The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 21 years!

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor degree can jumpstart a new, prosperous futureA bachelor’s degree is a four-year undergraduate degree. Historically, the term “college degree” meant a bachelor’s or traditional four-year degree.

It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete your bachelor’s degree—encompassing 120 semester credits or around 40 college courses. If your college uses a quarter system rather than a semester system, you’ll need to complete a minimum of 180 quarter credits to earn an accredited bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s is a post-secondary undergraduate degree. Historically, the term “college degree” meant a bachelor’s or traditional four-year degree. Bachelor degrees are also sometimes called baccalaureate degrees. Regionally accredited liberal arts colleges award most of the bachelor degrees in the United States.

Liberal arts classes are required for all types of bachelor degrees.  In most cases, more than half of a bachelor’s degree consists of general education or liberal arts courses in areas such as English, critical thinking, psychology, history and mathematics.

Typically only 30 to 36 credits—10 to 12 courses—will be in your major area of study.

The bachelor’s degree remains the standard for entry into many professional careers. Getting a bachelor’s degree can be the ticket to a more promising career.

In most cases, you cannot attend a professional graduate school in law, medicine, or teacher education unless you hold a bachelor’s degree. That means you will almost always need a bachelor’s before enrolling in a master’s program to open the door to even more career opportunities.

A bachelor’s degree is the first step towards some of today’s hottest professions. It can allow you to work in an occupation while you decide whether to pursue a graduate degree to become qualified for the highest level jobs in that require graduate study.

Interested in pursuing a bachelor degree? These schools offer an excellent variety of options, many of which are affordable, flexible and/or accelerated.

  • Western Governors University of Utah is a competency-based university, founded by the governors of 19 western states. You earn college credits by demonstrating your knowledge or “competency” in specific subject areas.

 

  • Capella University was approved by The U.S. Department of Education to offer an innovative “FlexPath” direct-assessment set of programs. Capella’s FlexPath programs offer the potential to significantly reduce the cost of a degree, accelerate the time required for degree completion, and better align learning to the needs of the student.

 

  • Strayer University Online has helped working adults reach their goals. A pioneer in higher education, they offer flexible online classes—so you can pursue your passion without stopping your life.

 

  • Southern New Hampshire University is transfer-friendly, offers accelerated programs and provides a dedicated academic advisor and student services designed for the adult learner.

 

 

View More Online Bachelor Degrees

Quick Facts About Bachelor’s Degrees

Why earn a bachelor’s degree?

On average, more education means higher earnings. Most professional and technical jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the field. There are many schools offering degrees in person or online, full time or part time, and programs for people with prior educational or work experience to accelerate their degree.

How long does it take?

Four years of full time study or about 120 semester credits. Returning or part time students may take longer or shorter times to complete their degrees.

How much does it cost?

Tuition and fees can range from just a couple thousand dollars to about $60,000 per year. Living expenses can vary depending on the student’s circumstances.

Is it worth it?

The median increase in lifetime earnings is close to a million dollars, though not all career paths will make more money with a bachelor’s degree. The majority of good jobs that pay at least $35,000 a year for people aged 25-40, go to people with a bachelor’s degree.

What types of bachelor’s degrees are there?

There are three main titles of bachelor’s degrees: BA, BS, and BFA. There are bachelor’s degree programs in a wide variety of majors, including STEM subjects, social sciences, arts, and all types of specific subjects.

How do I choose the right bachelor’s degree program?

Each circumstance is different, but consider your career goals, your budget, and your preferred schedule for going to school. There are programs to meet almost any criteria, so do your research to find the best one for your situation.

Why Earn a Bachelor’s Degree?

For those who want a college degree, a bachelor’s degree is the most common undergraduate degree. For many jobs in today’s economy, a bachelor’s degree is the educational qualification necessary. For jobs where a bachelor’s degree is not required, employers are still likely to prefer those with the degree over those with less education.

There are some professional pathways where people with an associate’s degree will earn more than people with a bachelor’s degree, but there are many more positions where having a bachelor’s degree will lead to higher earning potential than lesser educational qualifications.

Today, there are many programs available to earn a bachelor’s, so it is easier to find a program to fit your schedule and career goals than ever before. Part time or online programs allow students to continue to work or fulfill family commitments while pursuing a degree. Many people who entered the workforce without the bachelor’s degree are now returning to complete their degree and gain access to the higher lifetime earning potential that usually accompanies a degree.

Associate vs. Bachelor Degree

While a bachelor’s degree is a 4 year degree, the associate’s degree takes two years to complete.

A bachelor’s degree program aims to round out a student not only as a potential worker, but as a whole. It equips graduates with skills and knowledge in a particular field that will lead them to professional and middle-management jobs. Courses needed to get a bachelor’s degree include general courses in the liberal arts and specific required courses in a major concentration.

Associate degrees, on the other hand, typically prepare graduates for entry-level work with the basic skills and knowledge needed in a field.

Associate’s degrees can also allow students to complete general education requirements through a two-year program, for later transfer into a four-year degree. Many traditional and online colleges, universities, community colleges, and junior colleges have what are called 2+2 programs. After a student completes the first two years of their four-year bachelor degree, they have earned their associate’s degree. A student can continue their education post-associate at a larger university or college through an articulation agreement. This plan can be an easy and affordable bachelor’s degree journey.

How Long Does it Take?

While a traditional bachelor’s degree at a brick-and-mortar college or university usually takes four years, there are many students who do not attend school straight through. Many people need to work to support themselves and their families, or go into the military before seriously considering getting a degree. Accelerated or degree completion programs can be great ways to get a degree quickly and efficiently.

Accelerated Bachelor Degree Programs

The length of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree most likely depends upon the bachelor degree program you choose to enter, and the college in which you enroll. Options vary from full-time, traditional four-year programs to accelerated online bachelor degree programs which can be completed in just two years. Others may pursue their degree part-time, in which case, it would take longer.

If you have previously completed a number of post-secondary courses, these courses may be approved for transfer credit. This would reduce the time it takes to complete a 4 year bachelor degree. If you have an associate’s degree then you may also be eligible to enroll in an accelerated, 90 credit online bachelor’s degree program.

In addition, adult students may have earned prior higher education credits that can be transferred, or have completed workforce trainings and gained professional experience that also qualify for earned credits. Many higher education institutions allow students to test out of courses, through recognized assessments, including the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Credit by Examination.

Finding a distance education program that offers year round courses may offer another alternative, if you have the time commitment and motivation.

Tip: If time is of the essence and you need a bachelor’s degree as fast as possible, then you should consider attending an online school that has flexible enrollment periods. This allows for students to take their courses on their own time instead of within the confines of a traditional semester or quarter.

How Much Does it Cost?

Tuition for a bachelor’s degree varies significantly from school to school. Remember that the published fees are not what most students will actually end up paying. Grants and financial aid will often significantly reduce the actual cost, so a more expensive institution may give enough aid to make the actual cost lower than that of a cheaper school that gives less aid.

The College Board published a report that stated the median tuition for a full-time student in a single year at a private, not-for-profit four-year institution is about $11,000.

Affordability factors can include, but are not limited to:  public vs. private institutions, the state in which you enroll, available aid, and your status as an in-state or out-of-state residence.

Online bachelor degree programs have set rates that do not base tuition on in-state and out-of-state status. Still, these rates vary widely from school-to-school, and from program-to-program.

Financial aid tremendously affects the total cost of a bachelor’s degree. For example in the same study, the College Board found that while the average tuition and fees at a public college is about $10,230, the actual net price when factoring in grants and tax credits equaled about $3,740.

Tip:

  1. Be proactive in your search for the right degree program, and the right school.
  2. Choose your major according to your interests and career goals, then explore cost rankings and look for the best financial options.
  3. View GetEducated’s list of the cheapest colleges for an online bachelor's degree and see if they offer your intended major.

Student Loan Tips

Many students borrow money in the form of student loans to help pay for their education. While an education is a great investment in your financial future, as most people will earn more money with a degree than without one, it is still important to borrow money cautiously. If you take out huge loans for your bachelor’s education, you will need to pay them back while you are starting your career. This can affect your financial wellbeing for years to come.

There are two basic categories of student loans: federal student loans, with reasonable, fixed interest rates; and private student loans offered by banks and other institutions like schools or state agencies. Federal student loans are the best choice for most students, as the interest rates are fixed and the government may pay some of your interest for you in some circumstances. Private loans usually require a co-signer and often have variable interest rates, meaning that your monthly payment amounts can change. However, both types of student loans have much lower interest rates than credit cards, so shop around for a loan before you consider putting any of your education on credit cards!

Student loans are often part of the financial aid package that a school will offer to you, but that does not mean you need to take out these loans. The cost of education is such that approximately 70% of students graduate with a significant amount of student loan debt. Students who attended public colleges are the least likely to carry debt, and when they do, it is lower on average than students from other types of schools. Private non-profit colleges come next, but the highest rate of student loan debt is carried by those who attend for-profit colleges, with 88% leaving school with debt loads higher than their public or non-profit school peers.

If you decide to borrow money to fund your education, consider the possible future impacts on your life. If you don’t end up finishing the degree program you enroll in, you will not be able to get the higher-paying jobs that come with the degree, but you will still need to pay back the loans. If you stay on the path to a degree, but continue to borrow every year of your study, keep track of the loan totals and what your payments will look like after you graduate.

Tip:

  1. Apply for financial aid by filling out a FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid.
  2. If you apply to more than one school, compare the financial aid packages to figure out what you will end up paying and/or borrowing to get your degree.
  3. Don’t rule out loans, but do your best to explore all your financial options in paying for school so that you will have a future with the lowest student loan debt weighing you down.

Is It Worth It?

Concerning the academic respect, a BA degree, BFA or BS are all valued equally. Depending on the kind of field into which a person is entering, the cost benefits can vary. BS degree jobs, like in the field of engineering, often pay more than their BA counterparts in Education or the Arts. Some of the highest paying jobs— like physicians and lawyers— require not only a bachelor’s degree, but also additional schooling.

Does a bachelor degree guarantee steady employment? No. But it does help your chances significantly. Even when the unemployment is high, the unemployment for people with bachelor degrees is lower by at least a few percentage points.

On average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates (those with a bachelor’s) make 64 percent more per week those who have earned only a high school diploma. Over a lifetime of work, between the ages of 20-60, that adds up to an average of almost a million dollars more for those with a bachelor’s degree. The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s is also about half the rate of those with a high school diploma, at 2.2% to 4.1%.

Many of the highest paid occupations for people with a bachelor’s degree are in STEM fields, though there are many other occupations for those in other majors that will also pay well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports salaries for professionals with bachelor’s degrees. The median income for careers which require only a bachelor’s degree for entry include:

To see the highest paying careers that require a bachelor’s degree, Payscale.com has compiled a table that lists these careers in descending order. You can check to see which of the highest paying careers fall within your interests by looking at their data.

Types of Bachelor Degrees

A list of bachelor degrees and the their specific majors and concentrations would be almost infinite.

The three most popular types of bachelor degrees are:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA degree)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS degree)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA degree).

What is a BA Degree?

A BA degree generally requires students to take fewer concentration courses and to focus more on exploring the liberal arts. These students have a little more freedom when it comes to customizing their education to fulfill their career goals and aspirations. The most common majors include English, Art, Theatre, Communications, Modern Languages and Music.

What is a BS Degree?

The BS degree, on the other hand, is less focused on exploration and more targeted to a specific concentration. Bachelor of Science students, more often than not, focus specifically on the field of their major and tend to be more career-focused. Bachelor degrees in the medical field, for example, are more likely to be Bachelor of Science degrees.

Popular majors that make the Bachelor of Science degree list include:

  • Computer Science
  • Business
  • Economics
  • Nursing
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Biology.

What is a BFA?

The BFA is another vocational or professional degree. The goal of a BFA program is for its graduates to go on to become professionals in the creative arts world. This includes dancers, singers, actors, painters, and sculptors, just to name a few. Like the BS degree, the main difference between a BFA and a BA program is the tendency to focus more on their major concentration than on general studies.

TIP: Should you earn a second bachelor’s degree? In most cases, the answer is NO. If you have a bachelor’s in one area—say art history—and are trying to re-tool to work in another area, such as human resources, consider adding a certificate to your resume rather than trying to earn a second bachelor’s degree. By earning a certificate you’ll essentially be adding a new “major” area of study to the general education studies of your original bachelor’s degree.

 

Popular Online Bachelor Degrees

View all online degrees

 

How to Choose the Right Bachelor’s Degree Program

When to Seek a Bachelor’s Degree

When You …

  • Know that a bachelor degree is required for your career
  • Have already earned more than 60 semester college credits or hold at least one associate degree.
  • Know that a graduate or professional degree will be required for your career

 

Before applying, answer these important questions.

  • Does this particular degree program fulfill criteria for my intended profession?
  • Will my profession require licensure? Is this degree program approved for licensure?
  • Will this bachelor’s degree transfer into a master’s degree if I decide to further my educational goals in the future?
  • How much will it cost to obtain my degree?
  • Is financial aid available?
  • Is coursework semester-based? Year round? Accelerated?
  • Does online mean completely online? Or are there on-campus requirements?
  • How much flexibility do I need? Do I prefer asynchronous courses that I complete on my own time, or would I enjoy synchronous classes in which classes meet at set times?

Application requirements vary widely among universities. Most colleges will require that you have a high school diploma or a GED equivalency. You will most likely need to complete an application, and may need to submit additional documentation, such as official transcripts, or assessments.

If a four-year program seems daunting, consider a two-year program that will transfer into a bachelor’s program.

TIP: Some careers may require a very specific type of bachelor degree. For example, if your goal is to become a public school teacher your state Board of Education will require, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in education. That degree will need to include some very specific courses. Check with your state licensing board before enrolling in any bachelor’s degree program in accounting, education, nursing, counseling and engineering, in particular.

Show Me an Online Bachelor’s Degree

Basically, a bachelor’s degree looks like an associate degree doubled.

Below is a sample online bachelor’s degree from Western Governors University so you can see the type of curriculum commonly required. Colleges will vary in their exact degree requirements. Compare colleges carefully on the courses they will require you to take to earn your bachelor’s degree in any one major area.

 

Western Governors University

Bachelor of Science in Business Management

Full-time undergraduate students must be enrolled in at least 12 competency units (CUs) per term. WGU recognizes prior learning and experience to accelerate your degree program, and for this reason, identifies their courses in CUs; with similarities to that of traditional credit units. Below is a traditional route for individuals that enrolled in WGU with no transfer credits.

Course Description and Competency Units (CUs)

Term one:

Organizational Behavior and Leadership (3 CUs)

English Composition I (3 CUs)

Introduction to Geography (3 CUs)

Principles of Management (4 CUs)

Term two:

English Composition II (3 CUs)

Fundamentals of Business Law and Ethics (6 CUs)

Intermediate Algebra (3 CUs)

Term three:

College Algebra (4 CUs)

Integrated Natural Science (4 CUs)

Integrated Natural Science Applications (4 CUs)

Term four:

Legal Issues for Business Organizations (3 CUs)

Elements of Effective Communication (3 CUs)

Introduction to Probability and Statistics (3 CUs)

Information Systems Management (3 CUs)

Term five:

Principles of Accounting (4 CUs)

Critical Thinking and Logic (3 CUs)

Introduction to Humanities (3 CUs)

Microeconomics (3 CUs)

Term six:

Ethical Situations in Business (3 CUs)

Macroeconomics (3 CUs)

Global Business (3 CUs)

Quantitative Analysis for Business (6 CUs)

Term seven:

Fundamentals of Marketing and Business Communication (6 CUs)

Marketing Applications (3 CUs)

Managerial Accounting (3 CUs)

Term eight:

Project Management (6 CUs)

Strategy, Change and Organizational Behavior Concepts (7 CUs)

Term nine:

Finance (3 CUs)

Quality, Operations and Decision Science Concepts (8 CUs)

Business Management Tasks (3 CUs)

Term ten:

Business Management Capstone Written Project (4 CUs)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find Your Perfect Bachelor's Degree

 

Related Resources

What is an Associate Degree?
What is a Master’s Degree?
Should I Tell My Employer I Earned My Degree Online?

GetEducated.com is a consumer group that publishes online college rankings and online university ratings along the dimensions that matter most to online students themselves: affordability and credibility. Our mission:

Educate – Advocate – Protect!

GetEducated.com
PO Box 458
Monterey, VA 24465

About GetEducated.com

Copyright ©2020 GetEducated.com; Approved Colleges, LLC All Rights Reserved