What is a Bachelor's Degree? Definition, Types, and More - Bachelorsportal.com

What is a Bachelor's Degree? Definition, Types, and More

The Bachelor's degree probably is the world’s most popular qualification. Every year, millions of students across the world pursue one. But what, exactly, are they getting? How long does it take to get a Bachelor's degree? And what benefits does it bring?


What is the definition of a Bachelor's degree?

A Bachelor's degree is the first qualification awarded by a university. After studying for several years (from 3 to 6, depending on the country) in a specific field, students graduate and are awarded a Bachelor’s degree.  The successful completion of a Bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for further courses such as a master's or a doctorate.

However, beyond those broad statements, it can be hard to be more precise, because there are many types of Bachelor’s degrees, and each means studying and learning in different ways. A Science degree, for example, might represent years of near full-time lab work, while a Humanities degree might be completed with just a few hours of (sometimes optional) lectures a week supplemented by self-directed study.

With hundreds of thousands of Bachelor’s programmes available in the world (there are more than 100,000 international Bachelor's degrees available on Studyportals), it’s easy to see why it’s so hard to precisely define a degree.

What is a Bachelor's Degree and how Oxford University played a role to shape modern BAs

How did Bachelor's degrees start. Short history

The Bachelor's degree has its roots in medieval Europe, particularly in the universities of countries like Italy, France, and England. Centuries ago, Oxford and Cambridge, the two highly reputed UK universities, played an important role in shaping the modern Bachelor's degree.

Although they didn’t award qualifications or even have specific courses, medieval universities tended to attract young people to study for several years as they broadened their understanding of the world. They would travel between universities, and learn from different teachers in different disciplines.

To show that a student had reached a certain level of knowledge, they were awarded a degree. The term "bachelor" was used for someone who had completed basic studies and was like an apprentice in the academic world. The word traces its roots in the Latin “baccalaureus”.

Over time, though, the concept became standardised. And while there are variations, for example, how long it takes to get a Bachelor's degree varies between countries and the structure of courses depends on the awarding institution. Broadly, having a Bachelor's degree means the same thing anywhere you go.

How do I get on a Bachelor's degree course?

Getting a place on a Bachelor's degree is usually competitive, dependent on academic results at the secondary level and, often, a minimum level of language proficiency.

Typically, the most popular universities tend to have many students applying and therefore have higher standards to help manage high demand. Universities will publish their requirements, clearly stating the minimum qualifications and language proficiencies they would expect.

Even with a place, almost every university will charge fees for tuition in addition to other costs, such as living expenses and academic necessities. These will vary enormously between universities and countries. Unsurprisingly, the most popular and best universities tend to have higher fees. But there can be significant variation.

German education policy, for example, promotes making education accessible so that fees can range from zero to a few thousand US dollars. On the other hand, American universities can set charges that are ten or twenty times higher, charging hundreds of thousands of dollars over a four-year degree.

How long does it take to get a Bachelor's degree

How long does it take to get a Bachelor's degree?

Bachelor's degrees are typically three-to-four years long. Much depends on where you take them.

Four-year degrees are the most common, but in Europe, UK, and countries with a close association with the UK like Australia, they tend to take three years.

There are some places where a degree can take even longer, for example, many South American countries have degree programs that can last up to five years, or even six.

Another factor that affects how long it takes to get a Bachelor's degree is whether it is an honors degree. In many countries, the ‘honors’ reflect a more specialist degree that takes longer to study. In these countries, degrees can cover several disciplines and award a Bachelor's after three years, while four-year honors degrees are most focused on a single subject or discipline.

Those that follow the UK model are, again, the exception. In those nations, almost all degrees tend to be specialist, and the ‘honors’ are awarded to graduates whose final results reach a high enough level after three years.

How is a Bachelor's degree graded?

Almost all universities adopt a modular approach. Courses will frequently begin with mandatory modules, perhaps containing the core disciplines, but then you get to make a choice depending on your preferred career path in the field. At this point you will pick courses that interest you more.

Assessment of these will also vary. Although the traditional exam remains a common option, increasingly universities are using other assessment options, recognizing that exams are not always the best way to assess ability. These might include tutor assessment or coursework. Many degrees will also include a written dissertation or thesis.

The final degree will be awarded based on the combination of these scores. How this is graded varies between countries. The US, for example, awards a GPA, or grade-point average with four as the maximum. In the UK, degrees are given a class, from first-class honors for the highest scores (equivalent to a GPA of four), through upper and lower second-class degrees, and finally a third-class honors degree.

Types of Bachelor’s degrees and abbreviations

What are the types of Bachelor’s degrees?

When deciding on which international Bachelor’s degree is right for you, it’s essential you have a clear picture of the many, many different types of undergraduate programmes. For some, pride comes from the post-nominal letters. Anyone with a Bachelor's degree will be entitled to letters after their name. But what is the abbreviation for a Bachelor's degree?

Usually, the style includes the degree, honours where they have been awarded, and optionally, the awarding university, sometimes in Latin for older universities. The most common are BA or BSc, for Bachelor of Arts or of Science, respectively. But other regularly awarded degrees include BEng, BEd and LLB, for engineering, education and law. And other combinations are also sometimes used, like B.Acc for accountancy or B.Des. for design. Let’s take them in turn:

BA – Bachelor of Arts degree

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) is the most common among undergraduate degrees and usually takes three to four years to complete. It is mainly awarded to students following a programme in the Liberal Arts or in study fields that are covered in Humanities and Social Sciences, such as:

However, this doesn’t mean you dodged the bullets of Mathematics, Economy and other more exact subjects. Many BA studies include them as well, but the curriculum is lighter. Point in case, the main thing about a Bachelor’s of Art programme is that it’s focused on theoretical knowledge.

Exception: BA in the UK

In the UK, for instance, traditional universities such as Cambridge or Oxford, Bachelor of Arts degrees refer to all fields of study, including the scientific ones. Confused? Here’s some examples:

Don’t mistake a BA for a BFA degree!

Unlike a Bachelor of Arts which is an academic degree, a Bachelor of Fine Arts programme is a professional degree.

During a BFA, most part of the coursework is dedicated to either visual or performing arts and only around one third of the course work involves studying Liberal Arts (History, Literature, Psychology, etc.).

BSc – Bachelor of Science degree

The Bachelor of Science (BSc) is a type undergraduate degree that focuses on combining theoretical knowledge with research practice.

The Bachelor of Science is mainly awarded to students of Natural Sciences, Engineering& Technology, Mathematics, Computer Science& IT. The study duration of a Bachelor’s of Science programme is also three to four years.

In some cases, BS or BSc degrees can be found in study areas like:

Read more about the difference between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.

BAS – Bachelor of Applied Science degree

Depending on the country, a Bachelor of Applied Science can have a different meaning. In many cases, a Bachelor of Applied Science refers to a study course that has extensive practical applications; a clear example would be a degree in Nursing.

In Canada and the Netherlands, a BAS is a professional degree and is equivalent to a BEng – Bachelor of Engineering programme.

In colleges and universities from the United States, a BAS is a technical professional degree that is often considered an applied baccalaureate. Students that usually apply to a Bachelor of Applied Science are experienced professional adults that hold professional certifications and are interested in advancing their technical skills for the workplace.

BEng – Bachelor of Engineering degree

The Bachelor of Engineering (BEng or BE) is granted after studying one of the Engineering sciences. Depending on specialisation, it can last between three and five years.

A Bachelor of Engineering is academically equal to a Bachelor of Science degree and allows consecutive Master studies. Due to the numerous possibilities for specialisations in the area of Engineering, there are further degree types, such as:

  • the Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSc in Eng.)
  • the Bachelor of Business Administration and Engineering (BBAE)
  • the Bachelor of Business Engineering (BBE)

BBA – Bachelor of Business Administration

The less known little brother of the MBA degree, the BBA degree offers you an overview of all the subjects related to Business Administration, to help you understand how a company works. Typical courses are Accounting, Economics, Management and so on and so forth.

BBAs are usually the most comprehensive management degrees in terms of business theory and practice. If you want to focus on a specific aspect of running a business you can go for one of the following types of BBAs:

  • BBMs, or Bachelor’s in Business Management, teaching you the leadership and management part of running a company;
  • BSBA, or Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, teaching you the math and analytical sides of the business.

LLB – Bachelor of Laws degree

The Bachelor of Laws (LLB) is awarded if your studies are in the area of Law.  Compared to other Bachelor degrees such as the Bachelor of Science (BSc) or the Bachelor of Arts (BA), the Bachelor of Laws is not that widespread, yet. 

It doesn’t exist in the US for example. Most popular in the UK, such a degree paves your way to becoming a lawyer, provided you get practice experience and pass bar exams. 

Joint degree

Also known as dual/combined degree, the joint degree is a collaboration between two universities not necessarily located in the same country. That means you’ll get the chance to live in not one, but two countries. To get a clearer picture, here’s one example of a Joint degree programme:

The joint degree has the same duration as a regular programme and, usually, the two diplomas you’ll get at the end are on the same subject. However, there are cases when you can also study two different subjects. 

AD – Associate degree

The Associate Degree (AD) is especially common in North America and is awarded after a 2-year study. Many colleges offer a so-called 2+2 programme where students can complete a Bachelor’s degree quicker, in just two years after completing an Associate's Degree.

Except for universities in the UK, Ireland and France, for most of Europe, the Associate Degree is usually not considered a higher education degree but a professional certification needed for acquiring specific practical or technical skills.

Preparation or foundation degree

A university-preparatory course, also known as a foundation degree, prepares students for college or university education.

In most European countries, prep schools supplement the general education system and are typically designed to increase the chances of a good university placement. They are great if you lack the required qualification to be admitted to a foreign university. 

Find the programme that suits your education level, learning and career goals and start your study abroad adventure today! Also, find out more about graduate-level degree abbreviations.

>>> Read more about the types of degrees you can earn after high school

However, perhaps the biggest benefit is life-long. Research consistently finds that graduates have better life outcomes. Some of these are easily measurable, graduates tend to earn more and progress further in their careers. However, graduates also experience other, less tangible benefits, such as reporting higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.

Whichever way you look at it, getting a degree is an investment that is well worth making.

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