What is a Post-Secondary Degree?

Are you nearly finished high school and are wondering what a post-secondary degree is? Maybe you already finished high school and are thinking of getting further education. In this post, I will define what a post-secondary degree is and how you can pursue it. I will walk you through all the facts you need to know about getting a post-secondary degree.

What is a post-secondary degree? A post-secondary degree refers to any education after graduating from high school, such as a college education. In the U.S., an undergraduate post-secondary education refers to formal education after secondary school or high school graduation. It is pursued before studying in the professional field or other research disciplines. So a post-secondary degree is simply a degree you can obtain after you graduate from high school.

At the undergraduate level, you can pursue a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree. An associate’s degree is typically a 2- to 3-year college term, while a bachelor’s degree ranges from a 4- to 5-year college term. Continue reading to learn more about what a post-secondary degree is and how to get a post-secondary degree.

Post-secondary Degree: What Is It?

There are phases of the U.S. educational system that you have to be familiar with: the primary or elementary education (5 years); the secondary school (7 years); and higher education or college wherein a student can pursue an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree (4-5 years).

It takes 12 years to complete elementary and secondary education. For secondary education, it’s divided into two phases: middle school (junior high school) and high school (senior high school). Students can then proceed to pursue higher education to obtain an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree.

Thus, post-secondary education is not considered a degree but a formal education before obtaining an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree.

Nevertheless, when we talk about a post-secondary degreewe can consider an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a graduate post-secondary degree as examples of post-secondary degrees. The reason is that you can obtain all of these degrees after graduating from high school.

Also, to simplify the terms, a secondary education refers to high school, while a post-secondary education refers to college or university.

What Are the Various Levels of Education in the U.S.?

Generally, there are three levels of formal education in the U.S., and they are:

1. Elementary or Primary Education

This level begins at kindergarten (1 year) and elementary school (5 years).

2. Secondary Education

Students at this level are in middle school (3 years) and high school (4 years).

These two levels complete a student’s K-12 education:

  • Elementary school (5 years)
  • Middle school (3 years)
  • High school (4 years)

Typically, U.S. education starts formally when a child turns 5 years old. Formal education then continues up to 18 years old. So, more or less, a student spends 12 years in secondary school. 

3. Post-secondary or Higher Education

  • College education (2-5 years)
  • Associate’s degree (2 years) or Bachelor’s degree (4-5 years)
  • PhD (8-10 years)

There may be slight differences in other countries. Let’s focus on post-secondary education in the next discussion.

Are Associate’s Degrees Considered Post-secondary Degrees? 

Associate’s degrees are considered post-secondary degrees because they are done after you have graduated high school and before the pursuance of a bachelor’s degree. In the U.S., any formal education pursued after high school is considered a post-secondary degree.

Associate’s degrees are actually the first two years of bachelor’s degrees. Within these two years, students learn about general subjects that can lead to a bachelor’s degree. The first year is the freshman year, and the second is called the sophomore year.

Take note that there are three most common types of bachelor’s degrees: 

  1. Bachelor of Science (BS)
  2. Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  3. Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Examples of Bachelor of Science Degrees Are:

  • Nursing
  • Clinical laboratory science
  • Biology
  • Physical therapy
  • Pharmacy

Examples of Bachelor of Arts Degrees Are:

  • Education
  • Communications
  • Music
  • English
  • Modern Language

Examples of Bachelor of Fine Arts Degrees Are:

  • Specific degrees offered in creative arts for actors, singers, dancers, and other creative art genres

What Are the Types of Post-secondary Education?

types of post secondary degree

Below are the types of post-secondary education. Notice the progression of the levels of education through these types.

1. Vocational and Technical Education

This post secondary education is usually provided by employers and professional associations to train people for necessary technical or vocational skills for specific jobs. This training can even be offered during the secondary education of students. It’s not unusual for this type of formal education to be offered through online or offline classes.

2. Undergraduate Post Secondary Education

This type of post secondary education involves formal education after secondary school or high school. Sometimes, associate’s degrees are offered two years before the bachelor’s degree. In most cases, the first two years of college education offer basic subjects for any bachelor’s degree or special subjects leading to a specific degree.

Thus, the undergraduate levels include the associate’s degree and the bachelor’s degree. The associate’s degree is a 2-year post-secondary education, while the bachelor’s degree deals with specific fields, research, and disciplines, and could last from 4-5 years of formal education.

Examples of associate’s degrees are an Associate’s Degree in Computer Science and an Associate’s Degree in Social Sciences.

3. Graduate Post-secondary Education

You can pursue this formal education after you have graduated from your bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree. It can be a master’s degree for your specific bachelor’s degree or a doctoral degree related to your field of discipline.

An example is when you pursue a graduate program in Master of Science in Nursing, after completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After graduating from this master’s degree, you can go on to pursue your Doctorate of Nursing Practice or your PhD in Nursing. These two are your postgraduate degrees or graduate post-secondary degrees, respectively.

However, if you’re picky with terminologies and you want to be more specific, you can classify any education after high school as post-secondary education. Moreover, any education before a bachelor’s degree is called undergraduate education, which includes your associate’s degree education.

On the other hand, any education after graduating from your bachelor’s degree is categorized as graduate education.

After you have obtained your bachelor’s degree and want to pursue further education, that would be a postgraduate education, usually a master’s degree.

Now, it doesn’t stop there as you can further educate yourself for a doctoral degree after your master’s degree. If you still would want to go on, that would be your post-doctoral education. These studies can focus on specialties or specialized courses related to your master’s or bachelor’s degree.

What’s the Difference Between Post-secondary Education and Secondary Education?

Post-secondary education is education obtained after you have graduated from high school, while secondary education is your junior and senior high school education. Hence, secondary education comes first before post-secondary education.

What’s the Difference Between a Post-graduate Education and a Post-secondary Education?

These two types of education have a key difference. Postgraduate education is any education after you have graduated from your bachelor’s degree. In contrast, post-secondary education is any education after you have graduated from high school.

Hence, you can also say that your postgraduate education is post-secondary education because it’s done after high school. However, using this term would be less specific and can only cause confusion.

Generally, a postgraduate diploma is obtained after getting 120 credits, while a master’s degree is typically acquired after 180 credits. For the doctorate programs, the required credit units may vary from 60-90 hours, with some requiring the completion of a dissertation or thesis.

In the U.S., having a doctoral degree is recognized as the highest educational attainment you can earn in any field of study. Generally, it can take more than 10 years of college study with additional fieldwork in some cases.

If you want to pursue another doctoral degree, you can do so, but it would take you additional years to obtain it. So, it’s recommended to stick to one field of discipline and hone specific skills instead of enrolling in another (Doctor of Philosophy) PhD program for a different field.

You can get a PhD in:

  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Social Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science 
  • Psychology

Is It Advisable to Enroll in Two PhD Courses?

It’s not recommended that you enroll in two PhD courses, as the required class schedules could overlap. If you genuinely want to pursue another PhD, you have to take them one at a time. This is to ensure that you can focus on the course properly.

Of course, it would be advantageous when you have more than one PhD added to your name. But avoid biting off more than you can chew–pursuing a PhD is no joke.

What Are the Prerequisites for a Post Secondary Degree?

what is a post secondary degree

You should have the following prerequisites for a post-secondary degree:

1. Successfully Graduated from High School

You cannot be admitted to college, whether for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree without a high school diploma. For vocational and technical courses, an equivalent of a high school diploma may be accepted. However, it would still depend on the type of vocational course you want to enroll in.

2. Fulfilled All the School Requirements for the Degree You Aspire For

Even if you have successfully graduated from high school, if you don’t have all the requirements for the degree you want to enroll in, you won’t get accepted. The requirements may include classwork, exams, reports, fieldwork, internship, necessary class hours, and of course, passing all your major exams.

How Can You Benefit from a Post-secondary Education?

Pursuing a post-secondary education would certainly benefit you, not only financially, but also professionally. On top of that, you would be able to develop yourself wholly. Here are some of the benefits you can get:

Pursuing a post-secondary education would certainly benefit you, not only financially, but also professionally. On top of that, you would be able to develop yourself wholly. Here are some of the benefits you can get:

  • You’ve got more chances of landing a good-paying job because of your professional qualifications.
  • Your acquired specific skills in a particular field would widen your scope of employment.
  • If you obtained a baccalaureate degree, you could easily pursue your master’s or doctoral degrees.
  • Your specialized skills could help people in general. An example is a doctor who specializes in neurosurgery and helps patients in need of such specialized surgery. Not all doctors can perform neural (nerve) surgical procedures.
  • You’re developing yourself physically, morally, and mentally as a person.

Tips for Obtaining a Post-secondary Degree

  • Only take courses that you’re genuinely interested in. This way, it would motivate you more to perform well in your subjects.
  • Consider the employability of your course. Would you be able to find a good-paying job later on? It’s great to be an idealist by pursuing what makes you happy. But, you cannot go through life without having a job that would bring food to the table.
  • Peruse various post-secondary courses before deciding on one. Once you have enrolled, you have to obtain your degree. Don’t waste money by enrolling in one course, and then shifting to another because you didn’t choose properly in the beginning.
  • Make sure to finish the degree you have decided to pursue by fulfilling all school requirements and prerequisites.

Conclusion – What Is a Post Secondary Degree?

So, to recap, what is a post-secondary degree? A post-secondary degree refers to formal education after high school graduation. When we talk about post-secondary degrees, we are referring to degrees acquired after you graduated from high school.

In the U.S., post-secondary education is any formal education acquired after you have graduated from high school, and post-secondary degrees refer to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. It also includes master’s and PhD degrees, as these are all obtained after you have graduated from high school.

However, the following terminologies are used to indicate the specific type of post-secondary degree a person is referring to:

  • Post-secondary degrees – Associate’s degrees and Bachelor’s degrees
  • Graduate post-secondary degrees – Master’s degrees
  • Postgraduate degrees – Doctoral degrees

These terms may have a slight variation from country to country, but basically, these are the generally used terms.