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Bachelor's Degrees Explained

By Amber Hilton,
Staff Writer

A Bachelor's degree is the most popular choice for prospective students.

A bachelor's degree is an undergraduate degree that generally takes four years to complete. It is considered the standard undergraduate program for college students in the U.S., and many of the nation's professional jobs require at least a bachelor's degree for employment. Program specifics and requirements vary somewhat from one school to the next, but most bachelor's degree share some common attributes.

At most state colleges and universities, a bachelor's degree is the only undergraduate degree option. Other schools, especially community colleges, may also offer two-year associate degree programs. The number of semester hours required to earn a bachelor's degree is generally 120 to 126, which most full-time students can complete in four years; however, it may take some students five years to complete, depending on their course load and other commitments. Many colleges and universities offer online bachelor's degree programs that allow students to earn their degree from nearly anywhere that offers Internet access.

The most common types of bachelor's degrees awarded are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.). Certain areas of study lead to specialized bachelor's degrees, but these are much less common. For example, students who complete a professional undergraduate program in architecture earn a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) and some undergraduate programs in theology lead to a Bachelor of Theology versus a B.A. in Theology.

Undergraduate students are required to select a focused area of study, generally referred to as a major. Different schools offer different undergraduate majors, but the list is generally quite long and varied, ranging from anthropology to zoology, and everything in between. Many students select their majors when they apply for or enroll in college, but it is sometimes possible to enroll without a major, in which case you'll be referred to as "undecided." Many schools require students to select their major by the end of their first year.

A bachelor's degree program generally requires the completion of both general education courses and courses in your primary area of study. For example, a student pursuing a bachelor's degree in art and design is generally required to take courses in math, science, and the humanities, in addition to various courses in the history and practice of art and design. Some colleges also require bachelor's degree students to take foreign language courses. It is up to the particular college to specify the number of credits needed in each area; however, a B.A. degree typically requires more general education courses, whereas a B.S. generally requires a higher concentration of major courses. Most colleges allow new students the opportunity to place out of some more introductory courses by passing content exams.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) , a product of the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the United States. According to the NCES, 1,563,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded in 2007-2008, a 32 percent increase over 1997-1998. The most popular fields of study were business, social sciences and history, health sciences and education.

Last edited: May 8, 2012, 2:14 pm EST
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