A cap-and-gown ceremony accompanies the conferring of a baccalaureate degree.

At the completion of your undergraduate studies at a college or university, you’ll be awarded a baccalaureate degree, or as it’s more commonly known today, a bachelor’s degree. Typically earned after at least four years of study at an accredited institution, baccalaureate degrees are awarded in various fields, including liberal arts, science, engineering and business, among other areas of study.

Baccalaureate Meaning

The term “baccalaureate” dates back to 17th century France. The original baccalaureate meaning came from the term “baccalaureat,” which referred to young men aspiring to knighthood. Along the way, the phrase was altered to “bacca lauri” or “laurel berry,” which was considered an ancient symbol of victory, such as during the earliest Olympic games.

Following the Renaissance, in which laurel berry branches were given to doctors who passed their final examinations, the phrase “baccal lauri” morphed into “bachelor” and began to refer to the person receiving an undergraduate college degree, rather than the degree itself. This is how the baccalaureate definition came to be.

Bachelor vs. Baccalaureate

For the most part, when it comes to the awarding of a degree, the terms “bachelor” and “baccalaureate” are interchangeable. Some universities, such as Penn State University, refer to their undergraduate degrees as “baccalaureate” degrees, while the majority of other accredited schools, including Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard, use the word “bachelor” to refer to their undergraduate degrees.

In modern times, the term “baccalaureate” is more often used to refer to a service, such as a religious ceremony at a place of worship, honoring graduates. Baccalaureate services have a long history of tradition at universities like Columbia, Stanford and Duke, where they are held within school chapels.

Earning a Bachelor’s or Baccalaureate Degree

No matter what a given university calls an undergraduate degree, most are awarded after four years of study and require around 120 credit hours or approximately 15 credit hours a semester.

Whether you’re pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) or Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A), an average course is three credit hours, so you’ll need to take approximately five courses a semester to finish in four years.

The more credits you take per year, for instance, if you decide to attend college all year and take courses during the summer, the less time it will take you to earn your degree. Depending on your field of study and the program you’re enrolled in, internships and seminars may also count toward the completion of your baccalaureate degree.