4-Year College Overview
Find out about admissions requirements, curriculum, majors and post-graduation options for 4-year college programs, as well as whether they always require exactly four years of study.
The typical 4-year college program offers two types of bachelor's degrees: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.). The B.A. is typically awarded to students who major in the arts and humanities, including history, philosophy, and English. Students who major in science, technology, and business usually earn a B.S. degree. Some 4-year colleges are liberal arts schools that award only B.A. degrees in all majors, including in the sciences.
Entrance requirements vary among 4-year colleges, but most schools mandate that candidates hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. They may also need to meet minimum GPA requirements. Aspiring students must usually submit the following admissions materials:
- Application and fee
- SAT and/ or ACT test results
- Letters of reference
- Personal essay
Colleges typically require about 120 credit hours or more of coursework, including general education classes, electives, and major requirements. Although it varies by college and university, general education classes typically account for about one-third of all classes in 4-year college programs, and include subjects such as English, math, science, and a foreign language. Some schools allow students to fulfill some of these requirements with transfer credits from a 2-year community college. Due largely to general education requirements, bachelor's degree programs offer a broader education than associate's degree programs.
Students are required to choose a major by the halfway point of their bachelor's degree studies. A major is a subject area in which a student specializes while pursuing a bachelor's degree. Colleges offer a wide range of majors, ranging from accounting and geology to sociology and zoology. Depending on the major, students may be required to participate in research projects or internships to gain hands-on experience. For example, 4-year college students majoring in nursing must complete clinical components, and a chemistry major may be required to participate in lab work and research projects.
Students typically earn a bachelor's degree in four years, but some may complete it in three years by taking heavier course loads. Some students may need more than four years because they work part-time, take time off from school, carry fewer courses, or repeatedly drop and add courses. Colleges generally don't require students to complete bachelor's degree programs within a specific number of years.
After finishing a degree from a 4-year college, students can directly enter the workforce; however, they may also pursue more advanced studies at graduate or professional school. For instance, aspiring doctors may enroll in an M.D. program, while those who would like to pursue academic research in their major field of interest may enroll in a master's degree or Ph.D. program.
Through 4-year colleges, undergraduate students can earn a bachelor's degree by taking general education courses as well as requirements and electives within a major area of interest.