What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (2023)


Professional Development

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A bachelor’s degree can set you on a path to break into a field you’ve always been interested in, or enhance a career you’re already in. Learning about it is the first step in getting one.

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (1)

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree in which you study a subject of your choice at an academic institution, and is commonly known as a college degree.Getting a bachelor’s degree can enhance your access to job opportunities, expose you to new ideas, and boost your earning potential.

Fast facts about bachelor's degrees:

  • Bachelor’s degrees typically take between four and five years to complete or a minimum of 120 credits.

  • Majors can include a number of subjects, such as psychology, computer science, business, nursing, or English.

  • Traditionally obtained in-person at a college campus, bachelor’s degrees have become increasingly easier to earn online as well.

  • Though many students pursue a bachelor’s degree immediately after high school, it is not uncommon to seek one later in life.

Let's review key things to know about bachelor’s degrees in the US, including how much they cost, what’s needed to apply, and whether an online or in-person experience is better for you.

Is a bachelor’s degree worth it?

There are several benefits to getting a bachelor’s degree. These include a higher potential income, increased job prospects, and new and enriching life experiences. If you’ve been working for a while, a bachelor’s degree may also help you launch a new career or advance in your current one. Obtaining a bachelor’s can be the first step to getting a higher academic degree, like a master’s or a doctorate.

The financial benefit of a bachelor's degree

A bachelor’s degree can be friendlier to your wallet in the long run. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2021, a college graduate working full-time made a median of $1,334 a week, while high school graduates with no college experience earned a median of $809 a week [1]. That gap stretches into a significant difference over a year—a 2019 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that a college graduate earned an average of $33,000 more than a high school graduate in one year [2].

Jobs you can get with a bachelor's degree

Many high-paying jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, so having a four-year degree can make you more competitive for more roles. Here are some jobs that typically require a bachelor’s degree and are expected to grow rapidly in the next ten years, according to the BLS [3]:

  • Software developers

  • Registered nurses

  • Financial managers

  • Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors

  • Project management specialists

  • Market research analysts and marketing specialists

  • Medical and health service managers

    (Video) Was a bachelor’s degree necessary? 🤔 #finance #money #shorts #studentloans #college #graduation

Learn more: 20 Highest-Paying Bachelor's Degree Jobs

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Cost of a bachelor’s degree program

The cost of a bachelor’s degree depends on several factors, like whether you choose to attend a public or private institution, are considered an in-state or out-of-state student, or opt for an online or in-person experience. Financial aid may also help lower your costs. Keep in mind tuition is separate from other living expenses, like housing and transportation.

  • Private vs. public: The College Board found that one year of tuition and fees, on average, cost $10,740 at public four-year institutions for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students. Private nonprofit institutions cost $38,070 [4]. However, private colleges may have more institutional resources to give out as financial aid.

  • Online vs. in-person: The average public online bachelor's program tuition costs $38,496 for in-state students and $60,593 at private ones, according to US News—that’s total, not per year [5]. Online degrees eliminate relocation and transportation costs and offer enough flexibility for people who want to work full- or part-time.

  • Scholarships or financial aid: Financial aid through FAFSA and scholarships are available for many schools. See if you’re eligible for federal financial assistance and contact your school for opportunities to start.

Learn more: Is College Worth It?

Bachelor’s degree requirements

While each college or university is different, you will have to meet a number of requirements when applying to bachelor's degree programs and in order to graduate from one.

Enrollment requirements for bachelor’s degrees

To enroll, a bachelor’s degree program will generally require:

  • Past grades or GPA: Some programs may require you to have earned a certain minimum GPA in high school—like 2.5 or 3.0—though not all do. A program’s application should state what kind of grade requirements they have.

  • A GED or high school diploma: Most bachelor’s degree programs will require you to have completed a high school level of education. If you haven’t, you can consider other programs, like associate degrees or certificates that may not require them. Professional certificates on Coursera don’t require GEDs.

    (Video) Growing Number Of Americans Questioning The Value Of College Degree

  • Standardized test scores, like the SAT or ACT: Though some schools are dropping this requirement, many still ask for test scores. High school students typically take standardized tests in their junior or senior year before applying to colleges.

  • Letters of recommendation: These can come from high school teachers who can speak to your good qualities and know you well. If you’ve been out of school for a while, a manager from a past or current job, a leader at your place of worship, a sports coach, or a volunteer coordinator can all provide letters of recommendation.

  • Personal essays: Colleges could request personal essays to better understand your personal story and why you’re interested in a particular program. A course on essay writing on Coursera or elsewhere can help build your writing skills.

Can’t meet all of the requirements? Associate degree programs, typically offered through community colleges, may have more flexible requirements and can provide you with a valuable education.

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Requirements for finishing a bachelor’s degree

Students typically need at least 120 credits to graduate from a bachelor’s program in the US (roughly 180 credits at a school under a quarter system). Credits are acquired by passing classes for your major and other courses your school might require.

College degrees generally take between four and five years to complete when you're enrolled full-time, but they can take longer or shorter depending on the program you enroll in and the number of classes you take each year.

Learn more: How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate from College?

Types of bachelor’s degrees

Three of the most common types of bachelor’s degrees are:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA): A Bachelor of Arts is a type of bachelor’s that typically emphasizes critical thinking, communication skills, and the humanities. Majoring in history, English, or communications will generally earn you a BA. A Bachelor of Arts may clear a path to careers that draw on human connection and critical thinking attributes—like teaching, human resources, advertising, or government work.

  • Bachelor of Science (BS): A Bachelor of Science typically emphasizes quantitative skills in coursework. This means science and math degrees are generally categorized as BS degrees, making them good ways to launch a career in science or math-based fields. You can earn a BS by majoring in subjects like finance or computer science.

Some subjects that have elements of both science and liberal arts, like psychology, economics, or political science, can be either a BA or a BS, depending on the types of courses you emphasize in your studies. Learn more about the difference between the two degrees.

(Video) Easiest Online Bachelor's Degrees in 2023! Graduate in less than 1 year?!

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (3)

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): A Bachelor of Fine Arts is awarded to those who graduate with majors in fine, visual, or performing arts. Specializing in creative writing, theater, drawing, or graphic design can each lead to a BFA. If you’re interested in careers that involve the arts, like theater production or museum curator, a BFA could be a good option for you.

Read more: What Can You Do with a Finance Degree? 7 Career Paths

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (4)

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

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Online vs. on-campus bachelor’s degrees

Both online degrees and on-campus degrees offer compelling reasons for students to enroll. Here are a few factors to consider when deciding which might be better for you.

Flexibility: Here's a fast fact—in 2017, the average graduate of an online degree program is thirty-two years old, according to US News, and 84 percent of them are employed as they attend school [6]. That’s likely because online degrees are more flexible. Accessing classes from home, with a wider range of time to take them, can allow students to continue working full-time, or take care of a family. Many on-campus programs also have flexible or part-time options.

In-person interaction: Face-to-face interaction is essential to some people but may be less of a priority to others. How important it is might depend on certain factors like your major and what sort of experience you want out of a bachelor’s degree program. While certain majors, like computer science, may be more conducive to taking online, others like theater might be more suitable for in-person learning. Being on campus can give you many extracurricular options, but online schools can also expose you to a community of people across the country and around the globe.

Here’s some good news

Online programs are constantly evolving, and many have adjusted to create opportunities to interact with other students, professors, and alumni. Online degrees can now give students the chance to work in group projects, join study groups, or network with alumni, all from behind the computer screen.

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (5)

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Affordability: Because of lower overhead costs, online bachelor’s degrees tend to be more affordable than those on traditional campuses. Of course, factors like whether or not the college is public or private, in-state or out-of-state, and how much financial aid you receive will all affect the price of a school, whether it’s online or in-person. The good news is that you may qualify for federal aid in either case. Filling out your FAFSA can be a good place to start.

Other types of education

Bachelor’s degrees aren’t the only type of degree you can get. Here are others:

Associate degrees: Students typically acquire associate degrees at community colleges, and take two years to complete. The costs are usually lower than a bachelor’s, and requirements are generally less competitive. An associate degree can lead to opportunities like web development or mechanical engineering, among many others.

Professional certificates: Professional certificates can help you advance your career or start a new one in far less time and cost than a traditional degree program. Though not a degree by itself, certificates can be a good option for those who want to acquire new skills quickly while committing less time and money than would be spent on a degree.

Master’s degree: A master’s degree is a postgraduate degree—meaning it’s a degree you get after completing an undergraduate degree. Those who have completed their bachelor’s and want to advance in their current field, or want to pivot to a new one, might consider getting a master’s. Master’s degrees generally take anywhere from one year to two years for full-time students, depending on the program and field. They can open up paths to careers like clinical social work or psychiatry. Learn more about the differences between Master of Arts (MA) degrees and Master of Science (MS) degrees.

Doctorate: Also known as a PhD, a doctorate is a postgraduate degree that you can get to become a recognized expert in a field. A doctorate will be useful for a profession that involves intense research, like a scientist, college professor, or researcher at a think tank. PhDs can take as short as four years to obtain, but generally take around eight.

Ready to start exploring? Take a look at some degree options on Coursera.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.


What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More? ›

According to NCES, in-state students attending public four-year universities in California paid an average of $23,037 for tuition, room, and board in 2019-2020. In contrast, students at California private schools paid an average of $51,750.

Is it expensive to get a bachelor's degree? ›

According to NCES, in-state students attending public four-year universities in California paid an average of $23,037 for tuition, room, and board in 2019-2020. In contrast, students at California private schools paid an average of $51,750.

How much do people spend on a bachelor's degree? ›

The average private, nonprofit university student spends a total of $54,501 per academic year, $37,641 of it on tuition and fees. Considering student loan interest and loss of income, the ultimate cost of a bachelor's degree can exceed $500,000.

What is the purpose of a bachelor's degree? ›

A bachelor's degree program is designed to provide a student with a well-balanced education and the skills necessary to pursue a specific career field. Bachelor degrees prepare students for professional jobs such as those in middle management. They require both general and specific coursework.

How much does a 4 year bachelor degree cost in USA? ›

The average cost of bachelor's degree in the USA ranges from $15,000 to $45,000. However, the tuition fees are on the higher side at top universities. Here are some of the top ranked colleges by QS World University Rankings 2023 along with tuition fees.

Why are bachelors degrees so expensive? ›

Are you ready to discover your college program? Why is college so expensive? There are a lot of reasons — growing demand, rising financial aid, lower state funding, the exploding cost of administrators, bloated student amenities packages.

How long is a bachelors degree? ›

A bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete, but that time can vary — especially if you're earning an online bachelor's degree.

What is the average college debt? ›

Borrowers between the ages of 25 and 34 carry about $500 billion in federal student loans—the majority of people in this age group owe between $10,000 and $40,000. However, people carry their education debt well into middle-age and beyond.

What is the high cost of college? ›

But in the 2020-2021 academic year, the average price tag for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public institution was $9,375, and at private four-year institutions, it was a whopping $32,825. With student housing, that cost skyrockets — some schools are charging those who can afford it over $70,000 per year.

What is the best bachelor degree to get? ›

Unsurprisingly, the list is dominated by bachelor's degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), as these programs tend to have a better payoff compared to others (Day & Martinez, 2021). As such, they are some of the best degrees to get.

What is a 2 year degree called? ›

Different types of associate degrees, such as an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Arts (AA), are 60 credits and can be completed in 2 years or less, and are a great first step toward earning an entry-level job or promotion.

What's a 6 year degree called? ›

A bachelor's degree (from Middle Latin baccalaureus) or baccalaureate (from Modern Latin baccalaureatus) is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to six years (depending on institution and academic discipline).

What are the benefits of getting a bachelor's degree? ›

Let's look at the benefits of earning a bachelor's degree, and how your personal educational goals and lifestyle choices should be considered in making this major decision.
  • Increased Access to Job Opportunities. ...
  • Preparation for a Specialized Career. ...
  • Increased Marketability. ...
  • Increased Earning Potential. ...
  • Economic Stability.
Jan 9, 2020

Should I just get a bachelor's degree? ›

A bachelor's degree is worth it, depending on your career goals. Pursuing an education, if it's right for you, can be beneficial in almost any career field. This degree can make you a more marketable candidate when searching for a job, and you may benefit from it by getting an increased salary.

Is there a difference between a bachelor's degree and a degree? ›

The Difference Between Bachelor's and Associate Degrees

Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs, while bachelor's degree programs are typically 4 years and delve more deeply into the area of study.

Are all bachelor degrees 4 years? ›

Bachelor's degrees in the USA typically take 4 years to complete. The first 2 years include common required courses, such as math, history, literature, and communications.

Is a bachelor degree always 4 years? ›

It typically takes between four and five years to complete a bachelor's degree when you attend school full-time. However, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that the majority of undergraduates took six years to graduate in 2019 [3].

How much is a masters degree? ›

Data Summary. The average total cost of a master's degree is just over $30,000 a year. Master's degree programs typically range from $44,000-$57,000 for two years. The most expensive master's degree programs can cost more than $60,000 per year.

What is the most expensive bachelor degree? ›

15 Most Expensive College Majors (And If They're Worth It)
  • Medicine.
  • Film Studies.
  • Computer Engineering.
  • Fine Arts.
  • Engineering.
  • Music.
  • Law.
  • Theater Arts.
Feb 20, 2023

What is the most expensive degree in USA? ›

Here are some figures to show why an MBA is one of the most expensive degrees in the world: Harvard Business School (US$112,764 for the full two-year programme) MIT Sloan School of Management (US$82,000 for the 2023-24 academic year)

Why is college so unaffordable? ›

Over the last 30 years, tuition costs have soared for a variety of reasons. State funding cuts, expanding administrative staffs, and increased construction and facility costs all play a role. As a result, the average student debt among college graduates is now close to $28,000.

Is 2 years of college a bachelor degree? ›

The quick answer is yes! A 2 year bachelor degree is indeed possible. People typically think of a Bachelor's degree as something that requires four years at colleges and universities to accomplish. However, it is possible to obtain such a degree in a shorter time.

What degree is 8 years of college? ›

An “eight-year degree” typically refers to a doctorate degree or PhD. Although some doctorates can be completed in as little as three years, these degrees typically require more time studying highly specialized subjects.

How many years is a PhD? ›

On average, a Ph. D. may take up to eight years to complete. A doctorate degree typically takes four to six years to complete—however, this timing depends on the program design, the subject area you're studying, and the institution offering the program.

Do student loans go away after 7 years? ›

If the loan is paid in full, the default will remain on your credit report for seven years following the final payment date, but your report will reflect a zero balance. If you rehabilitate your loan, the default will be removed from your credit report. Q.

Is $100 000 in student loans too much? ›

Six-figure student debt isn't the norm. So when you're facing a student loan balance of $100,000 or more, the standard, 10-year federal repayment plan may not be right for you. Standard monthly payments will likely exceed $1,000 with that much debt.

Is college unaffordable for most people? ›

A college education is widely perceived as unaffordable for most Americans, with 77% of U.S. adults saying a college degree would be difficult for someone like them to afford. 82% of women said a college degree would be difficult to afford, compared with 73% of men.

How long does it take to pay off student loans? ›

The standard student loan payoff time for federal student loans is 10 years. However, repayment time depends on the loan amount and how much you can pay a month. A bachelor's degree-holder with the average amount of federal loan debt would need to pay at least $290 a month to pay off their loan in 10 years or less.

What makes college so hard? ›

Yes, college classes are typically harder than high school classes because the course work, topics, and depth of materials are more complex, set at a faster pace, and require more studying.

Should I choose BA or BS? ›

Neither degree ranks as better than the other, but one might better suit specific career goals. For example, students interested in technical careers may need a BS for graduate school applications. In some majors, undergrads choose between a BA and a BS. Many psychology programs, for instance, offer both options.

What 4 year degree makes the most money? ›

The top-earning majors are in so-called STEM fields, or degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Which is the hardest degree in the world? ›

What are the hardest degrees in the world? Ranked by Experts
  • Chartered Accountancy.
  • Astrophysics.
  • Quantum Mechanics.
  • Law.
  • Aerospace/ Aeronautical Studies, Engineering.
  • Biomedical Studies, Neurosciences, Biochemistry.
  • Nursing.
  • Dentistry, Medicine.
Dec 16, 2022

What is a 7 year degree called? ›

Types of academic degrees
Academic degreeTypical completion time
Bachelor's degreeFour years
Master's degreeTwo years
Doctoral degreeFour years
Professional degreeBetween four and seven years
1 more row
Mar 16, 2023

What is a 5 year degree called? ›

Bachelor's degrees require students to complete four- or five-year programs in a specific academic discipline. The two most common types of bachelor's degrees are bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS).

What is the lowest degree in college? ›

Here are the college degrees in order, from lowest ranking to highest:
  • Associate degree (undergraduate)
  • Bachelor's degree (undergraduate)
  • Master's degree (graduate)
  • Doctoral degree (graduate)

What's the highest paying major? ›

Chemical engineering majors topped the list of highest incomes right after college, earning a median annual wage of $75,000 as of February 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. According to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemical engineers earned a median salary of $105,550.

What is the highest degree? ›

Doctoral Degree

A doctorate degree is the highest level of academic degree in most fields. For research or university teaching, the degree is usually a PhD, while applied professional doctorates include the Doctor of Medicine (MD), the Doctor of Education (EdD), and the Juris Doctor (JD), among others.

Is PhD the highest degree? ›

A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is a doctoral research degree and the highest level of academic qualification you can achieve. A PhD degree normally takes between three and four years of full-time work to complete.

Does GPA matter for bachelor's? ›

Though most schools set their requirements, it's usually no lower than a 2.0 GPA. Having a 3.5 GPA or higher also has its perks. You can qualify for honors programs at your university, earn certificates of distinction, and become eligible for merit-based scholarships.

Does getting a degree pay off? ›

Bachelor's degree holders generally earn 84% more than those with just a high school diploma, the report said — and the higher the level of educational attainment, the larger the payoff.

Which degree is best for future? ›

24 of the most useful degrees for the future
  1. Business. A business degree focuses on the different factors of running a business, including business management, marketing, accounting and human resources. ...
  2. Marketing. ...
  3. Computer science. ...
  4. Public relations. ...
  5. Psychology. ...
  6. Nursing. ...
  7. Accounting. ...
  8. Biology.
Mar 3, 2023

What are the disadvantages of a bachelor's degree? ›

Cons for earning a bachelor's degree include:
  • Prohibitive tuition cost.
  • Four year time commitment.
  • Costs of room and board, rent, books, car and fuel, etc.

How many jobs don't require a college degree? ›

By analyzing over 51 million job postings dating back to 2014, the researchers found that between 2017 and 2019 roughly 46 percent of “middle-skill” and 37 percent of “high-skill” occupations no longer asked for a bachelor's degree, and instead had job postings listing technical and social skills instead.

What jobs make 6 figures without a degree? ›

14 six-figure jobs without a college degree requirement
  • Data Scientist. Data Scientists analyze raw data and draw meaningful insights that can improve business performance. ...
  • Data Engineer. ...
  • Business Analyst. ...
  • Software Engineer. ...
  • Engineering Manager. ...
  • Test Engineer. ...
  • Cybersecurity Engineer. ...
  • Technical Program Manager.
Feb 6, 2023

What defines a bachelor's degree? ›

A bachelor's degree is an undergraduate degree in which you study a subject of your choice at an academic institution, and is commonly known as a college degree. Getting a bachelor's degree can enhance your access to job opportunities, expose you to new ideas, and boost your earning potential.

Do 2 associate degrees equal a bachelor's? ›

No, two associate degrees do not equal one bachelor's degree. However, after earning an associate degree, you can transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor's degree. The advantage is that you will have to spend just two more years on your bachelor's degree program.

Why is a college degree called a bachelor degree? ›

The term bachelor stems from the Latin word baccalārius, referring to people of low rank in the feudal hierarchy, but it was later used to refer to students who had passed the baccalaureate exam and were thus in the second stage of their studies.

How much does it cost to study bachelor in USA? ›

Tuition Fees at Public Universities
Course LevelAvg. Annual Tuition Fee
Bachelor in US8,000 - 35,000 USD /year
Masters in US10,000 - 35,000 USD /year
Jan 12, 2023

How long is a bachelor's degree in USA? ›

Following high school, students can choose to study a bachelor's (or “undergraduate”) degree at a college or university. Find a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degrees in the USA typically take 4 years to complete. The first 2 years include common required courses, such as math, history, literature, and communications.

How much does it cost to get a bachelor's degree from Harvard? ›

Harvard College
Harvard College Tuition RatesAcademic Year 2023-24
Health Services$1,408
Housing Rate$12,424
Student Services$3,399
3 more rows

How much does it cost to get a PhD? ›

On average, the total cost comes out to $32,846 per year, including tuition and living expenses. Students typically take 4-8 years to finish a Ph. D. program, so a doctoral degree can cost anywhere from $131,000-$263,000 before grants and assistantships.

Is there a 3 year bachelor degree in USA? ›

Of late, many notable US universities are now welcoming international students with 3-year bachelor's degrees to take admission to certain master's study programs. The US universities like Stanford and Harvard still do not consider a three-year bachelor's degree eligible for admission in MS courses.

How do Americans pay for college? ›

Most undergrads have help from parents to pay for college. Many also receive grants, borrow student loans, or work part time.

How can I study my bachelor's degree in USA for free? ›

The list of top tuition-free universities in the USA is given below:
  1. Berea College.
  2. Alice Lloyd College.
  3. College of the Ozarks.
  4. Curtis Institute of Music.
  5. City University of New York.
  6. U.S. Academies.
  7. Deep Springs College.
Jun 16, 2022

What GPA is required for Harvard? ›

The GPA requirements for Harvard University are between 3.9 to 4.1. You will need an incredibly high GPA and will likely be graduating at the top of their class in order to get into Harvard University.

Does Harvard give full ride scholarships? ›

Can you get a full scholarship to Harvard? Harvard does not offer any merit-based aid, and no full-ride scholarships. However, they do meet 100% of students' demonstrated financial need. So, if you have high need, such as an auto-zero EFC on the FAFSA, you might qualify for almost a full ride.

What is the average student debt at Harvard? ›

Student Loan Debt for Harvard University

At Harvard University, the median federal loan debt among borrowers who completed their undergraduate degree is $12,665. The median monthly federal loan payment (if it were repaid over 10 years at 5.05% interest) for student federal loan borrowers who graduated is $127.

Are PhDs fully paid for? ›

Many Ph.D. programs are fully funded.

These programs typically provide waived tuition and fees and an annual stipend. Some also offer health insurance and other benefits. Gaining admittance into these small cohorts can be highly competitive, and the programs can be time-consuming.

Can you get a PhD without a Masters? ›

Yes, it is possible to earn a PhD without a master's degree. Though the traditional path entails completing a master's program before embarking on a doctorate, some schools and programs offer options to skip the master's entirely. Actually, in select cases, it's the preferred approach.


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