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A bach­e­lor’s degree is a post-sec­ondary diplo­ma award­ed to stu­dents who com­plete gen­er­al and major-spe­cif­ic course­work at under­grad­u­ate col­leges or uni­ver­si­ties. Con­tin­u­ing your edu­ca­tion after high school is high­ly encour­aged in today’s job mar­ket, but you may won­der “how many years is a bach­e­lor’s degree program?”

Bach­e­lor’s degree pro­grams are con­sis­tent­ly linked with bet­ter career oppor­tu­ni­ties, salary poten­tial, and job sat­is­fac­tion. The Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics reports that the medi­an week­ly earn­ings for those with bach­e­lor’s degrees is $1,137, which is sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er than the $678 for a high school grad­u­ate. For bach­e­lor’s degree hold­ers, unem­ploy­ment is also low­er-than-aver­age at 2.8 per­cent. Com­mit­ting time to attain­ing your under­grad­u­ate degree can pay off won­der­ful­ly. Here are the types of bach­e­lor’s pro­gram you may choose depend­ing upon the length of time you would like to spend pur­su­ing a degree:

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, bach­e­lor’s pro­grams begin­ning in the fresh­man year will require com­plet­ing about 120 cred­it hours. Full-time learn­ers can hypo­thet­i­cal­ly fin­ish this course­work in eight semes­ters or four aca­d­e­m­ic years. Despite pop­u­lar belief, under­grad­u­ates don’t always grad­u­ate with­in the allot­ted four years. Per­haps stu­dents change their major, select an over­ly rig­or­ous field, take off for an intern­ship, or encounter unex­pect­ed inter­rup­tions. These can extend bach­e­lor’s pro­grams beyond the four-year time­line. A report from Com­plete Col­lege Amer­i­ca found that only 36 per­cent of stu­dents com­plete their bach­e­lor’s in four years. Most uni­ver­si­ties allow six to eight years for part-time learn­ers to graduate.

On aver­age, it takes four years to earn a bach­e­lor’s degree. That’s going under the premise that you’re attend­ing school for both fall and spring semes­ters, and tak­ing 15 cred­it hours each semes­ter. By the end of the four years, you’ll have accu­mu­lat­ed 120 cred­it hours, which, pro­vid­ed you pass all of your class­es, lets you obtain your online bach­e­lor’s degree in your cho­sen dis­ci­pline. When look­ing at the ques­tion of “how many years is a bach­e­lor’s degree pro­gram?”, the answer is always going to be one of “four years”, but stu­dents have options avail­able to them for grad­u­at­ing soon­er, choos­ing online degrees, or tak­ing their time and attend­ing when it’s con­ve­nient for them.

The aver­age bach­e­lor degree years is four, but many stu­dents go longer than four, and some opt to grad­u­ate with their under­grad­u­ate degree in less time. The amount of time you need to grad­u­ate is ulti­mate­ly up to you. Earn­ing an online bach­e­lor’s degree is an impor­tant mile­stone in your life as it helps you find employ­ment. You may find that you can han­dle tak­ing on an accel­er­at­ed degree that enables you to grad­u­ate in less than four years, and get out into the work­ing world soon­er. How­ev­er, there’s noth­ing wrong with tak­ing your time and attend­ing the school of your choice as you’re able to. The end result is the same in that you earn an online bach­e­lor’s degree in your pre­ferred major, and have the same employ­ment advan­tages enjoyed by those who attend­ed accel­er­at­ed degree programs.

High school stu­dents today expect that they will need more than a high school diplo­ma to get a high-paing career. Most bachelor’s degree pro­grams are still designed with new high school grad­u­ates in mind. A high school diplo­ma isn’t worth­less, but a bach­e­lor’s is impor­tant. Col­lege stu­dents today include a wide range of peo­ple, how­ev­er. An online degree pro­gram may be best for adult stu­dents. Accred­it­ed col­leges today offer an online pro­gram for near­ly every interest.

How Many Credit Hours are Required for a Bachelor’s Degree?

As pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, you need 120 cred­it hours to get your bach­e­lor’s degree. How you earn those cred­it hours is up to you, but you can’t earn your degree if you haven’t earned the min­i­mum amount of cred­its and attend­ed the cor­re­spond­ing class­es. Bach­e­lor’s degrees are con­sid­ered under­grad­u­ate degrees because they pro­vide foun­da­tion­al edu­ca­tion for a giv­en dis­ci­pline or career. A stu­dent who wants to earn their mas­ters has to com­plete a min­i­mum of 32 cred­it hours, and PhD stu­dents are required to com­plete 96 cred­it hours.

On the sur­face, it seems like there is a lot of time invest­ed in earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree in com­par­i­son to a mas­ter’s, but it’s for good rea­son. This is not a hard and fast rule, but you typ­i­cal­ly need 60 cred­it hours in gen­er­al edu­ca­tion and elec­tives, and 60 cred­it hours towards your major. The gen­er­al edu­ca­tion cred­its, some­times called the core cur­ricu­lum, are com­prised of class­es that include Eng­lish, math­e­mat­ics, lib­er­al arts, his­to­ry, and sci­ence. You might won­der why you need these class­es, espe­cial­ly since they seem to repli­cate your high school class­es on the sur­face. The fact is, these class­es are more advanced than what you took in high school, and you can usu­al­ly find class­es that relate to your major. These class­es can also be struc­tured to help you declare a minor in addi­tion to your major.

Elec­tives are anoth­er com­po­nent of the non-major class­es. These are intend­ed for you to have a break from your major and core cur­ricu­lum if you so desire. For exam­ple, you’re major­ing in engi­neer­ing or com­put­er sci­ence, and you need an elec­tive class. Enrolling in a draw­ing class can help you learn how to visu­al­ize your engi­neer­ing designs, because draw­ing teach­es you how to sketch a foun­da­tion before fill­ing out the details. You’ll have learned how to draw organ­i­cal­ly, which helps you under­stand the struc­tured design process of engineering.

Some degrees, such as an account­ing degree to become a Cer­ti­fied Pub­lic Accoun­tant, require 150 cred­it hours in order to earn a bach­e­lor’s degree that qual­i­fies the stu­dent to sit for the CPA exam and gain licen­sure by their state of res­i­dence. Some uni­ver­si­ties have inter­nal poli­cies that require a stu­dent to earn more than 120 cred­it hours for a giv­en degree pro­gram due to the com­plex­i­ty of the degree and expect­ed edu­ca­tion­al out­come. The CPA exam is one exam­ple of a degree where earn­ing more than 120 cred­it hours is manda­to­ry, but not all schools require more than 120 cred­its for a spe­cif­ic bach­e­lor’s degree major. When you’re look­ing to save mon­ey on your bach­e­lor’s degree, make sure that the school does­n’t require extra cred­its for pro­grams that can be earned in the typ­i­cal 120 cred­it hour timeframe.

Many bach­e­lor of sci­ence degree pro­grams take longer due to the inten­sive nature of a degree in the hard sci­ences, but that should­n’t scare you way from a bach­e­lor of sci­ence degree pro­gram. Some fields, like com­put­er sci­ence, are bach­e­lor of sci­ence, but do not take as long as some­thing like bach­e­lor’s degrees in engi­neer­ing. A bach­e­lor of arts (BA) like polit­i­cal sci­ence or lib­er­al arts will require more human­i­ties cours­es, but that does­n’t mean a bach­e­lor of arts is eas­i­er. And with a fine arts degree, the time could fluc­tu­ate — a fine arts degree can take as long as your inspi­ra­tion requires.

Is it Possible to Earn Bachelor’s Degrees in Less Time?

Yes, you can get an online bach­e­lor’s degree in less than four years if you’re so inclined, espe­cial­ly if you already have an asso­ciate degree. Doing so requires com­mit­ment, focus, deter­mi­na­tion, and the abil­i­ty to han­dle the work­load with­out burn­ing out. For those stu­dents who are capa­ble of putting their heads into their work and are able to deal with the pres­sure, an accel­er­at­ed degree pro­gram can work for them. An accel­er­at­ed bach­e­lor’s degree pro­gram can also save a stu­dent mon­ey if they attend a school with a flat tuition rate or have life/work expe­ri­ence that can be turned into class credits.

Today, high school­ers can start earn­ing col­lege cred­it in their junior and senior years. Trans­fer­able col­lege cred­its may be offered by their local com­mu­ni­ty col­lege. A col­lege degree may be much clos­er with the trans­fer cred­its, even trans­fer cred­its from online cours­es. Asso­ciate degrees can turn into a four-year degree in less than two years.

There’s no one stan­dard for accel­er­at­ed bach­e­lor’s degree pro­grams apart from the fact that you’re guar­an­teed to fin­ish your degree in less time. A stan­dard semes­ter lasts any­where from 15 to 17 weeks with the major semes­ters hap­pen­ing in fall and spring. A major­i­ty of class­es for online degrees meet once a week, but some class­es may require atten­dance more than once a week. Sum­mer class­es are usu­al­ly short­er, but their sum­mer school class offer­ings aren’t as robust as they are in the fall and spring. Accel­er­at­ed bach­e­lor’s degree pro­grams com­press the amount of time required to earn a degree. Some schools may offer class­es for the degree pro­gram through­out all three semes­ters, while oth­ers increase the week­ly atten­dance require­ment for online degrees to short­en the semester.

For exam­ple, a school that short­ens the semes­ter to 10 weeks results in a stu­dent attend­ing school for about the same amount of time they would attend in a tra­di­tion­al degree pro­gram. How­ev­er, they accom­plish more work in that time frame with online pro­grams, enabling them to grad­u­ate with their online bach­e­lor’s degrees soon­er. Some uni­ver­si­ties have rolling start dates which let a stu­dent enroll in a pro­gram out­side of the nor­mal appli­ca­tion peri­od and start learn­ing when it’s con­ve­nient. Online degrees are anoth­er cost-sav­ing aspect of accel­er­at­ed bach­e­lor’s degree pro­grams. Attend­ing school from home means you don’t have to com­mute to school. That frees up more time that you can apply towards get­ting your online bach­e­lor’s degree, and grad­u­ate soon­er. You can move on to a grad­u­ate degree quickly.

For indi­vid­u­als already hold­ing an asso­ciate degree (in com­put­er sci­ence, say), bach­e­lor’s degree com­ple­tion pro­grams are avail­able to short­en your col­lege expe­di­tion. This cur­ricu­lum fol­lows a gen­er­al 2+2 for­mat with two years at an afford­able junior col­lege or trade school before trans­fer. Uni­ver­si­ties will accept any­where from 60 to 75 cred­its to speed up your online bach­e­lor’s degree. Some schools let you earn col­lege cred­it with work expe­ri­ence. Going this route can save you thou­sands of tuition dol­lars. Stu­dents who com­plete an asso­ciate first often can ful­fill gen­er­al edu­ca­tion require­ments while dis­cov­er­ing their career call­ing. How­ev­er, bach­e­lor’s degree com­ple­tion pro­grams may be prob­lem­at­ic. Since some cred­its from online degrees might not trans­fer, you could be left repeat­ing class­es and attend­ing beyond the two years.

More uni­ver­si­ties are offer­ing accel­er­at­ed online bach­e­lor’s degrees to place stu­dents on the fast track to career suc­cess. Depend­ing on its sched­ule, accel­er­at­ed pro­grams could be com­plet­ed in just 18 to 36 months. This becomes pos­si­ble because stu­dents has­ten their learn­ing with six-week, eight-week, or 10-week ses­sions. Rather than fol­low the tra­di­tion­al semes­ter sched­ule with sum­mers off, accel­er­at­ed stu­dents attend year-round. Cut­ting out down­time will like­ly reduce the cost of atten­dance. Online class­es are acces­si­ble 24/7 in inter­ac­tive vir­tu­al class­rooms for sched­ul­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty too. Nonethe­less, accel­er­at­ed online bach­e­lor’s degrees still require the same num­ber of cred­its though. Jam­ming course­work into short­er terms can be over­whelm­ing for some, espe­cial­ly full-time work­ing adults. Online edu­ca­tion helps, though.

Am I Required to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in the Standard Time Frame?

No, you are under no oblig­a­tion to com­plete a bach­e­lor’s degree in four years. You can take your time and attend as you’re able to, you can take a break from your edu­ca­tion to take a gap year, you can attend an accel­er­at­ed course to grad­u­ate faster, or you can attend com­mu­ni­ty col­lege for an asso­ci­ate’s degree and trans­fer to a four-year school lat­er. You can get a high­er edu­ca­tion while main­tain­ing your per­son­al needs and oblig­a­tions with online programs.

The cost of get­ting a bach­e­lor’s degree often has stu­dents think­ing twice about attend­ing school for four years straight. Some stu­dents attend class­es when they’ve saved up enough mon­ey to pay for most of their edu­ca­tion. Oth­ers take a gap year to earn mon­ey and return to school to fin­ish off their degree. In sum­ma­ry, it’s not unusu­al for stu­dents to take mea­sures to reduce the amount of mon­ey they have to bor­row for edu­ca­tion. The work expe­ri­ence that a stu­dent gains can also be par­layed into their future career and can help them find employ­ment more eas­i­ly after earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree.

Anoth­er option for get­ting a bach­e­lor’s degree comes in the form of earn­ing a two-year asso­ci­ate’s degree at a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, then find­ing employ­ment in the cho­sen career field. Com­mu­ni­ty col­lege is inex­pen­sive when com­pared to a four-year degree, and many com­mu­ni­ty col­leges around the coun­try offer well-regard­ed edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams. A stu­dent who earns their asso­ci­ate’s degree can go on to find work in their field, get invalu­able expe­ri­ence, and earn mon­ey that helps them pay for their edu­ca­tion. Asso­ci­ate’s degrees usu­al­ly enable a grad­u­ate to start work­ing in their field at the entry-lev­el and earn a rea­son­able salary until they can return to get their online bach­e­lor’s degree or mas­ter’s degrees.

How you attend school can play a role in the amount of time it takes you to com­plete your degree require­ments. Attend­ing school as a tra­di­tion­al stu­dent is more time-con­sum­ing than tak­ing class­es online, but you may pre­fer the ener­gy of being in a class­room set­ting instead of look­ing at a screen. In the event that your life’s needs change and attend­ing in-per­son becomes dif­fi­cult, you can switch to online class­es and take advan­tage of the time sav­ings that come from study­ing at home.

No mat­ter how you decide to pur­sue your bach­e­lor’s degree, you need to make sure that all of your cred­its are trans­fer­able or stay valid if you step away from your edu­ca­tion for a while. Edu­ca­tion­al cred­its don’t expire per se, but schools some­times require you to take some class­es over again if you’ve been away from school for an extend­ed peri­od of time. You can plan your edu­ca­tion accord­ing­ly when you know what to expect from tak­ing your time.

How Long Are Joint Bachelor’s Degrees/Master’s Programs?

Anoth­er learn­ing option for under­grad­u­ates is the joint bachelor’s/master’s pro­gram. Over five years full-time, joint pro­grams allow stu­dents to com­plete the require­ments for a bach­e­lor’s and mas­ter’s degree con­cur­rent­ly. These pro­grams are espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar in engi­neer­ing, account­ing, coun­sel­ing, and man­age­ment. High-achiev­ing stu­dents can begin tak­ing the mas­ter’s-lev­el course­work begin­ning their senior year. Cer­tain cours­es over­lap to reduce the time nor­mal­ly required to com­plete a two-year mas­ter’s pro­gram too. But most uni­ver­si­ties reserve dual degrees to stu­dents with min­i­mum cumu­la­tive major GPAs of 3.5. Those who qual­i­fy and want to enter fields where a mas­ter’s is pre­ferred should con­sid­er these degrees. The Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics shows sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er pay for mas­ter’s degree holders.

Some pro­grams now even allow advanced place­ment for work­ing pro­fes­sion­als to earn their master’s and doc­tor­ate at the same time by adding more edu­ca­tion cours­es in an accel­er­at­ed for­mat. It depends on the field of study, such as nurs­ing or edu­ca­tion, but they may be on-cam­pus or online and may offer finan­cial aid.

As you can see, how many years a bach­e­lor’s degree takes can range from two to six or more depend­ing on var­i­ous fac­tors. Ris­ing col­lege tuition makes it nec­es­sary to fin­ish your edu­ca­tion quick­ly. Con­sid­er the above accel­er­at­ed degree pro­grams avail­able. Main­tain the heav­i­est course load pos­si­ble while still achiev­ing a high GPA. Min­i­mize the num­ber of non-enroll­ment peri­ods that can break up your school­ing. Also, ask your aca­d­e­m­ic advi­sor about cred­its offered for work expe­ri­ence, mil­i­tary ser­vice, or stan­dard­ized tests like the CLEP. Fol­low­ing these tips could help you grad­u­ate with­in the desired four years or less!


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