The conferring of bachelor's degrees goes back to the Middle Ages.

When referring to an academic degree, the words "bachelor" and "baccalaureate" have become interchangeable, although in the 12th and 13th centuries, when the university structure as we know it began, baccalaureate originally referred to the degree while bachelor referred to the degree holder.


Baccalaureate is a French word that some claim originated from baccalareus based on the Latin words bacca and laureus meaning berry and laurel leaves. During the renaissance, a wreath of berries and laurel leaves were given to a graduate in honor of his achievement. The tradition of recognizing achievement with a crown of leaves began with the Olympic games of antiquity. This tradition of distinction has continued today in ceremonies as well as in education logos, such as that of Yale and Harvard universities.

Alternative Origin

Professor Harry Green claimed that this is a play on words and a relatinization of the word bachelor changing the original from baccalarius to baccalareus. Baccalarius is Latin for herdsman from “bacca” for cow, and herdsman eventually evolved to apprentice and student. Green suggested that the commonly used term bachelor was given the new association with laurel wreaths when universities took over the function of education from the guilds and cathedral schools.

Meaning Today

Today bachelor and baccalaureate both refer to an undergraduate college degree that takes four to five years of study and is generally 126 to 132 credits. The degree usually requires a high school education, and is generally a requirement for entrance into a graduate program. Some universities use the term bachelor to refer to the degree and baccalaureate to refer to the program offering the degrees. The term baccalaureate also refers to the Christian religious service associated with commencement at many universities.

Types of Bachelor's Degrees

The most common bachelor’s degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and the Bachelor of Science (B.S.). The Bachelor of Arts is usually less specialized and is generally found in the social sciences and humanities, such as literature and history. The Bachelor of Science customarily involves the sciences and technical fields, such as biology and engineering. Generally other bachelor’s degrees refer to a specific specialization, such as the BPharm for a Bachelor’s in Pharmacy, BEd for education, BFA for fine arts, BBA for business administration, etc.