to do in the future. Going in with a plan is always good as college is expensive. Of course, you may not have a perfect picture. Consider what field or general responsibilities you want. And don’t be afraid to change things up. If you realize something is not right for you, don’t spend thousands more for a field you may hate.

If you want to pursue a four-year degree, consider getting the basic core classes out of the way first. This schedule will give you time to pursue your interests and decide on your major. Notably, an estimated 80% of students change their majors an average of three times in college.

Again, four-year degrees aren’t your only option. You can also return for certifications to enhance your education and pursue upper-level positions.


There are a couple of different kinds of certificates you can earn in college. To categorize them, we can look at them as vocational, undergraduate, and graduate-level certificates.


Vocational certifications give you the knowledge and skills to enter certain professions. You don’t need any degree to earn them, though some employers may require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree on top of a certificate. For example, a medical billing and/or coding certification allows you to enter that job field. But law firms may require at least an associate degree on top of a paralegal diploma certificate, even if it’s in an unrelated area.

These programs often consist of a single focused course that can be studied over a few months. Thus, you can get your certificate and start your career quickly and for less money than a degree.

Vocational certifications can also be used to get a promotion or take on other duties. For example, you should consider taking a grant writing course if you work for a non-profit. This skill is vital for success in the industry.


You can also earn an undergraduate certificate without holding a degree. Unlike vocational courses, these programs often consist of multiple college courses. These courses also focus on a specific skill set, such as restaurant management or cybersecurity.

Functionally, these programs have the same purpose as vocational programs. You may use them to enter a new field or earn a promotion.

You may spend the same amount of time earning these certificates as vocational ones – as few as 16 weeks. However, some may require two semesters’ worth of courses. It depends on your specific program.


Graduate-level certificates are the bachelor’s and master’s levels equivalent to undergraduate certificates. If you have already received at least a four-year degree, you’ll probably want to pursue a higher-level certification.

Basically, if you take an undergraduate program, you won’t learn anything new. You’ll just rehash information you learned years ago. Your employer likely won’t see any value in the education, as it won’t give you any new qualifications. As a result, you may end up wasting your time and money.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Namely, if you’re learning material unrelated to your primary education, you won’t want to take expert-level courses.

university textbooks

Associate’s Degree

An associate degree often takes two years to obtain. Notably, there are many programs today that allow high school students to begin earning their associate’s before graduation.

This degree is a great option for individuals wanting to enter any specific field. Furthermore, it’s a great opportunity for many to complete the first half of their bachelor’s degree for less money. Indeed, community colleges offer these two-year options for a substantially lower fee.

There are several fields you can enter with an associate’s degree. For example, many medical specializations, such as radiation therapy, require this education level.

While associate’s degrees still have a bad rep in some fields, you earn a higher salary with them than without. However, to rise in the ranks in many careers, you may need to go further with your education. Notably, managerial positions may ask you to earn your bachelor’s or even MBA.

Yet, an associate’s degree serves many purposes. Suppose you aren’t entirely confident that the field you’re pursuing is one you want to stay in. Alternatively, many people don’t want to become a manager. That job isn’t for everyone.

In the end, you can explore many careers with this degree. If you decide that this level of education isn’t right for you, you’ll already have those first two years out of the way.

Bachelor’s Degree

Four-year degrees are the most common type nowadays. People often pursue these degrees straight out of high school, but the number of non-traditional students continues to rise. Indeed, around 40% of students at American colleges today are non-traditional. Thus, don’t be afraid to earn your bachelor’s degree even if you’re already in the workforce. There’s no wrong or right time to head back to school.

Bachelor’s degrees are a great way to enter many different fields. With upwards of 1,800 majors out there, you have many options to choose from.

As we mentioned at the start of this article, it’s okay to change things up as you study. Indeed, college is a great time to discover that a field isn’t for you. You’ll often need to take some electives to graduate anyway, so don’t be afraid to explore your options.

For many, a bachelor’s degree is the end level of education. It’s all they need to pursue their dream job. However, some return to pursue certifications or graduate degrees.

Master’s Degree

Master’s degrees normally take one-to-three years to complete. These higher-level programs are more expensive than bachelor’s programs and are often very intensive. Some individuals choose to head straight into their graduate degrees after graduation. However, this path is not ideal for many people.

We recommend that anyone who is thinking of getting their master’s does their research on how it’ll affect their career prospects. For some, it’ll be a requirement to move forward with their job. For example, many people in the business industry report that MBAs are almost a requirement for success nowadays. Others say that this level of education had little to no impact on their pay or promotions. Considering these programs’ high prices and rigor, you should weigh the cost and benefit.

Ultimately, a master’s degree in any field has great value. However, it may not be right for your specific employer or career path.


The highest level of education is a doctoral degree, or a Ph.D. As a result, jobs that require this qualification are often some of the highest paid and most coveted. Notably, the average master’s level graduate earns around $75,328, while doctorate graduates make $98,550.

If you’re thinking of earning your doctoral degree, you probably already have a job in mind. Truly, these programs are no joke, financially or time-management-wise. The average doctoral student spends eight years working towards graduation. With an average tuition of $30,000 annually, you could end up with a total bill of $240,000.

Ultimately, these degrees are worth it if you’re pursuing a career that requires them. The average person does not need a Ph.D. to succeed. Consider your plans and goals carefully before enrolling.

graduation cap

Final Thoughts

When you’re starting a new career or looking for ways to improve your salary, it can be easy to get lost in the options. Certifications and two- and four-year degrees are excellent starting points. If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s and need more qualifications for your next promotion, consider looking into your master’s.

Sometimes, people think it’s worth pursuing any higher education. However, depending on your career track, this isn’t always the case. Education is expensive and takes a lot of time to complete. Make sure you research and weigh the pros and cons before enrolling in any school. Otherwise, you could get left with tens of thousands in student debt and still be stuck at the job you were hoping to escape.

When looking for a change, you should consider a few things: the job market, your goals and desires, your time, and your budget. Universities aren’t going anywhere. If getting a four-year degree will break the bank, consider your options. You may be able to obtain your dream job with an associate degree or certificate.

Lakewood University

Lakewood University offers a variety of vocational, undergraduate, and degree programs to fit your educational needs. As an online university, you can complete your courses from the comfort of your home and when it’s convenient for you.

If you’re looking to raise your level of education, look no further. Reach out to our admissions representatives today to find out what program is for you.