Earning a bachelor's degree prepares you for entry-level employment in a profession or is the basis for continuing your education by entering a master's or Ph.D. program. It's the next step in the educational process beyond high school and the "basic" degree awarded by colleges and universities, although there are associate degrees given for more limited programs (usually 2 years in length). Most professional jobs and all graduate schools require at least a bachelor's degree. Each discipline (subjects ranging from accounting to medicine to education) has specific requirements for earning its bachelor's degree. This article describes the general requirements that apply to most degree programs. There's a link at the end of the article for further information.
Having a bachelor's degree shows you have knowledge and training beyond the high school level. The first step to fulfilling the requirements for a bachelor's degree is to be accepted into an accredited university that awards bachelor's degrees. You need a high school diploma or GED. If a person does not have the academic record to gain admission to the university he wants, a good option is to attend a community college for a year or two. You can take courses that will transfer and apply toward a bachelor's degree. Most universities will disregard a poor academic record from high school if a student has a good record in a community college.
Traditionally, almost all bachelor's degree programs are designed to be completed in 4 years. Today, that's still true, but there are a wide variety of options. Some accredited universities offer accelerated programs that enable a student to complete the requirements for a bachelor's degree in 3 years. However, it's more common to attend school part-time. Another option is the "co-op" program in which a student attends school for one semester and then works the next. Many universities have co-op programs. Nationally, the average time to complete a bachelor's degree is 7 years.
The fundamental requirement for a bachelor's degree is to successfully complete a minimum number of "credit hours," usually about 120 semester credit hours. Full-time students typically take five 3-credit-hour courses each semester. The first courses are often called the "core curriculum" and include literature, science, mathematics and social science courses that are required for all students. Each student selects a major field (for example, business administration, chemistry, history or education) and possibly a minor. To earn a bachelor's degree, you must complete a minimum number of required and elective courses in the major and minor fields. In addition, most students take a few elective courses to complete the 120-credit-hour requirement.
The requirements for a bachelor's degree are intended to ensure that you are adequately prepared to take the next step, whether in the work world or as a graduate student. However, the quality of your academic record is just as important as the quantity of credit hours. A minimum 2.0 (C) grade point average (GPA) is required, but may be higher for some bachelor's degrees. If you plan to go to graduate school, you will need at least a 3.0 to a 3.5 GPA, depending on the school.
Bachelor's degrees are awarded in many different disciplines. The two most common types are the Bachelor of Arts (BA) for literature, history, social sciences, etc., and the Bachelor of Science (BS) in the natural sciences, engineering and similar fields. Some university departments use other types as well. For instance, a college of education will often award a Bachelor of Education, which includes required student teaching experience along with the courses. Universities organize related degree programs into departments like the School of Education or the College of Arts and Sciences.