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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:

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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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