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bachelor's degrees

College Degrees: What Is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree is the gold standard of academic advancement after high school. It’s the second level of an educational hierarchy that progresses from associate to bachelor’s to master’s to doctorate level. For many, a bachelor’s degree is the first introduction into an advanced educational environment. Bachelor’s degrees are also a requirement to enter many professions. This is because bachelor’s degrees offer general education alongside a degree of skill specialization.

There are four main types of bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Business Administration. Some schools offer more niche bachelor’s degree categories like Bachelor of Applied Arts or Bachelor of Applied Science. Within these categories lies an expansive list of possible majors on which a student can focus their studies.

Associate Versus Bachelor’s Degrees

An associate degree is a level below a bachelor’s, but it can be an ideal degree level for certain individuals. The most obvious difference between the two degrees is that an associate degree is only a two-year degree, whereas a bachelor’s traditionally takes four years as a full-time student. Some programs allow students to transfer the credits from the two years of their associate degree towards a bachelor’s degree, so they only need two more years of study to complete their bachelor’s. Since associate degrees are often earned at less expensive community colleges, using an associate degree for the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program can save thousands of dollars. However, it is important to note that not all associate degree credits may transfer to every bachelor’s program.

Associate degrees also can be useful as a way to earn practical career training. They offer an option for less studious students or students who want to start working sooner to gain marketable skills. There is a long list of careers available to associate degree holders, making these degrees ideal for professionals in some fields.

Bachelor’s Degree Admissions Requirements

Most bachelor’s program applications require the same standard items: a completed application form, a high school transcript, standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.), letters of recommendation, essays, and an application fee. Although many college applications and essays follow similar themes, it is always best to tailor applications to each individual school when possible. Application fees are most commonly around $50 to $75 each, so it’s important to be selective with your application list. Study the academic programs offered and their acceptance statistics to help you prepare a list of easier “safety” and more competitive “dream” schools.

Paying for a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is a sizable investment, though the cost can vary widely. The average U.S. annual tuition in 2020 ranged from $10,560 for in-state public colleges to $37,650 for private universities. Ivy League universities, such as Harvard or Princeton, charge more than $50,000 per year. These costs do not include secondary expenses such as textbooks, computers, or room and board, which can add thousands to the final amount.

Students typically use a combination of loans, scholarships and grants, private funds, and work-study jobs to pay their university fees. The class of 2018 had an average loan debt of $29,200 by the time they left college. It is therefore important to plan how you’ll pay for your degree during the college search process. Scholarships are the “free money” of education, so it’s definitely worthwhile to seek out and apply for every scholarship you can. Explore every other avenue of funding next, making loans your last resort.

Online or In-Person Bachelor’s Programs?

Online bachelor’s programs can be a flexible, cost-efficient alternative to in-person schooling. Not only does tuition tend to be lower with online programs, but many of the hidden costs of a university, such as room and board, are not required. It’s important to be careful when selecting an online education, however, as the sheer number of online schools have a wide range of educational quality. Online programs also mean you’ll miss out on the on-campus experience, which for some students can be nearly as educational as the academics. However, for the right student, online education can offer a good pathway to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

What You Can Do With a Bachelor’s Degree

Upon graduation, the holder of a bachelor’s degree will have a wider world of career possibilities. They can either continue their education by pursuing a more advanced degree or enter the workforce. With a bachelor’s degree in hand, the ability to land a high-paying position greatly jumps. A 2016 U.S. Department of Education study found that 11 of the top 15 fastest-growing occupations required a postsecondary education.

If more education is needed, a master’s degree (typically a two-to-three-year program) is most people’s next step. Some careers, such as a doctor or lawyer, require that students apply to more specialized schools in order to gain the knowledge required or pursue even more advanced credentials, such as a doctorate. But regardless of your path from here, earning a bachelor’s degree is a good step toward career and financial freedom.