What a Bachelor Degree Means in the US: A Comprehensive Guide

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 11, 2023

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.

What is bachelor degree? A bachelor degree means you've earned a four-year university certification. After deciding between a ba vs bs, and understanding what is a bs degree, six international student graduates who earned a ba degree or a bs degree stand in a row and hold their rolled up diplomas 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

Begin your academic journey with confidence with Shorelight’s Enrollment Services and learn more about the best ways to start your new journey in the US. Get support with visa guidance, travel arrangements, cultural orientations, and more.
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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). 

Let’s take a look at a few Shorelight universities that provide undergraduate degree programs.

Auburn University

Auburn University is a public institution ranked #99 in National Universities by U.S. News and World Report. It offers more than 150 undergraduate degree programs including engineering, business, supply chain management, design, and more.

Located in the state of Alabama, Auburn University offers international students a welcoming and friendly environment to pursue their education. The student-faculty ratio is 20:1, with 35.3% of its classes having fewer than 20 students.

Find out more about bachelor’s degree programs offered at Auburn>

Florida International University

Founded in 1972, Florida International University is one of the largest public research universities in the US. It is ranked #167 in National Universities by U.S. News and World Report, and offers more than 110 undergraduate programs in the fields of international business, criminal justice, engineering, hospitality, and more.

FIU is in the heart of Miami, a world-class city with amazing art, beaches, nightlife, and a vibrant global community. 

Learn more about bachelor’s degree programs offered at Florida International University>

University of Illinois Chicago

The University of Illinois Chicago is a public university ranked #103 in National Universities and #81 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs by U.S. News and World Report. Located in the third-largest city in the US, UIC gives students easy access to a strong and diverse economy, world-famous art and architecture, and ethnic neighborhoods with cuisines and cultures from around the globe. 

The student-faculty ratio is 18:1, and instructors encourage hands-on-learning in a supportive environment. Popular undergraduate programs at UIC include business, architecture, public health, and public affairs.

Explore undergraduate programs at University of Illinois Chicago >

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 12 months. If you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in STEM, you can apply for an extension of 24 months.

Benefits of Getting a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is a credential typically earned after four years of study at a US university or college. Many global employers require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level roles. Here are just a few benefits of obtaining a bachelor’s degree:

Access to More Job Opportunities

More than 80% of job opportunities advertised online in the US require a bachelor’s degree qualification. Employers find that the skills developed during a bachelor’s degree program, not only in one’s major but also in communication, analytics, research, and problem solving, indicate more qualified candidates compared to applicants without a bachelor’s degree.

Ability to Pursue a Career in Your Preferred Field

A bachelor’s degree develops the required qualifications for your ideal career path. For example, if you are a creative individual and want to explore roles in marketing, by majoring in marketing and/or advertising, you can apply to a wide range of marketing jobs, from social media manager or sales manager, to market research analyst or data scientist. No matter what you study, a bachelor’s degree can open a wide range of career opportunities for you to pursue. 

Higher Earning Potential

In the US, obtaining a bachelor’s degree increases your earning potential by 75% compared to those with only a high school diploma. In 2019, professionals with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $70,000 annually

The academic and practical knowledge gained through a typical bachelor’s degree curriculum increases your professional skills and widens the scope of work you are able to perform. This allows you to apply to more skilled jobs with higher salaries and opportunities for growth.

Networking Opportunities

Whether you are studying online or on campus, during your bachelor’s degree program you have the chance to meet people from around the world. Your fellow students may one day pursue a job in the same industry and become your coworker, a visiting professor may become your employer, or an internship opportunity can introduce you to your future job. A bachelor’s degree program can build your professional network, a most valuable resource for your professional and personal growth.

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree has many benefits, and for many students it is a pathway to build a better future. A Shorelight advisor can help you identify how to get a bachelor’s degree, which program and university will best suit your goals, current skills, budget, and more.

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Cost of Getting a Bachelor’s Degree at a College or University

Your tuition will likely be the largest part of your costs of studying at a US college or university. Total costs can vary depending on where you choose to enroll for your bachelor’s degree program, whether your school is public or private, whether you qualify for financial aid and/or scholarships, and the amount of time you are enrolled. (How long does it take for a bachelor’s degree? Most students take four or five years to graduate.) 

An engineering, pre-medical, or pre-law bachelor’s program may have higher tuition compared to business, language, or physical education majors, because of the length of the program and the resources required to obtain the qualification. For example, a pre-medical degree can take up to six years to complete. Lab equipment and hospital resources may be required for coursework, which cost more compared to the resources required to complete a four-year language degree.

The university you choose also affects your costs. Public universities offer degrees that cost 73% less compared to private universities. Typically, this is because a public university receives government funding, whereas private universities rely on tuition, endowments, and donations from individual benefactors, foundations, and private organizations.

In addition to tuition, it is important to consider living expenses while you are studying for your bachelor’s degree, including rent, food, utility expenses, medicine, and other daily essentials.

There are a multitude of resources available for you to manage the cost of your education, such as scholarships, grants, and other financial aid. 

Speaking to an advisor can help you to get a better understanding of how to get a bachelor’s degree, and they can provide step-by-step guidance on how to submit your application. It is also important to start preparing your application early, as arranging all the requirements for your application in advance can help you stay ahead of unexpected delays.

Requirements to Apply for a Bachelor’s Degree Program

Once you have an idea of which bachelor’s degree program you would like to apply for, the next step involves gathering the documents needed to proceed with your application. 

Here is a sample college application process checklist:

  • High school transcript (if it is in another language, a certified translation to English is required)

  • English language proficiency test

  • SAT/ACT test scores

  • Proof of finances

  • Personal statements or essays

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Copy of your passport 

  • Application fees

The requirements to apply for a bachelor’s degree may vary based on the university. Some universities may require a resume or CV along with your application, while others may want a record of your extracurricular and volunteer activities. Speak with your advisors and university representatives to understand what’s required for your preferred schools’ application process, so you can stay on track with application deadlines and avoid delays. 

Who Should Seek a Bachelor’s Degree

Whether you are a student or professional of any age or background, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in the US can get you closer to your goals. A bachelor’s degree program helps you become an expert in your preferred field of study by developing your theoretical and practical knowledge – which can then be useful for your career in the US (or anywhere in the world). Anyone who has a keen interest to learn, develop their skills, and expand their future opportunities can consider seeking a bachelor’s degree.

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 >