What is an Undergraduate Degree

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young” – Henry Ford

Evolving, learning, and obtaining new skills are crucial and necessary for a happy, successful, fulfilled life. We, as species have discovered that the only way of moving forward is through learning and increasing our knowledge. 

Especially in today’s constantly evolving and changing workforce, lifelong learning imposes itself as a necessity for employment and overall living a good, prosperous life, rather than luxury or choice. With worldwide statistics illustrating college degree holders securing higher paychecks, enjoying better social-economic status, acquiring greater health insurance, and being overall better suited, it is really not surprising that many young people are not even questioning whether they need a college degree but rather what type suits them the most. 

Here we will discuss the first, most common degrees you will encounter and need to acquire after college: the undergraduate degrees

Undergraduate degrees are typically 4-years degrees offered at higher educational institutions, like colleges and universities; people who complete some undergraduate courses get their undergraduate degrees, which is actually just a colloquial term for a first academic degree. 

Facts About Undergraduate Degrees

  • In the U.S. in 2018/2019 around 21.9 million students have enrolled in colleges from whom 16.76 million students have enrolled in undergraduate studies in the undergraduate colleges and universities. 
  • In 2019/2020, the number of students who have enrolled in colleges shows a 1.3% decrease having 18.2 million students enrolling in college.
  • Most students in fall 2019 enrolled in public 4-year colleges (from the Education Data statistics) – 7.9 million, while at least, 750,000 students have enrolled in private for-profit 4-year colleges. 
  • The largest undergraduate university in 2018 was once again the University of Central Florida who had by far the largest enrolment of 58,913 students. 
  • The most popular undergraduate college majors are Business and Management – with 289,384 awarded degrees than Nursing with 141,632 awarded degrees and Psychology with 127,066 awarded degrees. 
  • According to the U.S. Department of Education, those individuals who are holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in their lifetime will earn 84% more money than those with only a high school diploma. 
  • Among colleges, the college with the lowest reported acceptance rate in 2018 was Stanford University in California who only took in 4% of all the applicants. 
  • According to Smart, the job-seeking market requires and guarantees a better chance of employment if you choose the right major/career; on top of their list of best majors and career choices are Master of Science – Physician Assistant, Master of Science – Nursing, Master of Science—Statistics / Master of Mathematics, Associate Degree—Physical Therapy and Bachelor of Computer Science. 
  • In 2019, most of the 3.9 million students who had graduated with a college degree in the U.S. were bachelor’s degrees – 1.9 million of them, and second were associate’s degrees with 989,000 students. 

What is an Undergraduate Degree?

The undergraduate meaning is quite literal, as it refers to someone who is still doing their undergraduate studies – they are still studying to graduate from college; these students have obtained their high school degree and they are accepted at college, where they are still in the process of studying to gain their college degree. The official undergraduate definition is, to quote the Oxford dictionary, “a university student who has not yet taken the first degree.” 

Undergraduate degrees are the first degrees that the students need to obtain to continue to pursue higher education. 

The common prerequisite for getting an undergraduate degree is high school diplomas or equivalent. Students will need to submit these diplomas upon enrolling in colleges/universities. 

What’s an Undergrad?

An Undergraduate or undergrad is a student who is studying for a bachelor’s degree and is still in the process of acquiring his/her undergraduate degree. Once these students finish their studies at the undergraduate college and get their degrees, they are considered graduates. 

Types of Undergraduate Degrees

When it comes to degrees, they are classified into two categories: undergraduate and graduate degrees. 

  • Undergraduate degrees are Associates and Bachelor’s degrees.
  • Graduate degrees are Masters and Doctoral degrees. 

They can take up anywhere from 2 to 8 years to accomplish depending on the field of study as well as the level of degree.  

In order to get a graduate degree, one needs to first acquire an undergrad degree

Associate Degree

What is an Associate Degree?

One of the undergraduate academic programs is associate degree – it is the first stage after secondary (high) school and it provides students with fundamental academic and technical knowledge and skills that they will need to master to continue their education or acquire a job in that field. 

In a few countries, like the UK, the associate programs are known under another name – foundation degrees; in some other countries, they simply are not available. However, throughout the US and some parts of Canada, Australia, Netherlands, you will be able to attain them in various colleges, including community colleges, technical colleges, university institutes, etc. Usually, it will take you 2-3 years of full-time studies to complete your education and gain an associate’s degree. 

What is it for?

Associate degrees are for providing fundamental, essential knowledge in a certain field. 

Various students acquire them for different reasons: some use them as preparation for taking on a bachelor’s degree, whilst others see them as a qualification in their own right – they use associate degrees to improve their knowledge and seek a better job, as associate degrees expends the employment prospects of those who only have high-school diplomas. 

Who is it for?

Everyone. Associate degrees can be a good foundation upon which you can continue to build on your education, continuing with Bachelor’s, Master’s, and later on even Doctoral. Earning an associate degree can lead you to a ton of unique careers from which you can choose. Some people may choose to earn just this degree and that would still be enough for them to get a good job, as they will become eligible for more jobs and they will also earn more than those with just high-school diplomas or less. 

Features of an Associate’s Degree

Associate’s degrees can be attained at various community colleges, technical colleges, even some universities. 

In general, as we mentioned before it takes 2 or in some cases 3 years to finish them and earn a title of “Associate of ____” (followed by the field of study, like Business, Science, Arts, etc. or sometimes, they can be followed by the subject – so-called “tagged” degrees.)

Associate degrees are offering 60 credits which in some cases can be transferable and can enable you to transfer to the third year of the bachelor’s degree program (read more about this in the next paragraph.).

These studies are diverse, they usually provide technical and vocational training and are preparing you for further studies or for entering the workforce in the respective field. 

Requirements and Eligibility for Completing the Associate’s Degree

To enroll in a college and obtain an associate’s degree on most occasions you will need to have a high-school diploma or equivalent and you will need to complete an application form and pay a fee. 

Depending on the type of associate degree programs you choose to enroll in, some may also require more and ask for the ACT or SAT, passing grades from prerequisite courses, letters of recommendation, minimum age, or even a clean background check. Nonetheless, in some community colleges, there are open admissions that are open for students of all ability levels. It is always best that you do research into the state and college requirements before you apply for any associate degree programs.

The requirements for completing an associate’s degree are established by the institution in which the studies are taking place and usually they require successful competition of all the needed coursework (the coursework generally includes general education courses like social interaction, Algebra, humanities, English composition accompanied by specific courses from the program of study.) and minimum 2.0 GPA. 

In some cases, students can take courses and credits earned at their associate degree’ (AA, AS, AAS) courses and have them counted toward a bachelor’s degree through recognition of prior learnings or articulation agreements, again, depending on the courses you had taken as well as the relegations of the college/university as well as your state’s regulations and laws. 

For example, in California in 2010 the state signed into legislation the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act which enabled any California Community College student who had already earned the AA –T or AS-T to get/be granted a priority admission to the California State University into a similar bachelor’s degree program with a guarantee of junior standing. However, this is not the case with every state. 

Some Examples of Associate’s Degree Programs

There are many different Associate’s degree types and programs in numerous fields. Some of the main Associate’s degree programs are Associate’s Degree in Business, Associate’s degree in Computer Science, Associate’s degree in Nursing, Associate’s Degree in Psychology, and Associate’s Degree in accounting, and so on.

From these programs you can obtain different degrees, among which the most popular are:

  • Associate of Arts Degree (AA) which can be acquired in the course of 2 years and provides you with broad knowledge in the field of liberal arts, social sciences, or humanities
  • Associate of Science Degree (AS) is also earned over the course of a 2-year program and it offers subjects like music, sociology, mathematics, chemistry, physics, etc., subjects that rotating more towards the natural and applied sciences.
  • Associate of Applied Science Degree (AAS) – unlike the previous two, is a vocational degree and its duration is for 2 years; moreover, it does not allow you to enroll in the third year nor transfer credits from it to Bachelor’s degree. However, studies for this degree do focus on few major courses which later, after the competition and earning of the degree, enable you to apply for good jobs, such as Chemical Technician, Dental Hygienist, Research Assistant, and many others. 
  • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA)  is a degree that takes at least 2 years to be completed and includes fine art subjects like Visual Arts, American Literature, Information Literacy and so on, and they allow the transfer of the credits and transfer into the Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts once you have completed the course and gained your credits and degree. 

With these degrees, students can unlock better job opportunities. Most of them, (not all) as you can see, allow transfer to a Bachelor’s degree and can actually help students acquire higher education. 

Bachelor’s Degree

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A Bachelor’s Degree is a type of undergraduate academic degree that is awarded by colleges and universities to students upon completing a course of study which lasts anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the academic field as well as the institution. Recently, the term Bachelorette degree was adopted as a politically correct term referring to an advanced undergraduate degree when the recipient is a female.

What is the Bachelor’s Definition?

Interestingly enough, the term bachelors used to have different meanings as in the 12th century it was used for referring to a knight bachelor – someone who was young, poor, and was gathering vassals under his own banner. However, by the end of the 13 century, people also started using it to refer to junior members of guilds or universities. If you were to take a look at the origin of the original word, baccalaureus – from Middle Latin, you will notice that it can be associated with bacca Lauri (“laurel berry”) which is in reference to the laurels that used to be awarded for academic successes/honors. 

What is it for?

The purpose of a Bachelor’s degree program is to provide students with a well-balanced, fundamental education and skills that are considered necessary for them to pursue a specific career or continue to build their education and obtain Master’s and Doctoral degrees. These programs are preparing students for professional jobs, and students with a Bachelor’s degree will be able to pursue good middle-management jobs. 

Obtaining a Bachelor’s degree is nearly a necessity for landing a solid job which offers a chance for building a career with any possibility for improvement. Furthermore, Bachelor’s degrees are obtained to increase and improve employment opportunities, open the possibility for advancing and expanding your studies, and gaining higher degrees; finally, they also bring higher paychecks. 

Who is it for?

Bachelor’s degrees are for those who are planning to build on a career in specific fields that require you to have at least undergraduate degrees and those who plan on expanding their knowledge and advancing their education level. All post-graduate programs, be they for professional degrees, for master or doctoral require you to have a Bachelor’s degree as a basis on which you will further continue to build your education. 

Features of Bachelor’s Degree

Most Bachelor’s degrees are created to be completed in 4 years of full-time study, while few, such as architecture may take five or more in general. They are considered as standard for entering many professional careers as most of the desired jobs and professional careers in law, medicine, education, engineering all require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree. 

All students will need to take some general education classes like science, writing, and math, then majors and some college/departmental classes. 

Some colleges nowadays are also offering online bachelor’s degree programs through which you can earn your Bachelor’s degree, while others still require you to attend, some even live on campuses.  

To get a Bachelor’s degree you will have to get a minimum of 120-130 semester credits or 180-190 quarter credits. Usually, they are classified as 4-years, however, studies done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, show that only 37.5 % of students actually obtain their degrees within this frame, and most students, roughly 75.4% actually obtain their degrees in 6 or fewer years. 

Some students may take even less, and finish in 3 years, but it all depends on several factors like how many classes you take in a semester, what are your majors and whether you are double majoring, also are you taking summer classes, and are you a full-time or part-time student. 

Requirements and Eligibility for Completing the Bachelor’s Degree

Depending on the college/university in which you are enrolling there will be different requirements; in general, to be eligible to get into a college and study to get a bachelor’s degree you will need to have at least a high-school degree diploma, complete a GED test, and some colleges require additional courses or high scores. If you are an international student, most universities will also require that you have a minimum TOEFL score of 490 (for paper-based)/163 (for computer-based)/ 57 (for online version) or an IELTS score of at least 6.5. You will also need to submit an application, pay the fees if necessary send a letter of recommendation, and meet all the other requirements listed as necessary by the college to which you are applying. The entry requirements for the Bachelor’s degree can be quite competitive, especially in highly-rated colleges. 

In order to complete and get your Bachelor’s degree you will need to complete the required courses and the general requirements of the general education program ad meet that college’s academic standards; you will also need to get enough credits, usually, 120 and have at least one major for which at the end you will be required to prepare a thesis. In some colleges, you will also need to earn a minimum GPA of 2.00 or more. 

Some Examples of Bachelor’s Degree Programs

There are a few common bachelor’s degrees such as:

  • BA or AB – Bachelor of Arts
  • BS or SB – Bachelor of Science
  • BFA –Bachelor of Fine Arts
  • BBA – Bachelor of Business Administration
  • BM – Bachelor of Music
  • BSW – Bachelor of Social Work
  • BE – Bachelor of Engineering
  • BArch – Bachelor of Architecture
  • BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing and so on. 

The medical and law degrees are not offered at the undergraduate level, solely on graduate-level after you have already earned a bachelor’s degree; these usually do not require any specific bachelors, however, medical schools do require a set of courses that you will need to take before you enroll at their programs. 

What Does an Undergraduate Degree Do for Your Career?

Considering that over a third of Americans have some sort of undergraduate degree, obtaining an undergraduate degree in recent years has become a necessity for creating and building a career. Here are the benefits of owning an undergraduate degree:

  • You will have increased access to job opportunities as studies show that College graduates have 57% more job opportunities compared to non-degree holders. 
  • More than 80% of all job openings which are advertised online require at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 50% of jobs that are advertised online that require just a high-school diploma. This means high-school diploma holders have fewer chances to connect with prospective employers and get better job opportunities. 
  • An undergraduate degree is preparing you for a specialized career, and practically every higher paid job with better working conditions requires some sort of undergraduate degree. Also, if you are planning on stepping forward with your career and seeking a higher position that requires higher education, you will need to have an undergraduate degree, more precisely Bachelor’s degree to obtain a Master’s or Doctoral and get a better, higher position. 
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the higher your education the heavier your paycheck: while high-school degree holders are earning on average $37,024 annually, the associate degree holders are earning more, $43,472 annually, and bachelor’s degree holders are almost even doubling the high-school degree holders, as on average their annual income surpasses $60,996. 

The Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

The undergraduate degrees, the associate’s, and bachelor’s degrees are required to continue with graduate programs and acquire the graduate degrees – master’s and doctoral degrees. Therefore, the central, leading difference between undergraduate vs. graduate degrees is that undergraduate degrees are required to get a graduate degree.

Additionally, they also differ in their nature: for example, undergraduate programs tend to be more general, as they include a variety of subjects that are not that closely related to the field you are studying, compared to graduate programs which are highly specialized, advanced and focus exclusively on one field of expertise. This means that you get more specialized education with graduate degrees. 

Graduate programs are more research-oriented, with research preparation/defense being the key, the primary focus of the studies, compared to undergraduate programs where although you may still have some senior project or assignment/research they are not that in-depth and typically are related to certain classes. 

Moreover, undergraduate studies are larger, less individualized, and during them, you can easily change your undergraduate major subject, compared to graduate studies, where it is much more difficult to change the major studies with them being narrower and more specialized. 

Graduate programs also require you to work closely with professors, oftentimes on a one-on-one basis, compared to undergraduate programs which are broader and have less one-on-one communication and more group/class communication with the professors.

Think of undergrad vs. grad like this: your undergraduate study is your stepping stone in a certain field; it enables you to learn the basic, broader, general parts of that field, compared to your graduate study which specializes and prepares you for a certain, specific area of that field. 

Frequently Asked Questions 
Do You Have to Go to Campus to Earn an Undergraduate Degree?

In most cases, yes. It really depends on the college you are attending as well as the degree you are pursuing.  

Some colleges – 87 throughout the USA, like Harvard University, Stanford University, Princeton University, Brown University, Western Illinois University, Yale University, and Bowdoin College require students to live on campus. They are free to leave and come, but they are required to live on the campus throughout their studies. 

Nevertheless, some colleges, like the University of Wisconsin–Madison, New York University, Texas A&M University, Auburn University, and the University of California, Davis don’t require students to live on campus. 

In recent years there have been some bachelor’s degrees that can be obtained even online. They are an especially convenient way for people who, due to work or family-related commitments are not able to study on campus but still want to earn an undergraduate degree. These have been trending especially recently, as we read more and more articles about how the epidemic crisis is reshaping higher education and the question of college without campuses becomes one of the most frequently asked questions. This makes many colleges question their attitude regarding live on campus, and mandatory campus attendance, as many consider online options. We are yet to see drastic changes in this part. 

What comes after an undergraduate degree?

After undergraduate degrees come graduate degrees which are considered to be advanced degrees and one can pursue them after obtaining their undergraduate- Bachelor’s degree. Some graduate-level university degrees require just Bachelor’s while others may require more undergraduate programs to enroll. 

Usually, after obtaining an undergraduate degree if students want to continue their education they go for a master’s degree which lets students specialize in one certain area of study. They typically require an acceptance score on a graduate entrance exam, like GRE, and also they require a minimum GPA; one can take 1 to 2 years to complete them, and in most cases, they will need to prepare a thesis or a capstone project for the master’s graduation. 

After master’s students can apply for the highest college degree they can aspire to earn – a doctoral degree. They require advanced original research and study to be written and done, and some of them also require practical skills to be combined with research; the doctoral degrees can take anywhere from 5 to 7 years to be completed. 

Another type of degree that comes after the undergraduate degrees is professional degrees which are specifically tailored for a certain field (for example, the medical field) and they are needed if one wants to work in that field, for example, medicine or law. They typically require you to have some sort of undergraduate degree before you start them and can take at least 3 years to complete. 

How many years is an undergraduate degree?

Depending on the type of degree you are acquiring, as well as the field in which that degree is, obtaining an undergraduate degree can take anywhere from 2 years for an associate’s degree, to 4-7 years for different types of bachelor’s degrees. 

According to a study done by NSC Research center, students take more time than what is considered usual to earn undergraduate degrees: they claim that students on average take 3.3 academic years of full-time enrollment to earn an associate degree, and 5.1 academic years to obtain a bachelor’s degree. 

They further noted that only 1 in 13 earned their degree over the course of 2 years; for bachelor’s degrees, they claim that just 10% of them manage to get their degree over the course of 4 academic full-time years. 

Is a bachelor’s degree considered an undergraduate?

Yes, a Bachelor’s/Bachelorette degree is considered to be an undergraduate degree alongside an associate’s degree. All bachelor’s degrees are undergraduate degrees, in fact, Bachelors are considered to be the most common type of undergraduate degrees. 

What level is an undergraduate degree?

In the UK, there are levels to the degrees. Undergraduate degrees – Bachelors are considered a level six degrees and this – level 6 means that the holder has graduated and gained a degree from a Centre from further education. 

Other examples of level 6 qualifications may be graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, previously mentioned bachelors (with or without honors), degree apprenticeship, level 6 NVQ; level 5 and level 4 are equate to second and the first year of Bachelor’s degree. 

Level 7 is considered a master’s degree and post-graduate certificates, diplomas of education, while level 8 refers to a doctorate (Ph.D.) level of education. 

In the U.S. the levels of higher education are rather classified as an undergraduate (associate and bachelor) and post-graduate (masters and doctoral). 

Aleksandra Petrova
Aleksandra is an educational writer, and a teacher, with over 6+ years of experience in content writing. As a true believer in lifelong learning, she insists that education is the best anti-aging remedy that keeps our mind and soul young. Moreover, she stubbornly argues that writing allows us to dive deep into our thoughts, discover our true selves, and present them to the world.

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