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What Does a Bachelors Degree Program Consist Of?

A bachelor's degree is the highest undergraduate degree awarded in the United States, typically requiring four years of study following high school. Students earning their bachelor's degree choose a major for in-depth study and take general education courses for a well-rounded postsecondary education.

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Bachelor's Degree: Overview

The bachelor's degree program consists of at least 120 undergraduate credits, divided between general education and a major field of study that has core courses and electives. Full-time status requires a minimum of 12 credits per semester, though students may need to take at least 15 credits per semester to graduate in four years. One credit is equivalent to 15 hours per semester - about one hour per week - in the classroom, along with the necessary outside preparation. Some bachelor's degree programs require a thesis or capstone project in addition to coursework.

Types of Bachelor's Degrees

The two most common academic bachelor's degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). Professional bachelor's degrees, such as a Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Engineering or Bachelor of Architecture, incorporate more in-depth study in the major and practical applications of the principles taught. For example, a Bachelor of Music program may require more performance courses, while a Bachelor of Arts in Music emphasizes theory and analysis.

Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Science

Bachelor of Arts degrees are more common in liberal arts fields, while Bachelor of Science programs are more common in math, sciences, engineering and business. However, students can find programs leading to either degree in most fields of study.

The primary difference between a B.A. and a B.S. is the required general education curriculum, regardless of major. The core curriculum of a Bachelor of Science degree program generally requires additional courses in math and science, while the Bachelor of Arts core curriculum typically includes additional credits in foreign language, literature and philosophy.

Choosing a Major

Bachelor's degree-seeking students must choose a major, often no later than the end of their second year, to focus the remainder of their studies. For example, chemistry majors earn a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. At many schools, the student takes roughly half his or her courses in the major and closely related fields.

Areas of Study

Specialized schools may offer limited majors. For instance, an art school may not offer a major in biology, and a business school likely won't offer students the option of taking videography. Universities and liberal arts schools offer the following majors:

  • English
  • Communications
  • Business administration
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Foreign language
  • Math

After Completing the Degree

Colleges and universities conferred more than 1.6 million bachelor's degrees in the 2009-2010 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov). Many white collar jobs require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree, as do graduate schools awarding master's degrees and doctorates.

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