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What Does a Bachelors Degree Program Consist Of?

A bachelor's degree is the highest undergraduate degree awarded in the U.S., typically requiring four years of study following high school. Explore details about the requirements for these degree programs, such as general education and major courses.

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. Some bachelor's degree programs require a thesis or capstone project in addition to coursework. Internship experiences or clinical training may also be required.

In most undergraduate programs, one course is worth three credits, so four courses (12 credits) would be full time. Realize that for each course students can expect to spend an additional 6-9 hours studying per week. Full-time students therefore spend 24-36 hours every week doing homework and studying for tests, plus they have to spend time attending all their classes.

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 and technical skills courses, while a Bachelor of Arts in Music emphasizes theory and analysis through more generalized approach.

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, science, engineering and business fields. 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 amount of course units within the major. The B.S. degree program generally requires more courses within the major, especially at the junior and senior levels. The B.A. degree program still requires focused study within the major, but fewer courses comparatively. Students still need at least 120 semester units to graduate from either bachelor degree program, but that would mean that B.A. degree programs typically have more general education course requirements than B.S. degree programs.

Choosing a Major

Bachelor's degree-seeking students must choose a major in which to focus the remainder of their studies. Some schools have a limit of time on when a major must be chosen, whereas other schools may allow students to be undeclared or a general studies major. Students may change majors by filling out the necessary paperwork. When you choose a major, you will earn your bachelor's degree in that major. For example, chemistry majors earn a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. At many schools, students take required major courses that, in total, equal around a third of all the courses they must take to graduate.

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 a wide range of majors, including the following:

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

Students may also select areas in which to minor. Similar to a major, a minor allows students to gain knowledge and skills from area-specific courses. The amount of courses needed to complete a minor is far less than the amount needed to complete a major. Some schools may require students in certain bachelor's degree programs to select both a major and a minor, but this varies.

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