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Everything You Need to Know About Bachelors Degrees

For anyone seeking a solid academic credential that can open doors to countless personal and professional opportunities, the bachelor's degree is unparalleled. Bachelor's degree programs offer a well-rounded education, often encompassing a core curriculum of general education courses in addition to specialty courses specific to the major. When you earn a bachelor's degree, you will learn how to think critically across a range of subjects. A bachelor's degree is also the stepping stone to graduate and professional education. Read on to discover everything you need to know about bachelor's degrees.

History of the Bachelor's Degree
The origin of the bachelor's degree in the Western world can be traced to the 13th century at the University of Bologna in Italy. After about four years, a student became a "bachelor" or a "baccalaureus," which meant he was a student-teacher, able to tutor and lecture new students. The Universities of Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge had similar programs. In the United States, the first bachelor's degrees were awarded at Harvard University in 1642. At that time, the curriculum took about three years and ten months to complete.

Benefits of Earning a Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree is a solid investment that reaps returns across the board.

Career Potential
Years ago, a high school diploma was all you needed to get a job. Not so today, when many careers require a bachelor's degree, even at the entry level. A bachelor's degree can get you in the door, and in many industries like the military it can even qualify you for more pay and a higher position.

Earnings Potential
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, bachelor's degree holders earn an average annual salary of $46,000. Compare that to $36,000 for associate degree holders, $30,000 for high school grads, and $23,500 for those who didn't complete high school, and you're looking at a big payoff.

Quality of Life
The benefits of earning a bachelor's degree extend to all areas of life. According to the College Board, compared to high school graduates, college graduates exercise more and smoke less, have higher rates of voting and volunteering, and are more likely to receive health and pension benefits with their jobs.

Different Types of Bachelor's Degrees
There are several different types of bachelor's degrees to choose from, though the BA and the BS are the most common.

Bachelor of Arts (BA)
The bachelor of arts degree may be awarded for study of any academic subject, like chemistry, or may be reserved for a humanities program, like history, depending on the degree structure at the particular university.

Bachelor of Science (BS)
The bachelor of science degree may be awarded for study in a pre-professional subject like nursing, or may be reserved for courses in the natural sciences, like biology, depending on the university.

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
The bachelor of fine arts degree is a specialized, professional degree that provides four years of training in a major such as creative writing, industrial design, or musical theater.

Other specialized bachelor's degrees include bachelor of music (B.Mus), bachelor of architecture (B.Arch), bachelor of technology (B.Tech), and many more.

How to Obtain a Bachelor's Degree
In order to obtain a bachelor's degree, you need to enroll in a four-year college or university and successfully complete all the general education and specialized courses required for your degree program. Another option is to pursue an associate degree at a two-year college and complete your bachelor's degree at a four-year school. Check with the colleges that interest you to determine their credit-transfer policies.

Applying for a Bachelor's Degree Program
When applying for a bachelor's degree program, you'll need an official copy of your high school transcript, as well as transcripts for any previous college courses you may have taken. Many four-year colleges require applicants to submit standardized test scores, such as SAT or ACT scores, and complete an admission interview. Additional college application materials may include an admission essay, recommendation letters, and an application fee.

Typical Length of a Bachelor's Degree Program
Most bachelor's degree programs are designed to last four years (eight semesters; about 120 credits), though many students take five or six years to graduate as a result of changing majors or taking classes part time. Students may use advanced placement credits or other pre-college courses to complete their bachelor's degree in less than four years.

How to Prepare for a Bachelor's Degree Program
To prepare for the rigors of a bachelor's degree program, college advisors recommend students spend time practicing the basics reading and writing. "Most students tell me in their first year that the most dramatic challenge is the volume of academic reading they have to do," says Glenn Bozinski, director of admissions at Misericordia University. And, he says, many students cannot write as well as professors expect them to. "Hone your writing stills; practice organizing your thoughts and presenting them in a compelling, persuasive way."

Skill Sets Developed in Bachelor's Degree Programs
The skill sets developed in a bachelor's degree program are the ones that top the wish list of every employer: writing and communication skills, as well as strong work ethic and initiative, says Carolyn Yencharis Corcoran, assistant director of career development at Misericordia University. "Other standard skills that students should expect to develop from a four-year institution include analytical skills, teamwork, problem-solving abilities, time management, and a sense of responsibility, maturity, and independence."

Interesting Bachelor's Degrees
Bachelor's degrees aren't limited to traditional subjects like English and math. If you can dream it, there's a probably a degree for it. Creative types can pursue a BFA in puppet arts or even bagpiping. Lovers of nature can get a bachelor's degree in floral management or turfgrass science. If you want to work with specific populations, consider a degree in gerontology or one in child and family development. Or, for a college experience that's really out of this world, set your sights on a degree in earth and space exploration.

Celebrities with Noteworthy Bachelor's Degrees

  • Lisa Kudrow has a degree in biology from Vassar.
  • Natalie Portman has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Harvard.
  • Danica McKellar (of "The Wonder Years" fame) graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics.
  • Talk show host Montel Williams has a bachelor's degree in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy.
  • At the age of 55, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg earned his bachelor's degree in film and electronic arts from California State University, Long Beach.

How to Best Leverage a Bachelor's Degree
Where you go to college is not nearly as important as what you do when you get there. One of the best ways to leverage a bachelor's degree is by taking advantage of every opportunity your school offers, including internships, study abroad, and extracurricular activities. These are all part of the big-picture college experience, which can enhance your resume and increase your employment and advancement opportunities in whatever field you choose.

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