How Many Years Is a Bachelor’s Degree: Factors That Impact Timing

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

As a full-time student, you can typically complete an undergraduate degree in four or five years, although there are certain factors that can impact the process.

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A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree you earn in a specific college major. It’s the most common degree that high school students seek and the degree most often required for jobs in the United States [1]. In fact, 35 percent of available jobs require this four-year degree, according to a study from Georgetown University [2].

It typically takes between four and five years to complete a bachelor’s degree when you attend school full-time. However, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that the majority of undergraduates took six years to graduate in 2019 [3].

The total time it takes you to earn your bachelor’s degree will vary. If you're able to attend school full-time and successfully transfer previously earned college credits, you may be able to graduate in less than four years. In this article, we'll look more closely at some of the factors that can accelerate—or extend—getting to graduation.

7 factors that could impact your timeline

There are many factors that can affect your completion date, including finances, schedules, and credits earned during high school. Let's look at each one.

1. Full-time vs. part-time status

One of the biggest factors that weighs into your degree timetable is whether you attend college full-time or part-time. This tends to be a personal decision that you'll make based on your availability and commitments. For example, if you're working a full-time job, the time you have to dedicate to school may be limited to after-hours or weekends.

If you want to potentially finish your degree in four years, it's important to commit to a full-time course of study. If, however, you have other responsibilities and cannot dedicate the majority of your time to school, enroll as a part-time student. The timeline in which you'll finish depends on the number of courses you can take each semester.

Tip: To earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, you’d typically need to take 15 credits (roughly five courses) a semester. However, if you increase your course load each semester or take summer classes, you could shorten your degree completion time.

Avoid overwhelming yourself with classes by first discussing the pros and cons with your counselor, and asking them for suggestions regarding class combinations that make the most sense.


2. Finances

In the US, federal financial aid options are usually available to obtain your degree in a timely manner. It may be financially lucrative to budget for your degree by working as you study, but that choice could extend your timeline.

3. Special degree programs

Some universities offer special degree programs, like accelerated bachelor's or dual degree. An accelerated bachelor's allows you to earn your degree in less than four years but requires intensive coursework. A dual degree, on the other hand, makes it possible to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in less time than it would take to earn each one individually.

If either of these options interest you, research possible programs to see what's available in your area.

4. AP classes

Many high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students who want to get ahead in their college education. These courses may apply toward college credit and can shorten the number of years it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree.

As of October 2020, there are 38 AP classes available to high school students [3]. If you already know what you plan to major in, take subjects that align with it. For example, if you plan on becoming a pre-med student, you could take AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Physics 1 and 2, and AP Calculus. If each of these classes counts for three credits, you could enter college with 15 approved credits, which is about a semester’s worth of higher education.

Speak with your school advisor or guidance counselor to learn more about advancement opportunities available in your school.

5. CLEP exams

Degree seekers can also take College Level Examination Programs or CLEP exams through the College Board to demonstrate their understanding of introductory college subjects. If they pass an exam, they can earn college credit. Some colleges and universities accept CLEP results while others prefer AP courses, so it's best to check with an advisor about your options.

Read more: What Are CLEP Exams and Why Should You Take Them?

6. Transferring schools

Many students earn their associate degree at a community college before transferring to a bachelor's degree program at a four-year institution. Other students start at one institution before learning they're more interested in another.

In either case, plan accordingly. Each school has a predetermined course load for its degree programs, so be sure your courses are recognized by the new school to prevent losing credits.

Read more: What Does It Mean to Be a Transfer Student?

7. Changing majors

Much like transferring schools, changing majors can influence the progress of your degree completion. The number of bachelor's degree students who change their major continues to rise, according to the US Department of Education [4]. Despite that popularity, changing your major can extend your time in school. Speak with an advisor about what impact, if any, changing your major might have on your timeline and determine if the change is convenient for you.

Read more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate

Get started.

Enroll in a bachelor's offered by a leading college or university online, and earn your degree from the comfort of home. Consider options like the Bachelor of Science in Marketing offered by the University of London or the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences offered by the University of North Texas.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupations that Need More Education for Entry are Projected to Grow Faster Than Average,” Accessed May 26, 2022.

2. Georgetown University. “Recovery,” Accessed May 26, 2022.

3. TutorMe Blog. “How To Choose the Best AP Classes for College Applications,” Accessed May 26, 2022.

4. US Department of Education. "Beginning College Students Who Change Their Majors Within 3 Years of Enrollment," Accessed May 26, 2022.

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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.