What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

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A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree offered by most accredited four–year schools, including most private, public and online colleges or universities. Bachelor’s degrees are available in a wide range of academic fields. Attainment of a bachelor’s degree demonstrates that you have successfully completed a general and broad education with a focus on a specific major. Once you’ve earned you’re bachelor’s degree, you’ll gain access to a wide range of opportunities, whether you plan to continue into graduate school or enter the job market.

 Bachelor’s Degree Basics

Earning a bachelor’s degree usually requires the completion of 120 to 128 credits or semester hours. Most bachelor’s degree programs will require a minimum of four years of full–time study, though it is commonplace for students to spend as many as five or six years working toward a degree.

Some colleges do offer accelerated bachelor’s degree programs that you can complete in three years or less. In many cases, an accelerated bachelor’s degree programs will require you to take classes during summer and winter sessions in addition to the typical fall and spring semester course load.

It’s also possible to bundle your undergraduate studies with a master’s degree program, so that both can be completed over a period of five to six years. Check out our overview of the master’s degree to learn more about this option.

Most bachelor’s degree programs require core general education classes, electives as well as upper level classes in a student’s major. Your major will typically comprise 25 percent or more of the total credits needed to complete your bachelor’s degree program. The remaining credits will be comprised of basic prerequisites, electives, and in some cases, a “minor” area of focus.

Bachelor’s degrees can also be earned completely online. An online bachelor’s degree is a great alternative for busy professionals who don’t have time to commit to a full–time degree program. The curriculum of an online bachelor’s degree is typically reflective of its on–campus counterpart, and is usually taught by the same faculty.

If this sounds the right move for you, start your search with the The 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019 or consider the 50 Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees.

 Types of Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
This degree will typically require you to take several courses in the arts, such as humanities, social sciences, fine arts or music, alongside the courses in your area of concentration.
Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
This degree will typically require you to take several courses in the sciences, such as physical sciences, life sciences or mathematical sciences, alongside the courses in your area of concentration.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
This degree program will typically pair a set of liberal arts courses with many practical and studio-based courses both general and specific to your area of creative or artistic focus.
Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS)
This degree program places an emphasis on the practical and technical sciences in laboratory and real-world settings with many applied science topics both general and specific to your area of focus.

 Degrees Awarded

One of the reasons the bachelor’s degree is so popular is because you have an enormous range of options. The bachelor’s degree is a strong point of entry into a broad spectrum of potential careers, from business, professional and technical, to creative, artistic and entrepreneurial. Check out a few of the most popular bachelor’s degree programs below:

 What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s Degree?

The bachelor’s degree is a key that can unlock a lot of doors. Earning your bachelor’s degree can create a lot of opportunities, whether you intend to enter the job market, or continue into a graduate program. In fact, in both cases, this may be the basic threshold for employment or admission.

For certain jobs and careers, the bachelor’s degree is a necessity, the minimum academic credential to qualify you for a wide range of opportunities in education, business leadership, technology, the sciences and countless other fields. And in some fields, while you may be able to gain access to entry–level roles with a high–school diploma, GED, or associate degree, you will need a bachelor’s degree to advance further in your profession. This means that earning a bachelor degree can both expand upon your options and dramatically improve your earning potential.

It’s also a necessary step in most cases if you plan to earn a master’s degree or enter another graduate program such as law school or medical school. Your undergraduate degree is a major milestone on the way to earning an advanced degree in your field.

While the cost of a bachelor’s degree has risen dramatically over the last several decades, a well–chosen undergraduate program remains a sound investment. Consider reputation and affordability in seeking your bachelor’s degree program, as well as factors like your compatibility with campus culture, academic rigor and the availability of online courses. A bachelor’s degree from the right school should bring lifelong financial return in the form of better–paying jobs and greater chances for advancement.

Start your search with the 50 Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees

 Admission Requirements

The vast majority of accredited four–year colleges and universities require you to have earned a high–school diploma or GED as the minimum threshold for entry into a bachelor’s degree program, though there are some programs that may allow advanced learners to begin accumulating college credits while still working toward high school graduation.

To learn more, check out Seven Ways You Can Earn College Credits While Still in High School.

Another pathway to entering a bachelor’s degree program is through an associate degree program. If you are attending an accredited two–year community or online college, you may be able to transfer some or all your credits to a four–year program.

Every four–year school commands different transfer requirements and rules. Some may require you to have completed your associate program in order to transfer credits while others may allow you to transfer mid–program. Some bachelor’s degree programs may transfer only some of your credits. Some may transfer all your credits, but may require you to take alternate or additional courses to fulfill certain prerequisites. To learn more, you’ll need to reach out to the admissions office at your intended four–year school to find out what you can and can’t transfer.

Naturally, the more credits you can transfer, the more time and money you’ll save on the way to your bachelor’s degree.

 Bachelor’s Degree Costs

During the 2014–2015 school year:

  • The average annual in–state tuition at a public university was $9,139;
  • The average annual out–of–state tuition at a public university $22,598; and
  • The average annual cost of a private university was $31,231.

In spite of ever–growing tuition rates, there are ways to minimize or offset your expenses without sacrificing quality or reputation, including:

  • Seeking a public four–year college university instead of a private college or university;
  • Earning parts or all your degree online instead of on–campus;
  • Attending an in–state public college, which typically charges state residents over tuition rates;
  • Finding ways to minimize time spent earning a degree, including summer/winter sessions, accelerated programs, an attainable academic goals; and
  • Offsetting or bypassing additional expenses such as room, board, textbooks, etc.

 Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Critical factors like affordability, convenience, and accessibility make online bachelor’s degree programs an increasingly attractive option. As more reputable traditional colleges make essential degree programs available online, a wide range of opportunities are opening up to individuals previously limited by geography, work demands, family responsibilities, physical disabilities, and a host of other factors.

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