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What Is a Bachelor’s Degree in the US?

advice for students
By Shorelight Team
Last updated on April 11, 2022

Find out what it takes to get a bachelor’s degree in the US and how it can help set you up for career success.

Three international student graduates each hold a rolled up diploma tied with red ribbon

According to Open Doors, in 2019, more than 431,000 international students studied at the undergraduate level in the US, including bachelor’s degrees programs. If you hope to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the US, this guide can help you understand your options. Read on to find out what a bachelor’s degree is in the US, the different types of undergraduate degrees available, and career opportunities after graduation.

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree in the US?

A bachelor’s degree is the most common undergraduate degree awarded by universities and colleges in the US. Typically, a bachelor’s degree takes four to five years to complete and consists of 120 to 130 semester credit hours. You are expected to choose a major concentration (a specific area of study) and take additional required courses outside of your chosen major. While this may seem unconventional, it helps you receive a well-rounded education and develop critical thinking skills that can be applied in any career you decide to pursue.

What Are the Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in the US?

The three most common bachelor’s degrees offered by the universities in the US are:

  1. Bachelor of Arts (BA degree)

  2. Bachelor of Science (BS degree)

  3. Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA degree)

Bachelor of Arts (BA Degree)

A BA degree is designed for students who are interested in following a program in the liberal arts. Here are a few examples of areas you could focus on: 

  • Communication

  • Education

  • English

  • Foreign languages

  • Philosophy

  • Psychology

  • Sociology

Bachelor of Science (BS Degree)

A BS degree is one of the most common undergraduate degrees in the US and (just like the name) focuses on science-related courses. Some common majors include:

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA Degree)

If you are interested in studying visual or performing arts, a BFA degree would be the best fit for you. Approximately two-thirds of BFA coursework focuses on the study of visual or fine arts, and one-third on liberal arts such as history, literature, philosophy, and psychology. Here are some examples of BFA degrees:

  • Creative writing

  • Film and photography

  • Music

  • Theater and dance

  • Visual arts

What Types of Schools Offer Bachelor’s Degrees in the US?

There are three different types of institutions in the US offering bachelor’s degrees:

  1. Universities

  2. Community colleges

  3. Liberal arts colleges


There are two types of universities: public (or state) universities and private universities. Public universities are funded by the state in which they are located, while private universities are funded by endowment funds and tuition fees. The most common bachelor’s degrees offered by public and private universities are BA and BS degrees.

Community Colleges

Community colleges, sometimes known as junior colleges, offer a limited number of bachelor’s degree programs. Generally, community colleges award two-year associate degrees designed to help students transfer to a four-year degree program. 

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal arts colleges focus on undergraduate programs. Students take a variety of courses in the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences. Liberal arts colleges offer BA, BFA, and BS degrees (and may offer associate’s and graduate degrees, too). 

How Is a Bachelor’s Degree in the US Different from University Degrees from Other Countries?

Studying for a bachelor’s degree in the US may be different from bachelor’s degree programs in your home country. In a bachelor’s degree program in the US, you can:

  • Enroll without declaring a major—This allows you to take courses from a variety of focus areas before deciding which track to pursue. During your first two years of study, you may be required to take classes in different subjects such as literature, science, social science, arts, and history.

  • Transfer to another university or college—In the US credit system, course credits can be transferred (relatively) easily between colleges and universities. Often, you can transfer to a university or college that is a better match with your goals, and without having to repeat courses!

  • Specialize in more than one area—You can select a major and a minor (secondary area of focus). You may even choose to pursue an interdisciplinary major, in which you design your own course of study across multiple departments, or opt for a double major (where you complete two majors over the same period of study).

  • Participate in co-op programs for real-world work experience—Some universities offer paid internship programs, known as co-ops, for students to work in their related field while still enrolled in college. For example, the University of the Pacific provides international students in the School of Engineering and Computer Science the opportunity to enhance their skills through their CO-OP program.

  • Be eligible for OPT internship/employment opportunities after graduation—With Optional Practical Training (OPT), you can work full time in the US for a maximum of twelve months. If you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in STEM, you can apply for an extension of twenty-four months.

No matter which bachelor’s degree program you choose, studying in the US can be an exciting and rewarding experience. If you need help applying or deciding which university or college is the best fit for you, you can always reach out to an education advisor for personalized guidance. 

A Shorelight counselor can help determine which bachelor’s degree program is right for you >