What is an Undergraduate (or Undergrad) Degree?

  • Find a bachelor's degree

    Bachelors Degree Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Key Infor­ma­tion:

  • Under­grad­u­ate pro­grams include asso­ciate and bachelor’s degrees, each vary­ing in dura­tion and depth of study.
  • Earn­ing an under­grad­u­ate degree can sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase life­time earn­ings com­pared to just hav­ing a high school diploma.
  • Under­grad degrees help devel­op crit­i­cal skills like com­mu­ni­ca­tion and rea­son­ing, use­ful in many careers.

An under­grad­u­ate degree is an aca­d­e­m­ic pro­gram of study that fol­lows grad­u­a­tion from high school or pass­ing Gen­er­al Edu­ca­tion­al Devel­op­ment (GED) tests. Some­times called first degrees, under­grad­u­ate degrees build upon sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and devel­op greater depth of pro­fes­sion­al knowl­edge. Under­grad pro­grams are con­ferred by high­er learn­ing insti­tu­tions, such as junior col­leges, col­leges, uni­ver­si­ties, and vocational/trade schools. Under­grad­u­ate stud­ies typ­i­cal­ly involve a gen­er­al edu­ca­tion core of sub­jects like Eng­lish, math, and biol­o­gy. How­ev­er, under­grad­u­ate stu­dents can declare a major to empha­size their cur­ricu­lum in one field.

Types of Undergraduate Degrees

An asso­ciate degree is a two-year pro­gram offered to under­grad­u­ate stu­dents at com­mu­ni­ty col­leges and voca­tion­al schools. Asso­ciate degrees typ­i­cal­ly pro­vide 60 to 70 cred­its of career-focused train­ing. Under­grad­u­ate pro­grams may lead to an Asso­ciate of Arts (A.A.), Asso­ciate of Sci­ence (A.S.), or Asso­ciate of Applied Sci­ence (A.A.S.). Pop­u­lar majors at the asso­ciate lev­el include den­tal hygiene, web design, para­le­gal stud­ies, and infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy. Grad­u­ates with an asso­ciate can pur­sue entry-lev­el, skilled jobs or transfer.

The four-year bach­e­lor’s degree takes stu­dents a step beyond the asso­ciate. Bach­e­lor’s pro­grams are the most com­mon­ly sought after under­grad­u­ate degrees. Under­grads can pur­sue a Bach­e­lor of Arts (B.A.), Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence (B.S.), or Bach­e­lor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.). These pro­grams typ­i­cal­ly range from 120 to 130 cred­its at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. Pop­u­lar majors at the bach­e­lor’s lev­el are:

After fin­ish­ing a bach­e­lor’s, indi­vid­u­als can enter pro­fes­sion­al careers or apply to grad­u­ate school.

Undergraduate vs. Graduate Programs

Hav­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree is required for entry into grad­u­ate pro­grams. Grad­u­ate schools award mas­ter’s and doc­tor­al pro­grams, which pre­pare stu­dents for advanced or lead­er­ship posi­tions in com­plex fields. Unlike the more gen­er­al­ized under­grad­u­ate degree, grad­u­ate pro­grams are nar­row­ly spe­cial­ized in one pro­fes­sion. For instance, stu­dents could pur­sue a Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Industrial/Organizational Psy­chol­o­gy or Doc­tor of Phi­los­o­phy in Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing. Grad­u­ate pro­grams are typ­i­cal­ly more focused on research and applied prac­tice than class­room instruc­tion. Under­grad­u­ate pro­grams also have con­sid­er­ably larg­er class­es than grad­u­ate seminars.

In post-sec­ondary edu­ca­tion, the course­work in a 4‑year degree pro­gram is at a low­er lev­el than a grad­u­ate degree or doc­tor­al degree pro­gram. There are gen­er­al edu­ca­tion cours­es that all stu­dents have to take at the under­grad­u­ate lev­el before mov­ing on to their major or main field of study. For instance, every­one has a human­i­ties require­ment, whether you’re study­ing social sci­ences or busi­ness. The most com­mon types of degrees are bach­e­lor of arts, bach­e­lor of sci­ence, and bach­e­lor of fine arts. How­ev­er, there are many types of bach­e­lor degree programs.

Of course, how long it will take depends on whether you study full-time or part-time, and whether you already have cred­it hours from asso­ciate degree pro­grams. It may take less time if you can trans­fer cred­its from pre­vi­ous years of study.

Stu­dents inter­est­ed in grad­u­ate stud­ies (also con­fus­ing­ly some­times called post­grad­u­ate) will build on their under­grad­u­ate cours­es and fur­ther specialize.

Benefits of an Undergraduate Degree

Edu­cat­ing your­self beyond a high school diplo­ma is smart for many rea­sons. Invest­ing in col­lege tuition for an under­grad­u­ate degree boosts salary. The U.S. News and World Report sur­vey found that work­ers with a bach­e­lor’s degree made aver­age life­time earn­ings of $2.27 mil­lion. That’s near­ly dou­ble the $1.3 mil­lion for high school grad­u­ates. High­er income results from an under­grad­u­ate degree unlock­ing more career oppor­tu­ni­ties. Bach­e­lor’s degree hold­ers are pre­ferred for job open­ings and pro­mo­tions, which means you’ll be more marketable.

Under­grad­u­ate degrees build crit­i­cal think­ing, rea­son­ing, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills that can trans­late into vir­tu­al­ly any field, even out­side your major. Liv­ing on a col­lege cam­pus helps under­grad­u­ates more eas­i­ly mature into adult­hood and find their career foot­ing. Com­plet­ing an asso­ciate or bach­e­lor’s degree takes hard work, so doing so will pro­vide a strong sense of pride. Hav­ing an under­grad­u­ate degree under your belt also opens future doors for attend­ing grad­u­ate, med­ical, or law school.


25 Best Pay­ing Careers for Bach­e­lor’s Degree Grads

What Are The Eas­i­est Col­lege Degrees For High Pay­ing Careers?

Where Can I Find the Best Online Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Degrees for Undergraduates?

What Are The Best Busi­ness Degrees For Undergraduates?

What Are The Best Eco­nom­ics Schools For Under­grad­u­ate Students?

Are There Any Accel­er­at­ed Degree Pro­grams For Under­grad­u­ates With­out An Appli­ca­tion Fee?