Going to college? Pursuing a higher education? Learn more about the bachelor's degree in this article, including what a bachelor's degree is, types of bachelor's degrees, benefits of getting a bachelor's degree, and the value of a bachelor's degree.

What Is a Bachelor's Degree?

The bachelor's degree or baccalaureate, is an undergraduate degree, conferred by an accredited college or university after the completion of a certified course of study, either proposed by the institution or proposed by the student and accepted by the institution. The course of study is generally four years, but may, in exceptional cases, be completed in three years, and in certain cases (for example, a double major or a late declaration or change of major) take five years.

The bachelor's degree differs from an associate's degree, which is awarded mainly by community colleges and junior colleges for a two-year course of study (or the equivalent) and from a master's degree, which is a graduate degree. Students having completed a high school diploma generally receive either a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree as their next stage of academic achievement, and those who complete an associate's degree may stop there or go on to a bachelor's degree.

Types of Bachelor's Degrees

There are two bachelor's degrees characteristically offered in the United States (this differs elsewhere): the bachelor of arts degree, abbreviated as B.A. and the bachelor of science degree, abbreviated as B.S. There are a few combined bachelor's/master's programs for which both degrees are awarded. Although the student is accepted to the joint program from the start, there may be a formal passage into the master's program when the work for the bachelor's program has been completed.

The Value of a Bachelor's Degree

The bachelor's degree has different meanings and usefulness depending both on the institution granting it and the course of study undertaken. The institution is important because, first, some institutions are accredited and some are not. Beyond that, some accredited colleges and universities are more rigorous and of better quality than others. In general, a degree from such institutions will be more highly valued.

The course of study is of importance for several reasons. First, some courses of study are more rigorous than others. Second, depending on the course of study, the bachelor's degree may signal different levels of accomplishment vis-à-vis the job market. There is a concept called the “terminal degree” which indicates the highest academic degree in a field of study. There are some careers for which a B.A. or B.S. may indicate that someone is fully trained. Other vocations require training to the level of a master's degree or a doctorate, whether that is a Ph.D., Ed.D, M.D. J.D., etc.

Differences may also be drawn, in certain cases, between on-line degrees and those offered by residential institutions. Simply by looking at the field of study and considering the means of delivery, it is clear that an on-line course cannot offer certain kinds of interactive and hands-on experiences that a student at a residential institution may experience as a matter of course. In other cases, on-line work may serve well as an equivalent or substitute for residential study.

Bachelor's degrees that are aimed at completing the training for a specific job are also available. A culinary school for example, prepares graduates who are ready to work in the food industry. A vocational college prepares students for a particular jobs area in which they have received job training, taking them up to the point of taking the license exam, if one is required. Dental hygiene is a case in point, as is respiratory therapy.

This contrasts with, for example a B.A. in philosophy, which does not provide training suited to a particular industry that one may expect to enter upon graduation. Such a degree does, however, prepare a student to go on to a higher degree in philosophy or a related field, or to move on to a teaching degree with philosophy as the content area.

Written By Mary Elizabeth

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