Your Guide to Baccalaureate Degrees

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A baccalaureate degree is an undergraduate degree awarded by universities or colleges after completion of four years of study. Explore the benefits of a baccalaureate, the costs, and the time it will take to complete a degree program.

[Featured image] A baccalaureate student in a cap and gown smiles on stage after getting her degree.

"Baccalaureate" is another name for a bachelor’s degree—it’s an undergraduate degree program offered by colleges and universities. When considering a baccalaureate degree, you’ll want to learn as much as possible about the costs, time commitment, and other considerations that can impact the learning experience.

What is a baccalaureate degree? 

The baccalaureate degree is a college-level program you can take after graduating from high school or earning your GED. It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete the program, but several factors can affect the time frame, such as opting for an accelerated program or slower-pace part-time attendance. 

You can customize your degree to fit your goals by choosing a degree type, such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), among others, and a major—a particular field of study.

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How long does it usually take to earn a baccalaureate

Most baccalaureate degrees are four-year programs, but the completion time can vary depending on how you choose to study or the school’s program. 

Colleges and universities offer programs for traditional and nontraditional students. Many schools offer slower-paced adult learning degree programs under various names, such as extended learning or adult learner programs.

Factors that can impact the timeline:

  • Synchronous vs. asynchronous: Online degree programs offer the flexibility to study at your own pace and take courses synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous courses require you to sign on to a video platform, such as Zoom or Google Meet, and an instructor will present live, interactive classes. You take asynchronous courses independently, but there may be assignment deadlines. 

  • Full-time vs. part-time: Your enrollment also impacts baccalaureate degree completion time. Full-time students typically finish in four to five years. If you attend part-time, it may take longer to reach your graduation requirements. The more credit hours you take per semester, the sooner you can complete your program. Some schools limit the number of semester credit hours you can take.

  • Previous credits:Transferring credits from another institution can help you reduce the completion time. If you transfer from a two-year degree program, your new school may apply some or all of your credits to your baccalaureate degree. High school students who participate in a college credit program may also be able to apply those credits to their degree. 

Verify if the schools you’re considering accept transfer credits and what limitations they impose on transfer credits. 

Read more: How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

Typical cost of earning a baccalaureate degree

A baccalaureate degree’s cost will depend on the school you attend, the program you enroll in, and whether you attend on or off campus. Your location may also impact the cost, as tuition is typically lower for those who attend in their state of residence. 

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that as of the 2020-2021 school year, the average annual public-school tuition for in-state residents was $8,487, while out-of-state residents paid $18,809 on average. Comparatively, the cost of attending a private nonprofit school was $30,065, and the cost for a private for-profit school was $17,418 [1]. 

Consider these things when applying for a baccalaureate degree program:

  • Public vs. private schools: Private school tuition can be much higher than tuition at a public university. Public schools receive a large percentage of funding from state and federal governments, whereas private schools rely on tuition and private donations. 

  • Online vs. on-campus: Online learning may be less expensive. Tuition could be lower, and you won’t need to pay for a dorm, transportation, or meals outside the home. You can also often complete an online degree while working, which can help mitigate costs.

  • Part-time vs. full-time: Attending college part-time is less expensive per semester, as you pay for fewer credits each semester. However, you generally pay for full-time attendance as a flat rate, which can save you money throughout the entire program if you plan to take a bigger course load. 

Grants, scholarships, and other financial aid can also help you lower tuition costs. Check with the colleges you’re considering to explore what’s available. 

Other degrees to consider

If you’re unsure which degree program will meet your current or future needs, or if a baccalaureate degree is right for you, you have other options. 

If you’ve never attended a college or university, you may want to consider starting with an associate degree program. You can study for a vocational degree or complete a liberal arts program and then transfer to a bachelor’s program. After graduating from a baccalaureate program, you can pursue more advanced degrees.

Associate degree

Vocational schools and community colleges offer associate degree programs that typically take two years to complete. Upon completion, you may be able to transfer your credits to a four-year school to apply toward a baccalaureate degree or enter the workforce. 

Master’s degree

Entry into a master’s program usually requires a bachelor’s degree in the subject you want to study or a related field. A master’s degree typically takes two years to complete, although it can be longer or shorter, depending on the program and if you attend full- or part-time.

Doctorate degree    

If your goal is to be a professor or researcher, consider pursuing a doctorate degree or PhD. A doctorate can take five to eight years or longer to complete, depending on the coursework and research you undertake.

Professional degree  

A professional degree can help you prepare for a specific career. Degree programs that fall under professional degrees are doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, educator, and education administrator. The length of time to complete a professional degree varies.

Next steps 

Experience what it's like to earn your baccalaureate online and at your own pace by taking an open course from a top university:

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Article sources 

1. National Center for Education Statistics. “The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System,” Accessed August 3, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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.

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