Choosing a Program of Study
A program of study is a group of courses that leads to a diploma, certificate, or college degree. Program of study at colleges and universities are generally called majors.
Choosing a Program Of Study
A program of study is a group of courses that leads to a diploma, certificate, or college degree. Programs of study at colleges and universities are generally called majors.
Shorter programs focus on the specific skills needed to work in a single occupation. Examples of short programs include Real Estate and Vehicle and Equipment Operation.
Longer programs take more time and often include a college degree or journeyman certification. Examples of longer programs of study are Biology, Literature, Medicine, or Carpentry.
Learn all you can about the programs of study available to you. If possible, choose a program of study before you choose which schools to apply to. Just because a school has a great overall reputation does not mean that it will be the best place to study what interests you.
Education After High School
Whatever your career and salary goals are, chances are they will require some education and training after high school. If you start a job without additional training, it may be difficult to move up to a better position.
While your career goals might not be focused on earning lots of money, consider that most college graduates earn twice as much in their lifetime as high school graduates. You usually will earn more based on how much additional education you have obtained beyond a high school diploma.
Workers with higher levels of education are generally less likely to be unemployed. If you have a higher level of education and become unemployed, it will likely take less time for you to find a new job.
Additional education and training does not guarantee success. However, it will provide you with tools to move forward in your career, open up jobs in occupations that interest you, and give you greater security.
Post Secondary Degrees
- Certificates and Diplomas
- Associate & Transfer Degrees
- Bachelor's Degrees
- Graduate Certificates
- Master's Degrees
- Professional Degrees
- Doctoral Degrees
Not all occupations require a postsecondary diploma, certificate, or degree. However, additional education will open up more positions to you. Employers often prefer to hire, train, and advance people who have more education. It shows that you are skilled and knowledgeable. It also may reduce the amount of training they must provide.
Many programs of study offer you the option of earning a certificate, diploma, or college degree depending on how much time you want to spend studying. A variety of bachelor's degree programs are also offered at the master's and doctoral level. There are also programs that will only be open to you after you earn a bachelor's degree. These programs require several more years of study.
It is important to know how much training is required to work in an occupation that interests you. If you have more education than a job requires, some employers may wonder if you will be challenged or happy in the job. You may also require higher wages than some companies can pay.
Many 2-year schools, community colleges, and career and technical schools award certificates and diplomas. You may also earn a certificate or diploma after completing on-the-job training or an apprenticeship.
Certificate and diploma programs can take only a few days or up to 2 years to complete. The courses you take for these programs may not transfer to other schools. Some schools offer dual-enrollment, which allows you to work towards a certificate, diploma, or associate degree while in high school.
Example certificate and diploma programs of study include:
- Cosmetology and Hair Design
- Floral Design
- Food Services
- Medical Assistant
- Diesel Technology
Associate Transfer Degrees
All community colleges offer associate degrees. An Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree is granted to students who complete a 2-year program of study. You can also earn an Associate of Arts and Science (AAS) degree. An Associate of Applied Science (also AAS) degree is awarded to students who complete a 2-year career or technical program. These programs often require an internship.
The credits you earn at a community college often can be transferred to a 4-year school. This allows you to apply the credits you completed for an associate degree towards a bachelor's degree. Each school has different rules about what credits it will accept from other schools. For example, you might be able to transfer credits in writing, math, and science.
If you know which 4-year college or university you are going to attend, check to see what community college courses it accepts. Some schools accept very few transfer credits.
You should also work with a school counselor to be sure your credits will transfer. Usually generic degrees, such as history or English, transfer more easily than technical degrees, such as auto body repair. Some schools offer dual-enrollment, which allows you to work towards a certificate, diploma, or associate degree while in high school.
Example associate and transfer degree programs of study include:
- Farm and Ranch Management
- Telecommunications Technology
To learn more about schools that offer these programs, visit 2-Year & Community Colleges in Choosing a School.
You may have to pass a college admission test to apply to certain 2-year and community colleges. To learn more about college entrance exams, check out College Admission Tests in Choosing a School. Some schools will also require you to take a placement test before you register for classes. To learn more, check out Placement & Credit Tests in Choosing a School.
There are two general types of bachelor's degrees: Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS). These are also known as undergraduate degrees. They are offered by 4-year colleges and universities. Some programs may take longer than 4 years to complete.
A Bachelor of Arts degree is also known as a liberal arts degree. This degree generally requires courses in humanities, math, English, sciences, social sciences, and languages.
A Bachelor of Science degree generally does not require as many liberal arts or humanities courses. It may prepare you for a career in accounting, engineering, or education. Like the Bachelor of Arts, it requires general courses in math, English, sciences, and social sciences.
The programs of study for bachelor's degrees are often called majors. Example programs of study include:
- Family Resource Management
- Nuclear Engineering
While studying your major, you can also take additional, less comprehensive coursework called a minor. You may study a subject related to your major or something completely different.
There are also highly specialized bachelor's degree programs. These programs focus on a particular program of study within the arts or sciences, and the degrees have different names. Examples include:
- Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
- Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
You may have to pass a college admission test to apply to certain colleges and universities. To learn more about college entrance exams, check out College Admission Tests in Choosing a School.
To learn more about schools that offer these programs, visit 4-Year Colleges & Universities in Choosing a School.
Some colleges and universities offer graduate certificates. These programs of study can only be completed after you earn an undergraduate bachelor's degree. Some programs may also require a master's degree. In most cases, graduate certificates are shorter programs than master's or doctoral degrees. However, you may be required to pass a test to earn a certificate.
Example graduate certificate programs of study include:
- Nurse Midwifery
- Teaching English as a Second Language
To learn more about schools that offer these programs, visit 4-Year Colleges & Universities in Choosing a School.
These programs of study are offered by 4-year colleges and universities. They can only be completed after you have earned a bachelor's degree. Some programs require specific undergraduate courses. Students who want to go to graduate school should work with an advisor ahead of time to be sure they meet admission requirements.
There are many different types of master's degrees, including a master's of arts (MA), master's of science (MS), and Master's of Business Administration (MBA).
Master's degrees usually require 1 or 2 years of study beyond a bachelor's degree. Admission to graduate programs can be competitive. Students often must take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or other test when applying for admission to graduate school.
Example master's programs of study include:
- Operations Management
- Public Policy
To learn more about college entrance exams, including graduate exams, check out College Admissions Tests in Choosing a School.
To learn more about schools that offer these programs, visit 4-Year Colleges & Universities.
These advanced degrees prepare people to work in specialized professions that require a high level of practical knowledge and experience. Professional degrees are offered by 4-year colleges and universities.
Study for a professional degree often requires at least 6 years. Some programs only require a 4-year bachelor's degree. In other programs, you might spend 4 years working toward a bachelor's degree and then spend another few years working toward your professional degree. Most professional degrees require that you pass a specific exam that is required to practice your occupation.
Example programs of study include:
Professional degrees often have the term "doctor" in the title, such as a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. However, they are not the same thing as a doctoral degree, usually called a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Additional coursework and research is required to earn a PhD in a particular field. To learn more about PhDs, check out Doctoral Degrees.
To learn more about schools that offer professional degree programs, visit 4-Year Colleges & Universities in Choosing a School.
The doctoral degree, or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), is awarded to students who successfully complete a program of 2 or more years beyond a master's or professional degree. Some students begin work on a PhD after receiving a bachelor's degree and receive a master's degree during the course of their studies. PhD programs often focus on original research that adds to what is already known about a given subject.
These programs are offered by 4-year colleges and universities, and admission is very competitive. It's important to work with a counselor if you want to earn a specific PhD.
Example doctoral programs of study include:
- Geological and Earth Sciences
- Urban Studies
To learn more about schools that offer these programs, visit 4-Year Colleges & Universities in Choosing a School.
- Typical Course Work
- Things To Know
- Program Information
- Program Contact Information
- Selection Committee Concerns
- Sample Interview Questions
An apprenticeship is a formal method of training in a skilled occupation, craft, or trade.
Apprentices learn occupations through a structured program of on-the-job training with related classroom technical instruction.
The United States Department of Labor recognizes more than 800 apprenticeable occupations. Most apprenticeships are in construction, manufacturing, transportation, and services. For some skilled-trade occupations, such as plumbers and electricians, apprenticeship programs are the primary way to get training. For other occupations, such as carpenters, bakers, and machinists, apprenticeship is one of several options for training.
Typical Course Work
Classroom instruction is designed to provide apprentices with knowledge in technical subjects related to their trade. For example, construction apprenticeships may include course work in blueprint reading, carpentry, iron work, and concrete work. At least 144 hours of related classroom instruction are required during each year of apprenticeship training. Classes are taught by journeyworker instructors and are usually held at night through public educational facilities such as community colleges or vocational-technical schools.
The apprentice must show satisfactory progress on the job and in related classroom instruction. To master a particular trade, an apprentice must learn and perfect each skill and bring those skills up to the speed and accuracy required of the job. A good attendance record is also important.
Things To Know
There is often a long wait between selection as an apprentice and assignment to a job. In some trades, apprentices are responsible for finding their own jobs.
Some two-year colleges offer credit for previous work experience in an apprenticeable occupation.
Programs vary in length from one to six years; four years is the average. A few programs last less than one year.
Training takes from 2,000 to 8,000 hours of working on the job. Also, for each 2,000 hours of training on the job, 144 hours of classroom instruction are required.
Applicants must usually be 18 years of age or older and have a high school diploma or GED. It is helpful to have taken some vocational courses. Some programs also require specific course work, the physical ability to work in the trade, and a passing score on an aptitude test.
Apprenticeship pay usually begins at nearly one-half the pay rate for journey-level workers. After six months, the pay rate begins to move up periodically until the apprentice reaches the journey level. Wages are never less than the federal minimum wage.
Apprenticeship programs are developed with the cooperation of area joint apprenticeship councils.
Applicants are expected to complete an application form and submit it with a birth certificate, school transcripts, and letters of recommendation. In the selection process, the top candidates will be interviewed and those selected will be placed on a waiting list (which is active for two years).
Apprenticeship committees give points for experience in the trade, knowledge of the trade, and grades in trade-related courses. Applicants with the highest number of points are selected for the program. There are many more applicants than apprenticeship openings in some trades and locations. Those selected often have more trade-related experience, more education, and higher grades than the minimum requirements described for the apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by labor unions, employers, or a combination of the two. The sponsor plans, administers, and pays for the program. The worker (apprentice) signs a written employment agreement and is a full-time, paid employee of the company where he or she is apprenticed. When apprentices finish their training, they receive a certificate of completion issued by the State Apprenticeship Agency or by the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.
Program Contact Information
For more information about apprenticeships, you may contact a union office, the State Bureau of Employment Services, or any apprenticeship office in the state. To request an apprenticeship application form, you may contact a state office or an office in your area.
Selection Committee Concerns
In most apprenticeable trades, a local committee interviews and selects apprentices. Committee members represent both management and labor. Below are some general concerns of selection committee members, along with suggestions on how to deal with their concerns. In the next section are examples of questions they may ask during the interview.
Specific questions vary with the trade and the committee. To meet federal Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action requirements, committee members will ask each applicant the same questions.
Committee members are especially interested in:
YOUR DESIRE AND PERSISTENCE
- Explain why you want to enter the trade.
- Tell how you became interested in the trade.
- Let the committee know if you have ever applied to this or any other trade before.
YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRADE
- Describe how you have observed the work and the work setting.
- Describe some of the jobs the workers perform.
- Talk about the tools and equipment used in the trade.
- Know how long the apprenticeship program is.
- Know what the wages are for apprentices and journey-level workers.
- Describe how you have observed or studied other trades and explain your reasons for choosing this particular trade over others.
YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE
- Describe any work experience that may be related to the trade or that may have provided exposure to the trade.
- Relate any experience where you have had a favorable work record such as good references, attendance, or long-term employment.
YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
- Describe hobbies or activities that show abilities or skills related to the trade. For example, doing minor repairs around the house, using hand tools, fixing or maintaining your car, or planning the family budget.
Sample Interview Questions
Following are sample questions that may be asked by selection committee members during the interview. You should answer as completely as possible and tell the committee ALL of your trade-related interests, activities, awards, and experiences.
- Why do you want to be a. . . ?
- Why did you choose this over some other trade?
- Construction sites are cold in winter, hot in summer; they can be muddy and wet. What makes you consider working in these conditions?
- What kinds of work have you done in the past?
- Do you have any paid or unpaid work experience or hobbies that relate to this trade?
- Can you travel if the job requires it?
- Do you have transportation available?
- I see you attended college. Why aren't you working in the field for which you trained? (If the applicant attended college.)
- How do you feel about going to school as part of your apprenticeship?
- Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about yourself? (This general question provides you with the opportunity to mention any skills, interests, goals, or activities not covered in previous questions and that you think are important.)
The programs of study in Special Programs are diverse, but are all alternative methods of getting an education.
Many of the programs listed do not result in a diploma, certificate, or degree. They may not require you to attend a postsecondary school. Instead, you might learn on the job and earn a paycheck at the same time. Other programs allow you to earn a diploma, certificate, or degree without attending a school in person.
Special Programs - Alternative Education
Do you want to take courses, but live too far from any schools? Maybe you are homebound or have another reason why it is difficult to physically attend classes. This section has information about alternative options for taking courses.
Colleges and universities offer alternative education programs such as distance study, online classes and programs, credit by examination, credit for prior learning, and noncredit continuing education to meet the needs of special student groups.
Student groups who choose alternative education programs include those who are home-bound or who cannot commute to a school that meets their educational needs, those who choose to study independently, and those who wish to substitute related work or life experiences to meet certain college requirements. Many schools also offer continuing education opportunities that are open to all members of the community.
Alternative education programs vary from school to school. Contact schools directly to find out what alternative education programs they have for students.
Continuing Education Opportunities
Many public and private colleges and universities offer undergraduate courses to people who are not enrolled as students in a regular degree-seeking program. Courses offered vary from term to term and may be offered in smaller communities in the region. Credit and noncredit options are usually offered.
Students who take continuing education courses and ultimately plan to work toward a degree at a college should check the college's degree requirements and transfer policies.
Distance study programs are now available online. Many colleges, universities, and private schools offer online courses or programs of study. Some schools offer entire programs of study online, while others offer only specific courses.
Alternative Credit Programs
Alternative credit programs offer college credit for activities or classes taken outside the normal college routine. Depending on the college, advanced high school course work, testing, and prior work experience may lead to college credit. These programs cut down on the time and cost of getting a college education.
Advanced Placement (AP)
The AP program is administered by the College Entrance Examination Board. High school students may take AP (or college-level) classes during their junior and senior years. An AP exam is given at the end of each AP class. Students who pass the exam may be eligible for college credit for the course work depending on their AP scores and the policies at the college they plan to attend.
College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)
CLEP allows people to earn college credit by taking a standardized test. CLEP exams are available in many subject areas. Not all colleges award credit for CLEP. The American College Testing Proficiency Examination Program (ACTPEP) is another testing program accepted by some colleges.
Challenge for course credit
Some colleges allow students to challenge courses. If students feel they already have the knowledge or experience taught in a class, they may be able to take a test that covers the relevant content. Upon passing, students may either get credit or obtain a waiver for the class.
Credit for Prior Learning (CPL)
Paid work experience, military service, volunteer work, and self-directed learning all provide related learning experience. CPL helps to translate these experiences into academic credit. Colleges vary in their participation and in the amount of credit they give for prior learning.
Special Programs - Basic Skills
For various reasons, some adults never finished high school. If you are one of them, visit this section to learn about how to get your high school equivalency.
Basic skills programs teach people reading, writing and math skills.
Basic skills programs help people prepare for the workplace or for further education. Some programs focus on English language skills. Other students learn everyday skills such as riding the bus or grocery shopping.
In many states, basic skills instruction is provided through the Adult Basic Education Program (ABE). ABE programs are usually organized through community colleges or local school district offices.
General Educational Development (GED)
Some students in a basic skills program earn a GED. GED programs can lead to a high school equivalency certificate or diploma which is generally accepted in place of a high school diploma. In some states, students may work to receive an adult high school diploma.
ABE programs are open to all adults sixteen and older who are released from compulsory education and who are not functioning at a postsecondary level. The programs are free to eligible participants.
Typical Course Work
Course work varies depending on each student's goals. Independent, one-on-one, and small-group study methods are used. Course work usually includes some or all of the following:
- Career Exploration/Awareness Skills
- Communication Skills
- Computational Skills
- Job-Seeking Skills
- Literacy Skills
Non-English speaking students also learn spoken English and language structure.
How To Choose A Program
You'll want to consider your interests, skills, and abilities before you decide what you want to study. It's also helpful to know what occupations interest you and learn what you need to study to work in them.
Some programs of study offer a lot of flexibility in terms of which occupations you may enter. For example, a degree in English prepares students for a variety of occupations. Other majors offer less flexibility. Accounting, for example, trains students to be accountants, but it also prepares them for several other jobs that involve a lot of work with numbers.
Knowing what programs of study interest you will also help you choose which schools to apply to. Just because a school has a great overall reputation does not mean it's a great place to take the programs that interest you.
If you attend a 4-year college or university, you'll have time to decide on a program of study while in school. Most schools require students to declare a major during their second year of study. During the first year you can take courses in several programs of study. This may help you decide exactly what you want to study.
If you decide to attend a career or technical school, you need to know your program of study when you apply. Career and technical schools usually offer few optional courses outside of your program of study.
How To Choose A Program - Know Yourself
You have to know what you like or want to do for an occupation before you can choose what to study.
There are several things you should consider about yourself when you are choosing a program of study. Keep these things in mind as you look at the information in Programs of Study.
Choosing a program of study that you like is important. Make sure the program of study will also prepare you for an occupation you find interesting.
- What classes have you enjoyed in the past?
- What are you interested in doing?
- Do you like to work with your hands?
- Do you like to draw?
- Do you like working with numbers?
- Do you like working with people?
Making a list of your interests may help you prepare for choosing a program of study. Another route is to look at occupations you like and see what education is required.
Think about both your short-term and long-term goals.
A short-term goal might be to narrow the list of programs of study down to three that interest you most. A long-term goal might be to become a pilot, an automobile mechanic, or a business owner. What are the steps to get into a profession? Break down those steps into short-term goals.
If you don't have a specific occupation in mind, think about what you want your life to look like.
- Do you want your nights and weekends free?
If so, then stay away from occupations, such as real estate agent, that require work during those periods.
- Do you want a job where you travel a lot?
Then investigate occupations that involve travel.
- What programs of study might prepare you for those types of occupations?
Try to be realistic. Roofing is a great occupation to go into if you want to work outdoors. But stop to consider the other aspects of the job.
- How do you feel about working long hours in the summer and reduced hours in the winter?
- How do you feel about heights?
Find out as much as you can about an occupation to make sure it is right for you. Check out the Occupation descriptions for more information.
Length Of Study
Consider how long you want to attend school.
- Do you want to go full time or part time?
- Do you want a degree you can complete quickly or are you willing to work on it for a few years?
Programs of study vary in length. The longest programs take six or more years after high school. The shortest programs take less than a year. Most programs take two to four years. In addition, you can always work for a while and then go back to school.
Difficulty Of Study
Some of the things that come easiest to us are those that we find really interesting. Then again, some things that are easy also get boring quickly.
Think about whether you want to spend years studying something you find easy.
- Since the skills that you use in those classes are easy to you, is there another course of study where you could use those skills and be more challenged?
Then think about the type of job you might get after graduation.
- Will working in that occupation keep you challenged?
Research the occupations your program of study leads to, and job availability in those fields.
Each occupation contains a topic called Outlook. This topic discusses whether occupations are expected to grow, stay the same, or decrease in size in the next ten years. If you find an occupation that is decreasing in size, be aware that you may have a harder time finding a job than someone in an occupation that is growing. In this type of job you may need to be flexible and willing to move.
High wages are always appealing. But money alone is not a good reason to choose an occupation.
If money is the only reason you choose an occupation, it is likely you'll quickly come to dislike your job because you don't find it interesting. It is better to pick an occupation and a program of study you enjoy. This will lead to other things that interest you. However, you want to make sure the occupation you decide to work in will truly support the type of lifestyle you want to live.
How To Choose A Program - Programs Careers
Use the Programs of Study files to learn about the occupations that each program may lead to. Start by finding your area of interest in the Programs of Study index. Select a program of study that interests you.
Be sure to check out the Related Occupations topic for each program. This topic contains a list of occupations that someone might go into after completing the program of study you are interested in. Explore some of those occupations to find out if one of them might be right for you.
Some programs of study aim for employment in a specific occupation, such as carpentry, engineering, or nursing. Others, such as liberal arts degrees, provide skills and knowledge that are useful in many occupations.
Most programs place emphasis on both general and specific skills. Many colleges and universities have students begin with general courses and gradually focus more directly on specialty areas. You can change your major, although sometimes it will result in attending school for a longer period of time.
Keep in mind that people change occupations several times during their working life. A single program of study can't prepare you for all those changes. However, a program of study may help prepare you for your first few jobs. Also, choosing a program of study that you like will lead you to other areas that interest you.
The information in About Programs of Study is from a variety of sources, including the U.S. government and private and non-profit organizations.
Each program of study description uses information from several sources, including professional organizations, schools, and the federal government.
Professional organizations promote a particular program of study or are for people who work in an area related to that program of study. Some of these organizations provide information for the public about programs of study. When this information is available on the organization's website, it is included in the Resources topic.
The federal government has descriptions for many programs of study.