Bachelor’s vs. Master’s – a sometimes tricky decision to make. Many of the highest-paying jobs necessitate a university degree. Getting an entry-level position may be easier with an associate’s degree or certification, but earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree might enhance one’s career in the short and long run. This page will provide all the information prospective students need to make an informed decision about their future, cover the basics of understanding what the two types of degrees are about, and answer critical questions as well.

Bachelors vs Masters

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Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the GetEducated.com Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Bachelor’s Degree

While an associate degree is the initial level of higher education that can be earned after high school, a bachelor’s degree is considered the second level. However, one does not need to complete an associate’s degree to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Most programs leading to a bachelor’s degree require students to complete about 120 credit hours, roughly equivalent to 40 classes, and usually takes four years. A bachelor’s degree is also commonly referred to as an undergraduate degree.

Types of Bachelor’s Degrees

There are several types of bachelor’s degrees, the most common being:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) – based on the humanities
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) – based on science and math
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) – focusing on fine arts such as creative writing, drama, music, studio art, etc.
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) – focusing on business, economics, and commerce

The number of young Americans earning a bachelor’s degree is steadily rising. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the percentage of people age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher jumped from 30.4% to 37.9% from 2011 to 2021[1].

Master’s Degree

Completing a bachelor’s degree makes one eligible for a master’s degree program. The most common reasons for pursuing a master’s degree are a desire for increased pay, a change in careers, or the desire to pursue a passion or personal interest. Unlike a bachelor’s degree, which is broad-based, a master’s degree focuses on a single subject and usually requires 33 to 60 credits, taking about two years to complete in most cases. A master’s degree is also commonly referred to as a graduate degree.

Types of Master’s Degrees

Like bachelor’s degrees, there are many different types of master’s degrees available, depending on the field of study. Some common types of master’s degrees include:

The academic backgrounds of pupils mainly determine the credit range of a master’s degree program. A student might be able to complete their master’s degree with fewer credits if they completed undergraduate courses in the same discipline, translating to a shorter time to graduate.

A report published by the U.S. Census Bureau states that young Americans aged 25 and over whose highest degree was a master’s has doubled to 24.1 million in 2021 compared to 16.05 million in 2011[1].

What is the Difference Between a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree?

The main difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree is that a bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree while a master’s degree is a graduate degree. Additionally, bachelor’s degree programs often provide students with a broad overview of their chosen field, while master’s degree programs focus on providing students with specialized knowledge and skills. Finally, bachelor’s degree programs typically require students to complete a capstone project or thesis, while master’s degree programs may require a research project, thesis, or internship. Here is a quick overview of the main differences between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree:

Bachelor’s vs Master’s Degrees – Broad Comparison
 Bachelor’s Degree Master’s Degree 
Basic Prerequisites General Educational Development (GED) or High School DiplomaBachelor’s Degree + Prerequisite Courses in Chosen Subject
Time to Complete (Average) 4 Years 2 to 5 Years 
Annual Tuition (Average)* Public (In-State): $11,260, (Out-of-State): $29,150 | Private: $41,540Public: $9,250 | Private: $30,970
Credits Approx. 120 Credits Average 45 Credits 
Typical Degrees Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Bachelor of Science (BS)
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
Bachelor of Nursing (BSN)
Master of Arts (MA)
Master of Science (MS)
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Master of Nursing (MSN)

*Source: CollegeBoard 

Which Degree Is Best for You?

Choosing a degree program is a major decision. Which of the two suits an individual better largely depends on their educational background.  

Those who meet the following criteria might be good candidates for a bachelor’s degree program:

  • You do not have any post-secondary education.
  • You finished certain college courses but did not receive a diploma.
  • You obtained an associate’s degree or a certificate.
  • You have a bachelor’s degree but wish to pursue a job or a master’s degree in an entirely different area.

Those who wish to get a master’s degree should check the following points:

  • You want to change careers and boost your work prospects.
  • You wish to move up to executive positions or other occupations that require a master’s degree.
  • You wish to strengthen your job security by updating your industry expertise.
  • You want to learn more about your field and improve your knowledge in specific areas.

These are just a few factors that may influence one’s decision to pursue one degree over another. For those with a bachelor’s degree, pursuing a master’s degree may be the most advantageous next step in compensation and job progression. Therefore, when selecting a program, it is essential to think about the complete worth of the degree and how it will improve one’s professional opportunities both now and in the future.

Comparing the Value of a Bachelor’s and Master’s

One of the most compelling reasons to pursue a master’s degree is better pay packets. In general, master’s degree holders may almost consistently earn better than their bachelor’s counterparts. However, other factors, such as the chosen industry, age, experience, skillsets, certifications, additional qualifications, location, etc., influence salaries. Here is a quick look at salary differences between a bachelor’s degree worker and a master’s degree worker:

Field/Industry Bachelor’s Degree Average Annual Salary Master’s Degree Average Annual Salary 
Finance $78,000 $110,000 
Marketing & Sales $80,000 $110,000 
Teaching (Secondary) $45,000 $56,000 
Social Work $40,000 $50,000 
Nursing $63,000 $75,000 

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics[3]

It is rather evident that a master’s degree can bring in more income for an individual. But what could be the lifetime earnings for either degree holder? Here is a quick look at the numbers, as reported by Forbes[4]:

  • high school diploma – $1.6 million
  • associate’s degree – $2 million, or about $50,000 per year
  • bachelor’s degree – $2.8 million, the equivalent of $70,000 annually
  • master’s degree – $3.2 million, or $80,000 annually

How to Choose a Degree Program

Be it students or working professionals who do not want to quit their jobs to go back to school, there are some crucial features to look for in programs that will not only make getting the desired degree easier but will also provide excellent educational value. Here are some of the important ones to look for:

  1. Online Degree Programs – that allow the individual to work around their schedule while completing their degree.  
  2. Selectable & Interactive Coursework – that provides the opportunity to pick and choose courses and tailor-make the program to get the best value.
  3. Institutions Accepting Transfer Credits – that will ensure that credits for all the prior experience or courses will be factored in to help get the degree faster and for less money.
  4. Accreditation – that ensures the institution’s credibility and recognition of the degree by other institutions and the job market.
  5. Well-experienced faculty – with real-world knowledge and experience and are familiar with the chosen field of study.
  6. Networking – that allows students to connect with each other, industry experts, and professionals in the field who can provide support, advice, and guidance.

Bachelor’s or Master’s: Which is Better?

A bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree each have the potential to pave the way for gratifying educational and professional prospects. For bachelor’s degree holders, the good news is that they can start a master’s degree at any time after they acquire their bachelor’s degree. This is true regardless of whether they want to take a few months off or resume classes again after more than ten years have passed since they last attended school.

On the other hand, if obtaining a master’s degree is consistent with one’s goals and is expected in one’s chosen line of work, serious consideration should be given to opting for one. In the end, either one does not necessarily best the other – it boils down to one’s preferences, interests, and goals.

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