A bachelor’s degree is a popular academic pathway designed for those who want to open the door to professional opportunities.
Traditionally, post-secondary undergraduate degrees take four years to complete—encompassing 120 semester credits or around 40 college courses. For those enrolled in a college using a quarter system rather than a semester system, it takes a minimum of 180 quarter credits.
Historically, the term “college degree” meant a bachelor’s or traditional four-year degree. Today, it may be referred to as a baccalaureate degree, a BA, BFA or a BS. Regionally accredited liberal arts colleges award a majority of the bachelor degrees in the United States.
All types of bachelor degrees require liberal arts and general education classes. Many students will take course loads which include English, critical thinking, psychology, history, mathematics, etc. Typically only 30 to 36 credits—10 to 12 courses—will be in a student’s major area of study. This system paves the way to entry-level careers and graduate level education.
In most cases, attending professional graduate school in law, medicine, teacher education or psychology requires that students hold a bachelor’s degree. Students will almost always need a bachelor’s before enrolling in a master’s program. Working adults who earn their baccalaureate degree have the valuable choice of pursuing graduate studies to become qualified for the highest level jobs where a graduate degree is necessary. Seeking a bachelor’s degree is the first step toward this professional standard.
Interested in pursuing a bachelor degree? These schools offer excellent varieties of flexible, affordable, accelerated options:
Sponsored Online Bachelor Degrees
- William Carey University Bachelor of General Studies
- Grand Canyon University Bachelor of Arts in English for Secondary Education
- Purdue University Global Bachelor of Science in Accounting
ARTICLE NAVIGATION: Quick Facts about Bachelor’s Degrees | Why Earn a Bachelor’s Degree? | Associate vs. Bachelor Degree | How Long Does it Take? | Accelerated Bachelor Degree Programs | How Much Does it Cost? | Student Loan Tips | Is It Worth It? | Types of Bachelor Degrees | How to Choose the Right Bachelor’s Degree Program | Show Me an Online Bachelor’s Degree
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 on-campus 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 over $150,000. Living expenses can vary depending on the student’s circumstances.
Is it worth it?
According to the Social Security Administration, the 2015 median increase in lifetime earnings ranged from $1.1 to $1.5 million more to workers with bachelor degrees than those with only a high school diploma. The majority of jobs paying from $35,000 to a median $56,000 a year for people aged 25-44, go to those 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 areas of STEM, social sciences, arts, government, and all types of specific subjects.
Choose the Right Bachelor’s Degree Program / Self-Assessment
Every prospective student’s circumstances are different. Consider your career goals, your budget, and your preferred schedule for going to school. Will you be balancing work and education? Attending full- or part-time? Are you bringing prior work experience to the classroom? Is this your second or third round to finish the degree you seek? There are programs to meet almost any criteria, and with GetEducated, you can easily research to find the best one for your situation.
Why Earn a Bachelor’s Degree?
A bachelor’s degree is the educational qualification necessary for many jobs in today’s economy. 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.
While there are some professional pathways where people with an associate’s degree can earn equal amounts or more than those with a bachelor’s degree, a bachelor’s degree will lead to higher earning potential in the long run than lesser educational qualifications.
Today it is easier to find a bachelor degree program to fit your schedule and career goals than ever before. Online programs allow students to continue their work or fulfill family commitments while balancing a successful education. Many people who entered the workforce without a bachelor’s are now returning to complete their degree online and gain access to a higher lifetime earning potential.
Associate vs. Bachelor Degree
While a bachelor’s degree is a four-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 work and intermediate management jobs. Courses needed to complete 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.
Testing the academic waters with an associate degree 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.
A majority of accredited institutions offer accelerated or degree completion programs in online formats, which have proven to be a great way to earn a degree quickly and efficiently. Once introduced to an online bachelor degree program, students will start recognizing the terms asynchronous, synchronous, self-paced, blended, hybrid, year-round, and more—all references to the length, pace and format of online studies.
Accelerated Bachelor Degree Programs
Developing a timeline for earning a bachelor’s degree depends upon the bachelor degree program you choose to enter, the college into which you enroll, and previous academic and work experience. Options vary from full-time, traditional four-year programs to accelerated online bachelor degree programs which can be completed in just two years. Pursuing a degree part-time, of course, has the potential to 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 four-year bachelor degree. If you have an associate’s degree 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 training 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, for those with the time commitment and motivation.
If time is of the essence and you need a bachelor’s degree as fast as possible, consider attending an online school that has flexible enrollment periods. This allows for students to take their courses in a self-paced environment rather than wrestle with 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, and 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 provide enough aid to make the tuition cost lower than that of a cheaper school that gives less aid.
The College Board published a report stating the median tuition for a full-time student at public or private, not-for-profit four-year institutions in 2019-2020 averages out at $12,710. Statistically 25% of these students will pay below $9,000, while 26% will attend universities charging at or above $30,000. This is a realistic difference in tuition which can control a person’s financial situation.
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 degrees will also base tuition on in-state and out-of-state status. Some colleges may provide a set rate for distance education, regardless of residency; however these rates vary widely from school-to-school and program-to-program.
Financial aid tremendously affects the total cost of a bachelor’s degree. There are a plethora of options when considering financial assistance, from grants and scholarships to loans, military family aid, tax benefits, and more.
- You are already on a great website to be proactive in your search for the right degree program and the right school.
- Choose your major according to your interests, career goals, previous work and academic experience, then explore cost rankings and search for the best financial options.
- 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
Borrowing money in the form of student loans is a common, viable option to help pay for education. While a bachelor’s degree is a valuable investment for the financial future, as most people will earn more money with a degree than without one, it remains important to borrow money carefully. Taking out huge loans for a bachelor’s education requires paying loans back while starting a career. This can affect a sustainable 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 such as schools or state agencies.
Federal student loans are a best choice for most students, as the interest rates are fixed and, in some circumstances, the government may pay some of the interest.
Private loans may require a co-signer and often have variable interest rates, meaning that your monthly payment amounts can change.
Both types of student loans have much lower interest rates than credit cards, so shop around for a loan before considering making tuition and fee payments on credit cards.
Student loans are often part of the financial aid package that a school will offer, but taking out a loan remains a student’s choice. The cost of education is such that approximately 60% of students graduate with some amount of student loan debt. Unsurprisingly, student loans disproportionately affect minority students and women.
The decision to fund a bachelor’s degree by borrowing money is not only impactful on the individual, but on the nation’s economy as well. To not finish a degree program does not exempt one from paying back those loans, and with an accompanied loss of job opportunity, burdens all the same. 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.
- Apply for financial aid by filling out a FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid.
- 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.
- Do your best to explore all 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 academic respect, a BA degree, BFA or BS earned on-campus or online are all valued equally. Cost benefits can vary depending on the kind of field into which a person is entering. BS degree jobs, for instance, the field of engineering, often pay more than their BA counterparts in education or the arts. Some of the highest paying jobs— such as physicians and lawyers— require not only a bachelor’s degree, but graduate studies as well.
A bachelor’s degree significantly increases chances of steady employment. Even when unemployment is high, the unemployment for people with bachelor degrees is lower than that of those with only a high school diploma by at least a few percentage points.
According to the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series, college graduates with a bachelor’s in 2018 made a median pay of $24,900 more than those who earned only a high school diploma. 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 3.7%.
Many of the highest paid occupations for people with a bachelor’s degree are in STEM fields, though there are several other occupations for those in other majors which 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:
- Computer Hardware Engineers– $117,220
- Civil Engineers– $87,060
- Actuaries (mathematics) – $108,350
- Nursing – $73,300
- Accounting and Auditing – $71,550
- Administrative Management – $96,940
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. Check to see which of the highest paying careers fall within specific interests by looking at their data.
Types of Bachelor Degrees
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 Bachelor of Arts degree focuses on exploring the liberal arts, generally requiring students to take fewer concentration courses. This basically alludes to success in any professional arena through studies in a mixture of subjects. BA students have the freedom of customizing their education to fulfill career goals and academic aspirations. Some of the most common majors include Digital Media Communications, Journalism, Modern Languages, and Interdisciplinary Studies.
Sponsored Online Art & Liberal Arts Degrees
- William Carey University Bachelor of General Studies
- Grand Canyon University Bachelor of Arts in English for Secondary Education
- King University Bachelor of Arts in English
What is a BS Degree?
The Bachelor of Science degree is targeted to specific concentrations. BS students, more often than not, focus specifically on the field of their major and tend to be extremely career-focused. This system of study increases the working adult’s chances of moving toward higher paying jobs within their field of study. 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, and Biology.
What is a BFA?
The Bachelor of Fine Arts is a vocational or professional degree. The goal of a BFA program is for its graduates to gain specific competencies and enter professional, studio-based spheres in fields including design, fine arts and other distinctive crafts. This ranges from dancers, singers and actors to 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 major concentrations than on general studies.
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 essentially add a new “major” area of study to the general education studies of your original bachelor’s degree.
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 long term career goals
Application requirements vary widely among universities. Most colleges will require that you have a high school diploma or a GED equivalency. You will need to complete an application, and may need to submit additional documentation, such as official transcripts, assessments, et cetera.
Before applying, answer these important questions:
- Which particular degree program will fulfill criteria for my intended profession?
- Will that 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 bachelor’s degree?
- What kind of financial aid is available to me?
- How much flexibility do I need?
- Should I consider a two-year program (2+2) then transfer into a four-year university bachelor program?
Some careers may require a very specific type of bachelor degree. For example, if the goal is to become a public school teacher, a state’s 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 a 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
Compare colleges carefully on the courses they will require you to take to earn your bachelor’s degree in any one major area. Below is a sample online Bachelor of Science degree from Western Governors University. Use this to examine the type of curriculum commonly required. Colleges will vary in their exact degree requirements.
Western Governors University
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Management
Full-time undergraduate students must be enrolled in a certain number of competency units (CUs) per term. WGU will recognize prior learning and experience to accelerate degree programs, and for this reason, identifies their courses in CUs; with similarities to that of traditional credit units. In this way, CUs emphasize essential knowledge and skills over accumulative credit hours. Below is a traditional route for individuals that enrolled in WGU with no transfer credits.
Course Description and Competency Units (CUs)
Applied Probability and Statistics (3 CUs)
Principles of Financial and Managerial Accounting (3 CUs)
Fundamentals for Success in Business (3 CUs)
Projects, Staffing, Scheduling, and Budgeting (4 CUs)
Spreadsheets (1 CU)
English Composition I (3 CUs)
Finance Skills for Managers (3 CUs)
Concepts in Marketing, Sales, and Customer Contact (3 CUs)
Information Technology Management Essentials (3 CUs)
Principles of Economics (3 CUs)
Managing in a Global Business Environment (3 CUs)
Introduction to Communication (3 CUs)
Business Structures and Legal Environments (2 CUs)
Process, Logistics and Operations (2 CUs)
Critical Thinking and Logic (3 CUs)
Innovative and Strategic Thinking (3 CUs)
Emotional and Cultural Intelligence (3 CUs)
Business Core Capstone (4 CUs)
Organizational Behavior (3 CUs)
Applied Algebra (3 CUs)
Introduction to Human Resource Management (3 CUs)
English Composition II (3 CUs)
Employment Law (3 CUs)
Financial Accounting (3 CUs)
Introduction to Sociology (3 CUs)
Workforce Planning: Recruitment and Selection (3 CUs)
Integrated Physical Sciences (3 CUs)
Compensation and Benefits (3 CUs)
Introduction to IT (4 CUs)
Business Communication (3 CUs)
Training and Development (3 CUs)
Project Management (3 CUs)
Sales Management (3 CUs)
Survey of US History (3 CUs)
Quantitative analysis for Business (3 CUs)
Introduction to Humanities (3 CUs)
Operations and Supply Chain Management (3 CUs)
Business Management Tasks (3 CUs)
Business Management Capstone Written Project (4 CUs)
Whether you want to jump-start your career, a bachelor degree is a great choice.
To summarize our findings, a bachelor degree can:
- Enable infinite learning opportunities in almost every field of study
- Advance your current career
- Open up new careers
- Increase your earnings
- Provide you with a foundation for future educational pursuits
- Open up networking and job opportunities with top employers
Use our extensive database of online programs to find your perfect associate’s degree today!