What Is a Bachelors Degree and What Is Required to Obtain One?

Students can begin earning a bachelor's degree as early as high school by earning college credits through a variety of advanced study programs. They must usually complete college entrance exams prior to applying and declare a major once they're accepted. Students may be required to fulfill other requirements, like completing an internship or passing an exit exam.

A bachelor's degree is a four-year undergraduate degree that includes major courses and general education courses. There may also be other major-specific requirements, like internships.

Bachelor's Degrees: An Overview

Bachelor's degrees often take four years to complete and include around 120 credit hours of coursework. The two most common bachelor's degrees are the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). It is possible to earn a B.S. in the physical or natural sciences, or in engineering. Possible majors include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Health services management
  • Zoology
  • Civil engineering
  • Mechanical engineering

It is possible to earn a B.A. in the liberal arts and sciences. Possible majors include:

  • English literature
  • Fine arts
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Computer science

Major and Minor Information

College students usually declare a major before the end of their sophomore year. Academic majors include a series of classes that will focus degree candidates' study on an area of interest. Often, B.S. programs require students to complete more major courses, while B.A. programs allow for a broader liberal arts education.

Most schools and programs also allow students to declare a minor, which is a secondary area of study that requires fewer classes than a major. Students tend to choose minors closely related to their majors, although they can minor in whatever subject they wish. For example, a student majoring in English may decide to declare a minor in creative writing.


Some schools and programs require students to complete an internship prior to graduating. An internship is a work-related experience in a student's field of study. For example, a journalism major may end up interning at a local television or radio station. These opportunities might lead to employment after graduation or can be used to find work with a different employer. Most internships are unpaid, although a few do compensate students for their time.

Exit Exams

An exit exam is a test that assesses students' proficiency in a particular field of study. Students may be tested in general education areas such as writing, reading and mathematics or in their major field of study. Though not all colleges and universities require students to take exit exams prior to graduation, those that do use the results to assess the effectiveness of their programs' curricula. There are no minimum score requirements, but students might have a hold placed on their diploma until they comply with a school's testing requirements.

Admissions Requirements

To gain admission to a bachelor's degree program at a college or university, students must submit several application materials:

  • Application and fee
  • Official high school transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Supplemental essay
  • Scores on college entrance exams

College Entrance Exams

These exams are usually taken during students' junior and senior years of high school or upon graduation. Students generally take one of two exams, the SAT or the ACT. Both are internationally recognized college admissions tests used to evaluate students' general educational development and their ability to perform academically at the postsecondary level. The SAT includes sections in areas such as reading, writing and mathematics, while the ACT evaluates a student's math, science, reading and English knowledge. There's also an optional writing test which assesses students' essay writing skills.

To obtain a bachelor's degree, it is necessary to earn a certain number of credits and fulfill major requirements. Admission to one of these programs requires the submission of a variety of application materials.

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