The timeline depends upon a lot of factors, including your status as a student, any previous credits you have, and whether or not you take a full course load.
A typical full-time college student in the United States will take four years to earn the 120 credits required for a bachelor’s degree. But not everyone is typical. It’s important to know that this is a broad generalization and many factors can affect that timeline.
So how long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree? It depends. Let's explore some of the things that play into the length of time it can take to obtain.
Many students who take a full-time schedule of courses graduate college and receive their bachelor’s degree about four to six years from their college start date. This is considered a typical timeline, but a variety of educational alternatives are available that can result in those timelines changing.
While many students enter college to pursue a bachelor’s degree directly after high school, it’s not uncommon to pursue a degree later in life. More online and alternative options have made it easier to obtain a bachelor’s degree while studying on a part-time basis. This allows you to balance a work or family schedule with educational pursuits.
Full-time students can expect to dedicate their time completely to their studies. As a result, most take a course load of about 15 credits per semester for two semesters each year. Many colleges require 120 credits for graduation (though that varies depending on the institution), so full-time students can expect to complete their bachelor's degree within four years.
There is no definitive timeline for part-time students to complete a degree program, since it depends upon how many credits you’re able to take each semester. But the credits required for graduation will not change. For instance, if you’re able to take three classes a semester after work or on the weekends, it may take you a little over six years to receive your bachelor’s degree.
Various factors can affect how long it takes to receive a bachelor’s degree, even if you’re a full-time student following a traditional timeline. Some common influences include the following:
Switching majors: Each major requires a certain number of prerequisite classes. Switching majors midway through college may mean that your college journey will take longer than four years, as you must meet all the requirements for that particular major.
High school credits: In some cases, advanced high school classes may count for college credits. For instance, students who take an Advanced Placement (AP) exam and receive a high enough score on the test may get college credit for that class. This varies from school to school. If you enter college with credits, you might graduate in less time.
Community college credits: Some high school students can dual-enroll in community college classes that earn them both high school and college credits. Entering a bachelor’s degree program with some of these credits could reduce your overall time in school.
Summer classes: Some schools offer courses over the summer months. Taking advantage of this could allow you to graduate sooner.
Dropping classes: Dropping classes in college isn’t uncommon. If you can’t immediately take another class in its place, you might find that it will take you longer to earn 120 credits and qualify for graduation.
Opting to be a part-time student comes with considerable benefits. Some of the perks include:
Flexibility: As a part-time student, you have the flexibility to fit your classes into your schedule. If you have a job or family obligations, part-time school makes a lot of sense. You can use your free time, such as nights and weekends, to study without disrupting your daily obligations.
Steadier income: Giving up a steady income to be a full-time student may not be an option, so part-time classes might be a better fit for you. With part-time studies, you can aim to enhance your knowledge and work toward your degree while still earning a paycheck.
Attending college full time has its own benefits, and it’s often considered the more traditional route to receiving a bachelor’s degree. Perks of being a full-time student include:
Potentially shorter timeline: Full-time students finish their degree faster than part-time students. If you pursue this course, you might enjoy a quicker entry into your desired career. Full-time studies might also allow you to advance to even higher education in a more timely manner.
More on-campus experiences: Students who take full-time classes have the chance to enjoy the benefits of being fully immersed in college life. They might interact with their peers more often, participate in campus clubs and activities, and live on-site in the dorms. While none of this is required to receive a bachelor’s degree, many students enjoy these benefits as perks of the overall college experience.
There are three common types of bachelor’s degrees, which all generally take the same amount of time to complete. They are:
Bachelor of Arts (BA): The BA degree covers all liberal arts, humanities, and social service fields. Examples of BA degrees are English, history, psychology, or communications.
Bachelor of Science (BS): A BS degree encompasses studies in the areas of math, technology, and science. Examples of BS degrees include nursing, chemistry, biology, or information technology.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): A BFA degree focuses on artistic disciplines and prepares students to work in an art-related field. Examples of BFA degree specialties include dance, performing arts, fashion design, music, film production, or photography.
You’ll find several advantages to getting a bachelor’s degree, including possible improved financial prospects and job opportunities. You might even enjoy better odds of long-term career satisfaction.
Financial benefits: Greater financial security is often cited as a benefit to receiving a bachelor’s degree, and there is data to back this up. A 2019 study from the College Board found that the median yearly earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients (without an advanced degree) were $24,900 higher than those of high school graduates .
Work stability: Bachelor’s degree recipients also typically enjoy a more stable employment situation. The same College Board study determined that the unemployment rate of those age 25 and older who only have a high school diploma is twice as high as those who have a bachelor’s degree.
Better job opportunities: In addition to higher average pay, college graduates may also have a better chance of finding jobs that offer benefits. For example, individuals with a bachelor's degree are more likely to have an employer-provided retirement plan and employer-provided health insurance, according to College Board’s 2019 study.
Better job satisfaction: According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center and the US Census Bureau, 53 percent of Millennial-aged bachelor’s degree-holders say that they are “very satisfied” with their job. Conversely, just 37 percent of people who have never attended college report that they are “very satisfied” .
Considering earning your bachelor's degree online? Request more information about bachelor's degrees from top universities on Coursera in high-demand fields like business administration, marketing, and computer science to explore whether a degree is a good fit for your personal and professional goals.
1. College Board. “Education Pays 2019 Full Report. https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/education-pays-2019-full-report.pdf." Accessed December 30, 2021.
2. Pew Research Center. "The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2014/02/11/chapter-2-public-views-on-the-value-of-education/." Accessed January 14, 2022.
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.