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What Is a Bachelor's Degree?

A bachelor's degree is a four-year degree in a subject of the student's choosing. As a requirement for many career paths and many higher degree programs, earning a bachelor's degree is one of the most common and most straightforward ways for people to get started on their careers. Whether you've just graduated from high school or you're interested in changing your career, opting for a bachelor's will open doors in the professional world and make it easier for you to achieve your goals.

Typical Requirements

In order to get started on a bachelor's degree, students first need to apply to programs in the subject of their choice. As each school has its own requirements and own level of competitiveness for enrollment, students usually apply to multiple schools. Most colleges consider the following when looking at applications:

  • High School GPA
  • Test Scores (SAT, ACT)
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Personal Statements

The difficulty level of the application and your chance of getting in will depend on the school. These days, however, schooling is becoming more and more flexible, and online colleges in particular are making it easier than ever to apply and get into a program of your choosing.

Bachelor's degree programs usually take four years for full-time students to complete, with costs varying wildly between schools. With median tuition costs ranging from $13,900 to $27,200 per year, it's always a good idea to seek out financial aid, which can include government-provided aid through FAFSA, private scholarships, or student loans(1). Keep in mind that while these numbers are high, these are median costs, meaning many students are paying less -- choosing a school with lower costs and a better value is always an option as well, which is one reason why online schools are growing in popularity.

Most bachelor's programs take four years for full-time students to complete, though many online colleges in particular offer options that allow for self-paced learning, which can allow for a faster or slower track. Programs typically require students to earn 120 credits, with half or so dedicated to general education courses.

Why Earn a Bachelor's Degree?

People that choose to get a bachelor's degree are setting themselves up for higher wages for the rest of their lives -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they earn $26,106 more on average per year than people who only graduated from high school(2). In addition to increased income, having a bachelor's leads to more job opportunities, as most professional roles now require one. Additionally, a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for both master's and doctorate programs, so for anyone planning to work in a field that requires an advanced degree, enrolling in a bachelor's program is a necessary first step.

Besides monetary gain, increased job options, and the necessity of a bachelor's before pursuing even higher education, earning a bachelor's degree is an opportunity to broaden your horizons and study multiple subjects. You'll be studying under professors with extensive experience in their fields, which is an incredible opportunity in itself. And on top of all the other benefits, by the end of your schooling, you'll have improved your communication and critical thinking skills significantly and become an expert in your subject area, which are invaluable changes that are sure to benefit you for years after.

Bachelor's Degrees vs Master's Degrees

Once a student has graduated from their bachelor's program, a common consideration is whether to pursue a master's degree or not. Though not universal, studies do show that professionals with master's degrees earn more than their counterparts with only a bachelor's -- this difference amounts to $12,948 more a year on average(2). For some people, this is enough of a reason to take the extra two or so years to earn a master's degree. Aside from increased wages, there are a number of jobs that require employees to have a master's, particularly in higher up roles. Whether a master's will improve your career outlook or not depends on your field and your own ambitions.

Although overall those with a master's can earn more money, this isn't true for everyone. While a bachelor's may feel necessary given how many jobs require one, most jobs still do not require a master's. Pursuing a master's usually takes two or three years to complete, time that might be better used on simply getting experience in your field. Additionally, master's programs can be pricey -- the average student owes $66,000 after graduating(3). If your career path does not require a master's and having one won't likely lead to a significant pay increase to make up for the cost, getting a master's might not be worth the time or money.

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