What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (2024)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A bachelor’s degree can set you on a path to break into a field you’ve always been interested in, or enhance a career you’re already in. Learning about it is the first step in getting one.

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (1)

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree in which you study a subject of your choice at an academic institution, and is commonly known as a college degree.Getting a bachelor’s degree can enhance your access to job opportunities, expose you to new ideas, and boost your earning potential.

Fast facts about bachelor's degrees:

  • Bachelor’s degrees typically take between four and five years to complete or a minimum of 120 college credits.

  • Traditionally obtained in-person at a college campus, bachelor’s degrees have become increasingly easier to earn online as well.

  • Though many students pursue a bachelor’s degree immediately after high school, it is not uncommon to seek one later in life.

Let's review key things to know about bachelor’s degrees in the US, including how much they cost, what’s needed to apply, and whether an online or in-person experience is better for you.

Types of bachelor’s degrees

Three of the most common types of bachelor’s degrees are:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA): You earn a Bachelor of Arts when you major in the humanities or social sciences, such as history, psychology, English, or communications. The degree typically emphasizes critical thinking and communication skills, and is broad enough for you to pursue an array of careers after graduation, like teaching, human resources, advertising, or government work.

  • Bachelor of Science (BS): You earn a Bachelor of Science when you study technology, math, or one of the natural sciences, such as biology, chemistry, finance, or computer science. BS degrees typically emphasize quantitative skills, and can be a good way to launch a career in STEM.

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): You earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts when you major in fine, visual, or performing arts, such as creative writing, theater, drawing, or graphic design. If you’re interested in careers that involve the arts, like theater production or museum curator, a BFA could be a good option for you.

Bachelor’s degree requirements

While each college or university is different, you will have to meet a number of requirements when you apply to a bachelor's degree program and in order to graduate from one.

Application requirements for bachelor’s degrees

To apply for a bachelor’s degree program, you may be expcted to provide:

  • Past grades or GPA: Some programs may require you to have earned a certain minimum GPA in high school—like 2.5 or 3.0—though not all do. A program’s application should state what kind of grade requirements they have.

  • A GED or high school diploma: Most bachelor’s degree programs will require you to have completed a high school level of education. If you haven’t, you can consider other programs, like associate degrees or certificates that may not require them. Professional certificates on Coursera don’t require GEDs.

  • Standardized test scores, like the SAT or ACT: Though some schools are dropping this requirement, many still ask for test scores. High school students typically take standardized tests in their junior or senior year before applying to colleges.

  • Letters of recommendation: These can come from high school teachers who can speak to your good qualities and know you well. If you’ve been out of school for a while, a manager from a past or current job, a leader at your place of worship, a sports coach, or a volunteer coordinator can all provide letters of recommendation.

  • Personal essays: Colleges could request personal essays to better understand your personal story and why you’re interested in a particular program. A course on essay writing on Coursera or elsewhere can help build your writing skills.

Can’t meet all of the requirements? You'll find several performance-based admission degree programs on Coursera. These typically require you to pass three pathway courses in the subject you're interested in studying to gain full admittance to the program. Learn more.

Requirements for graduating from a bachelor’s degree program

Students typically need at least 120 credits to graduate from a bachelor’s program in the US (or roughly 180 credits at a school under a quarter system) and a minimum GPA (usually 2.0).

College degrees generally take between four and five years to complete when you're enrolled full-time, but the length of time it takes you to graduate will depend on the number of courses you take each year. Learn more about how to get a bachelor's degree and faster ways to graduate.

Cost of a bachelor’s degree program

The cost of college depends on several factors, like whether you choose to attend a public or private institution, are considered an in-state or out-of-state student, or opt for an online or in-person experience. Financial aid may also help lower your costs. Keep in mind tuition is separate from other living expenses, like housing and transportation.

  • Private vs. public: The College Board found that one year of tuition and fees, on average, cost $10,940 at public four-year institutions for in-state students and $28,240 for out-of-state students. Private nonprofit institutions cost $39,400 [4]. However, private colleges may have more institutional resources to give out as financial aid.

  • Online vs. in-person: The average public online bachelor's program tuition costs $38,496 for in-state students and $60,593 at private ones, according to US News—that’s total, not per year [5]. Online degrees eliminate relocation and transportation costs and offer enough flexibility for people who want to work full- or part-time.

  • Scholarships or financial aid: Financial aid through FAFSA and scholarships are available for many schools. See if you’re eligible for federal financial assistance and contact your school for opportunities to start.

Learn more: Is College Worth It?

Online vs. on-campus bachelor’s degrees

Both online degrees and on-campus degrees offer compelling reasons for students to enroll. Here are a few factors to consider when deciding which might be better for you.

Flexibility: Here's a fast fact—in 2017, the average graduate of an online degree program was thirty-two years old, according to US News, and 84 percent of them were employed as they attended school [6]. That’s likely because online degrees are more flexible. Accessing classes from home, with a wider range of time to take them, can allow students to continue working full-time, or take care of a family. Many on-campus programs also have flexible or part-time options.

In-person interaction: Face-to-face interaction is essential to some people but may be less of a priority to others. How important it is might depend on certain factors like your major and what sort of experience you want out of a bachelor’s degree program. While certain majors, like computer science, may be more conducive to taking online, others, like theater, might be more suitable for in-person learning. Being on campus can give you many extracurricular options, while online schools can also expose you to a community of people across the country and around the globe.

Here’s some good news

Online programs are constantly evolving, and many have adjusted to create opportunities to interact with other students, professors, and alumni. Online degrees can now give students the chance to work in group projects, join study groups, or network with alumni, all from behind the computer screen.

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (2)

Affordability: Because of lower overhead costs, online bachelor’s degrees tend to be more affordable than those on traditional campuses. Of course, factors like whether or not the college is public or private, in-state or out-of-state, and how much financial aid you receive will all affect the price of a school, whether it’s online or in-person. The good news is that you may qualify for federal aid in either case. Filling out your FAFSA can be a good place to start.

Learn more: What to Do if You Can't Afford College (Even With Financial Aid)

Is a bachelor’s degree worth it?

There are several benefits to getting a bachelor’s degree. These include a higher potential income, increased job prospects, and new and enriching life experiences. If you’ve been working for a while, a bachelor’s degree may also help you launch a new career or advance in your current one. Obtaining a bachelor’s can be the first step to getting a higher academic degree, like a master’s or a doctorate.

The financial benefit of a bachelor's degree

A bachelor’s degree can be friendlier to your wallet in the long run. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2022, a college graduate working full-time made a median of $1,432 a week, while high school graduates with no college experience earned a median of $853 a week [1]. That gap stretches into a significant difference over a year—a 2019 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that a college graduate earned an average of $33,000 more than a high school graduate in one year [2].

Jobs you can get with a bachelor's degree

Many high-paying jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, so having a four-year degree can make you more competitive for more roles. Here are some jobs that typically require a bachelor’s degree and are expected to grow rapidly in the next ten years, according to the BLS [3]:

  • Computer and information systems managers

  • Financial managers

  • Information security analysts

  • Market research analysts and marketing specialists

  • Medical and health service managers

  • Operations research analysts

  • Social and community service managers

  • Software developers

  • Web and digital interface designers

Learn more: 20 Highest-Paying Bachelor's Degree Jobs

Other types of education

Bachelor’s degrees aren’t the only type of degree you can get. Here are others:

Associate degrees: Students typically acquire associate degrees at community colleges, and take two years to complete. The costs are usually lower than a bachelor’s, and requirements are generally less competitive. An associate degree can lead to opportunities like web development or mechanical engineering, among many others.

Professional certificates: Professional certificates can help you advance your career or start a new one in far less time and cost than a traditional degree program. Though not a degree by itself, certificates can be a good option for those who want to acquire new skills quickly while committing less time and money than would be spent on a degree.

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Master’s degree: A master’s degree is a postgraduate degree—meaning it’s a degree you get after completing an undergraduate degree. Those who have completed their bachelor’s and want to advance in their current field, or want to pivot to a new one, might consider getting a master’s. Master’s degrees generally take anywhere from one year to two years for full-time students, depending on the program and field. They can open up paths to careers like clinical social work or psychiatry. Learn more about the differences between Master of Arts (MA) degrees and Master of Science (MS) degrees.

Ready to start exploring? Take a look at some degree options on Coursera.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More (2024)
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