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What is a Bachelor's Degree?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A bachelor's degree is a diploma awarded at the successful completion of an undergraduate academic program. Students usually need about four years of study to complete it, though this can vary depending on the school attended. There are a number of types of degrees that can be earned in a range of academic fields, and many students continue with a postgraduate program afterward.

Purpose and Function of a Bachelor's Degree

One of the most common types of academic degree, a bachelor's degree is often the first degrees a student receives in his or her academic career. The bachelor's is sometimes awarded with additional study after a student first earns an associate's degree, which only takes about two years, though many students simply work on a four-year degree instead. As of 2012, more than 30% of people in the US held a bachelor's.

A four-year degree demonstrates that a student has a general and broad education with a focus on a particular subject area, such as history or biology. This degree is expected in many career fields; often, job listings will including a bachelor's as a requirement for the position, although the exact field of study isn't always important. Advanced study may be needed for other academic or technical professions.

Getting a Degree

Bachelor's degree programs usually require the completion of approximately 120 to 150 credits or hours in classes. Although it can vary from one college to another, a typical course usually counts as three credits or hours toward a degree. Depending on the school, a certain number of these credits must be earned in different areas; for example, some core courses in math and writing may be required, while a significant number of credits must usually be earned in the student's area of major study. In some cases, a college might require that students take several classes in different departments to give them exposure to a wide variety of fields, and many students take

In most US and Canadian colleges, a student must declare a major area of study. A major is an area of concentration, and courses in this field usually make up 25% or more of the total credits earned toward the degree. Other countries also include areas of concentration for degrees, often called a "course" rather than a major.

Some schools have a very stringent set of requirements for particular majors, and students in these fields must take all of the assigned classes in a specific order. It is also sometimes possible to earn a "double major," which is a concentration in two different areas of study. Many students also declare a minor, usually consisting of a number classes in one discipline or an academic specialization, often related to the academic major.

Types of Degrees

There are several types of bachelor's degrees available to students, including the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS). The BS degree is geared towards those who want to branch out into subjects like medicine, biology, and psychology, while the BA is given to those who complete coursework in humanities and the arts. Some other popular bachelor's degrees include the Bachelor of Applied Science, the Bachelor of Economics, and the Bachelor of Fine Arts. Once a student has earned a bachelor's degree, he or she may decide to continue his or her education and study toward earning a master’s degree or a doctorate.

History of the Bachelor's Degree

The name for the degree stems refers to an early meaning of "bachelor" as a "young apprentice." It is also known as a "baccalaureate" in many countries. This term seems to have originally referred to a degree awarded to students when they became qualified to study with others and begin student-teaching. Since this term was first used in Europe, it has spread to many countries and can refer to very different levels of education.

Undergraduate degrees are also called by various names in different countries. In Japan, for instance, the bachelor's degree program is a six-year course of study referred to as gakushi. The Commonwealth of Independent States, former member countries of the Soviet Union, refers to it as the bakalavr. These similar programs sometimes allow students to receive their education in one country and transfer it over to a new one as an equivalent degree.

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Discussion Comments

By anon350346 — On Oct 04, 2013

I am only 23. I want to become a cid officer. I am a nurse. What should I do to become a cid officer after completion of bsc nursing?

By Marylee123 — On Jul 12, 2012

Is a Trilingual Secretary Accountant Degree (3 years) an Associate's or Bachelor's degree? Thanks

By anon240050 — On Jan 12, 2012

@konetkar500: The public view may be expanding but online classes take away from what can truly be learned. A person can easily find the answers somewhere else without studying.

By konetkar500 — On Sep 21, 2011

I am a teacher working in a school. I recently came across your article and have been reading it. I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and the ability to make readers read from the beginning to the end.

I feel that that nowadays, online degrees and online colleges have become more popular as public perception of online education is becoming more and more acceptable as businesses are hiring folks who got their degrees online.

By anon204154 — On Aug 08, 2011

I have a medical doctor degree from abroad, and did not get into a residency in USA, so, I am thinking to stay in health care. I have done five years of medical school abroad, am a Texas resident (qualifies for Texas residency for tuition). When I get the equivalence done of my foreign degree, will it be considered a Bachelors Degree in Science here or do I have to start from the beginning here? Please help!

By anon178850 — On May 22, 2011

I have studied the bachelors course in management but have not been awarded the degree as I was not able to clear the papers. I have a whole lot of experience in HR management in the fields of recruitment, placement, interview and most of all, right person for the right job.

By anon171860 — On May 02, 2011

I graduated from the State Pedagogical University faculty of History and Law, which was a five-year study course. I have been awarded the degree of licentiate in History. Is it a bachelor's degree or diploma?

By anon170521 — On Apr 26, 2011

@ade1218: I'm a junior in high school and so confused as to what it means to have an associates or bachelors, etc. i want to attend a community college. the counselor said that the radiologic technology program is a 2 year associates in science program. what does this mean?

if i have an associates in science than will i still have to take other radiology classes? i really hope someone understands my question. please help.

By anon159075 — On Mar 10, 2011

Does one need a Bachelors degree before the first degree or it is the other way round.

By anon154557 — On Feb 21, 2011

I'm confused about how the approximately 180 credits are specified. I'm about to enter University and want to eventually become a Doctor, so a BS would be a good start for me right now. However, there are so many courses I want to take that would be considered 'arts'! Would these courses be a 'waste of time' and not work towards my BS? Or do they allow some philosophy courses and the like, or a certain percentage of my courses as arts, to be included towards my 180 units for my BS?

By anon143666 — On Jan 17, 2011

I'm an international student in Canada, completing the first semester of Associate of Science Degree with maths, physics and chemistry. Actually I'm confused about the career I'll choose after its completion.

Should I complete my four years and transfer to a university or can directly apply for a career oriented program like engineering? I will appreciate if you can help me out. thank you.

By amypollick — On Jan 12, 2011

@anon142344: Ah, I see what you were asking. You would have to go to a college or university that offered a bachelor of science in nursing degree-- or BSN.

It would depend on what courses you took for your associate degree and the college you attended, but you should be able to transfer your associate credits to count towards a BSN degree. If most of your credits transferred, you could probably get a BSN in two years or so, but it just depends on where you go.

Every school has slightly different requirements, so you would need to go to the school's website or contact them for a catalog to see what the requirements are. Then you could contact the dean of the nursing school for more information about what credits you have would and would not be accepted for a BSN at that particular school.

By anon142344 — On Jan 12, 2011

I already passed the NCLEX exam and got an RN diploma from NY but my question is, if i have an additional bachelor's degree not in nursing but economics, can i get a bachelor's in nursing in the USA?

By amypollick — On Jan 12, 2011

@anon142306: In the U.S., an associate degree is usually a preliminary, two-year degree, while a bachelor's degree is a four-year degree.

An associate degree in nursing would probably qualify you to take the state board exams and become a Licensed Vocational Nurse. You would need to take more specific courses to become a Registered Nurse.

By anon142306 — On Jan 12, 2011

I have an associate degree in nursing and a bachelor's degree in economics and in USA what degree is that?

By anon136144 — On Dec 21, 2010

I'm confused about this. I'm from south america and here all those things are just different.

For example, I'm 17 and I have one more year left to finish high school and then go to university. And it's like, really simple. The last two years of high school you choose the orientation you want, depending on what you wish to study when you finish (like scientific orientation, biologic, artistic, humanistic) and then you just do the career you want at any university (according to the orientation).

I was wondering about what studying in England is like, and started to see all those things about undergraduate, postgraduate, and stuff. I just don't get it. You have to do like four years before a career (undergraduate)? I don't get it. Can't you just finish high school and go for a career and then if you wish to, something more specialised?

By anon135980 — On Dec 21, 2010

In Denmark, the academic bachelor's degree programmes in all fields at universities take three years to complete. That is, if you don't fail any exams and have to retake classes. If a specific programme requires an internship, it will usually take three and a half years to complete.

Apart from the programmes offered by universities, there are also professional bachelor programmes offered by university colleges in fields such as teacher training, nursing, journalism, engineering and social work. These programmes have more of a practical focus usually take four years to complete. In most cases, they don't grant access to any master's programmes.

Finally, there are also two-year academy profession programmes offered by academies of professional higher education in fields such as business, multimedia, food industry, tourism etc.

In some cases, students who decide to enroll in a bachelor's degree programme afterwards are able to transfer one year's worth of credits.

By anon135260 — On Dec 17, 2010

I am only 15,and I'm interested in Zoology. It seems very fascinating to me.

By Resti Wulan — On Dec 16, 2010

I think I can get a bachelor degree in two years than but I need my money right now. So I will keep my money for now. I agree that you can get a bachelor degree from online studying, but if we study online, we will not get a certificate.

By KittenHerder — On Nov 09, 2010

Don't forget that you can also get a bachelors degree online too. The Internet *greatly* opens up the potential access to higher education and though it might not be as full and education or at least college experience as an in person college, I think the biggest advantages a person gains in college are also achieved at online schooling.

By anon118812 — On Oct 15, 2010

You sound frustrated cause no one sees where you getting at. I understand your question and if you say that you have done your research, then i guess maybe here in the states all they need is tradition. I don't know. But you do see, and i am glad that there is someone that obviously wonders about this, that a lot of these classes that you take do not belong into your future job field.

Well, here is one suggestion. When you do you associates here, that is worldwide considered normal school even if here in the states its college, cause in Germany for example you learn the things that they teach f the associates in the last two years of regular school. And then they have four years in college to do a bachelors. But here you only have two years left, which means logically you didn't learn that much in you job field right?

All i know is that over the a teacher is also a "Pedagogy", basically learns a lot in the social field how to treat kids and be around them, and here they teach basically the subject that the teacher teaches in and maybe a little of that psychology stuff i am assuming.

But i have noticed that most teachers around here are mostly about the subject that there teaching but not about how to treat the kids right or things like that. And trust me, when i see how these teachers treat the kids here. It's not normal. Of course there are a lot of teachers here that really care about the kids and treat them right, but what i am saying is, they are not qualified for it. So, here was an example, if that brings you any farther.

By anon114138 — On Sep 27, 2010

@ghenny & anonymous:

One of the problems with US higher education today is that it is fact outcomes-based and overly focused on quantifiable data. Yes, the degree system we have is based on the largely unchanged medieval system, and the four-year degree is largely a matter of tradition (as we can see these days by the number of "accelerated" programs being offered).

But if you have worked at an American university in the last 10 (or maybe 20) years, you know there's a huge focus on SLOw - student learning outcomes - which are exactly what you're asking about: specifically defined expectations of what a student earning a degree in program X should know know be able to do by the time the degree is earned.

There are outcomes for programs as well as outcomes for each specific course. This system is part of the basis for transferability of course credit from one school to another: if we have similar learning outcomes, then our courses can be considered equivalent.

In fact, evidence of a system of learning outcomes is required for any college or university to receive accreditation in this country (which you probably know if you worked at a college or university as an instructor or administrator).

All of these outcomes are decided on by the so-called experts in each field. That is, the people at the top get to decide what newcomers in their field are supposed to know before those newcomers can be called experts. This will come usually from a professional organization; for example, the American Chemical Society has great influence in deciding that certain chemistry courses must impart certain types of knowledge about the field.

Now, to be clear: I'm not defending the system. But you asked what the system's basis is and how the content of a degree is justified. This is the way the system answers that question; they can say that a program for Degree X is made up of a set of learning outcomes or objectives, which are recognized and accepted by currently acknowledged leaders or experts in the field, and the student who successfully passes all the courses in the program will have demonstrably achieved all of those outcomes.

By amypollick — On Sep 11, 2010

@ibk: In the United States, it's classes or hours. For instance, you may get three hours' credit for a class, and you may need 30 hours in that subject for your degree, so that's 10 classes.

Every degree and school differ in their requirements. And yes, unless you have the cash and determination to take 20 hours a semester, and go in the summer, it will probably take four years to get the degree. Some schools have an 18-month program; some degrees take longer than four years because of their complexity. It all depends on your degree and the individual school.

By ibk — On Sep 11, 2010

how many credits do I need for a Bachelors degree? Previous comments mention years when i thought it was a matter of credits?

By anon110089 — On Sep 10, 2010

I am truly baffled by the fact that all you folks don't seem to get what I was trying to talk about when I started this thread. The question I have been posing is what the scientific basis for a bachelor's degree.

Who decided that four, three or two years of so called higher education of the kind our universities offer provides specific cognitive abilities and skills that do what?

It seems to be this is all based on tradition and economic interest. I have seen no scientific research that justifies why people should take such and such set of courses to be able to do or think in this or that way.

I am surprised people don't ask this question more often. The other question I wonder people don't ask is why don't we provide online information on any subject provided by the super stars of teaching that people can acquire and work with without all the expensive bricks and mortar and mediocre teaching of thousands of institutions of so called higher learning or the con jobs represented by the current crazy expensive online universities?

As an FYI, I have a BA from UC Berkeley and an MBA from CASS University of London and was a senior executive in technology transfer at a major big ten university so I think I know a little about what I am talking about.

By bj3457z — On Sep 10, 2010

I would say go get your bachelor's degree in a program you like or think you like. In the end, it won't really matter because most college graduates rarely start working in the field of their degree anyway.

I was able to earn my BA in mathematics in 1985. I was never able to secure work in that field. A long time ago, I had one chance to get into an entry position with an actuarial firm, but I didn't get the position for reasons that baffle me to this very day. Anyway, life goes on and I keep looking for work I wanted to do.

After a few short years, I managed to do quite well financially working in a different field (insurance/risk management). I can say without hesitation, earning my college degree was key in living a comfortable life and raising my two kids. Now, both of my children are getting their bachelors degrees this year.

I did it the old fashioned way. While in school, I understood I was not there simply to warm a seat in some classroom. After all, I working seven days a week earning money to pay for everything. I did not waste my time doing the "partying scene." I said no many times to friends asking me to go party.

Of course, I took some occasional well- deserved breaks to enjoy/rejuvenate myself. I paid attention, studied very hard and learned things I'm still using this very day. Go for it- best wishes!

By anon109956 — On Sep 09, 2010

It is not the number of years, but the extent of the art that you master, whether in humanities or a particular science that determines when you obtain your degree.

It took me seven years because I am not rich and I am not a mother of three, but I worked full time at night to be able to support myself and pay for my education.

I have a masters in physics now. I work in semiconductors using what I learned at the university.

The point is to educate yourself, expand your horizons, and grow as a person. People should not be looking for hand outs and college is not for everyone. You can have a good life and be successful without a college degree. Just ask Bill Gates.

By anon87193 — On May 28, 2010

I went three semesters at a brick and mortar community college and transferred my credits to Kaplan University and finished my Associates (which is all I wanted so I thought) in about a year and a half. I now want to get my Bachelors. degree and Ashworth College is taking my credits from my associates and applying them toward it, so I will be done in about a year and a half.

If you intend on getting a B.A, just "enroll" as a B.A student. Bypass worrying about the associate degree. The B.A is a better statement to your education anyway.

Well, good luck, and wish me luck as I move forward toward getting my B.A degree!

By anon84354 — On May 15, 2010

I wanted to hear more about getting a bachelor's degree on line. It will take me four years to finish and get mine. I am an undergraduate student starting out with zero credits.

I decided to choose "argosy" the school of psychology. can anyone tell me if this is a good school or not?

It will cost about $60,000. I hope I can get a federal grant to help me pay for school. I am not a young single mother with three children. I was told by my admission's adviser that single mother's almost a free education. at least someone is getting the help they need. Hey anyone need a babysitter. (just kidding)

By anon81284 — On Apr 30, 2010

does anybody have the information, if a bachelor of english language and literature can teach in a primary school, because in montenegro we need to have master degrees in order to work as an english teacher?

By nobreather — On Apr 30, 2010

to #23. I got my bachelor's degree in three and a half years. my understanding is that most universities base their degree on coursework taken, not specifically the number of years that it took.

If you were to take a heavy load, you could even have graduate in three years, but the number of courses you would be taking would be very high, and it might detract from what you get out of your college experience.

By anon77354 — On Apr 14, 2010

Is it a degree if you study for three and half years?

By anon75436 — On Apr 06, 2010

How does one read for a degree?

By overreactor — On Jan 12, 2010

To number 14, yes of course, that is the whole point. You complete your Bachelors degree in 4 years. First 2 years at a Community College and last 2 years at a regular college or university.

The first two years are general education courses. The last two years are generally courses that delve more into the depth of the subject matter, and courses that deal with the area of the major you have selected.

Not all classes at a Community College are transferable, however, they do offer all the necessary general education classes.

You do need to consult with an academic counselor who can help you make the right decision.

There are 2 things that come to mind that the counselor can help you with:

1. Tell you to which universities you can transfer. Not all universities have agreements with Community Colleges and are willing to accept their transfers.

2. Help you in selecting your classes. He will be able to tell you, in general, how the system works, and guide you specifically in your decision making process and selection of classes.

By anon60019 — On Jan 11, 2010

For all these questions about what you should do you should go to a community college and talk to a counselor. It doesn't even cost anything. They can give you a basic plan, even. God bless you.

By anon55394 — On Dec 07, 2009

Great article. The best summary of the BA degree I have found so far.

By anon52310 — On Nov 12, 2009

Can you describe the lifestyle for the average individual that completes a bachelor’s degree?

By anon48669 — On Oct 14, 2009

I'm asking the same question Ghenny. thanks for asking, but it doesn't look like the people reading this thread have any more clue than we do. I've designed an alternative form of higher education and I'd really like to know the history so I can compare the reasons or etymology. I've looked around and haven't been able to find anything.

By anon47223 — On Oct 02, 2009

If one has an associates degree could they transfer their credits to their bachelors degree? instead of doing two years for Associates then another four years for bachelors?

By anon43048 — On Aug 25, 2009

Guys, you are missing the point. The point is the academic world has no scientific or outcomes criteria basis for their whole BA system. It's a mish mash of historical precedent and whatever they want it to be. I think in the modern era of hight costs and performance expectations this is not good enough.

By anon42843 — On Aug 24, 2009

Hello, I find this very interesting, but I would like to know if the bachelor degree is equivalent to the "Licenciatura" in the portuguese academic system.

By anon37856 — On Jul 22, 2009

Am an LCCI level 3 holder and wish to continue through distant/online learning. What do I do?

By anon33754 — On Jun 11, 2009

What is exactly the course length for a Bachelor's degree? I understand there is a traditional 4 year degree, but I have also come across universities like AIU which offers Bachelors degree as a 13 month program if one would be carrying previous college credits else if starting from 0 credits one needs to complete associates degree which is another 13 months.. so ideally 26 months for someone starting from 0 credits.

So If one was to take up Bachelors degree program in a university like AIU will the credits earned be the same as a 4 year degree? and would an individual be able to go to another college with the bachelors degree earned at AIU which is a 13 month program or 26 month program (associates + bachelors) to enroll for a Master's degree??

By somerset — On Jul 18, 2008

anon 15481 - I would check with the university you plan to attend to see if any of the online classes you want to take are transferable. The requirements vary from university to university about the requirements.

ghenny - My opinion on why four years of schooling is needed to get a college degree is simply that that was the consensus that the decision makers agreed upon. To produce a well-rounded individual capable of critical analysis, was in my opinion the primary reason for higher education. By the way, the length of time to get a bachelors degree varies in different countries, anywhere from three to five years.

By ghenny — On Jul 14, 2008

Thanks for your comments but they still do not tell me what the basis is for deciding that someone should study two, three, four, five or six years of a particular program and what skills it is supposed to provide. What is the basis for these programs other than tradition and if tradition why do we persist in spending huge amounts of money to educate millions of people to achieve a qualification that has no outcomes or performance measurements, no unified content that can be linked to a developmental or skills objective and no source of validation? To be specific what are you supposed to be able to do after you have taken a bunch of liberal art and/or social studies courses with some science and technology thrown in. Are you still calling this the foundation needed to produce a thinking cultured person (who presumably is independently wealthy) and even if we are just doing that where is the scientific evidence that whatever program is offered does that. If not where are the outcome and performance measures that show it does something else.

By anon15481 — On Jul 12, 2008

somerset, is this also true for online education?

By ghenny — On Apr 20, 2008

I would be interested in hearing comments from others about why most of our Bachelor's degrees take four years. Is there any scientific, cognitive or neurological basis that supports this time assignment or is it just based on tradition? Who decided or who decides it should be these courses rather than those and it should take this number and this amount of time? Is this a consensus thing among academics based on any objective criteria and what are these? What rationale is there for continuing to make this certification the gatekeeper for professional life in so many areas and how do institutions of higher learning justify the content in bachelor's programs? I have not seen much public discussion of these issues. Perhaps that reflects my limited reading range or maybe there needs to be more. Are there any reports issued by groups like Carnegie or Brooking's that explore the history, value and future of the Bachelor's degree? I would love to read them. Geoffrey Henny

By somerset — On Feb 12, 2008

You can first get an Associate Degree, say at a community college, than transfer to a 4 year college to get your Bachelors degree. You can save some money this way since the tuition is generally lower at a Community, or Junior college. You have to make sure that you take classes that are transferable to the college you are planning to attend.

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