Understanding the Basics: What Does “Undergraduate Degree” Mean? (2023 Guide)


Undergraduate degrees, or Bachelor’s degrees, are the foundation of a college education. They require a certain amount of coursework and academic study to be awarded, and they provide the basic skills used for entry-level jobs or further study at the graduate level. While most people understand the concept of an undergraduate degree, there are still some key elements and aspects to consider when navigating this field.

If you’re considering pursuing an undergraduate degree, it’s essential to understand the basics. This guide will cover what an undergraduate degree is, how to apply for one, what types of degrees are available, and more. Read on for a comprehensive overview of the undergraduate degree process and requirements.

What is an Undergraduate Degree?

An undergraduate degree is a college-level qualification awarded by a four-year university, college, or other higher education institution upon completion of an undergraduate program. These degrees typically take four years to complete, although some may take longer depending on the specific program requirements.

Undergraduate degrees, or Bachelor’s degrees, are awarded to students who have met the school’s academic requirements. A bachelor’s degree typically requires at least 120 credit hours, consisting of core classes and electives. The degree is designed to provide students with the skills necessary for entry-level jobs or further study at the graduate level. When earning an undergraduate degree, choosing a major or minor that reflects your interests and career aspirations is important.

Types of Undergraduate Degrees


There are two kinds of undergraduate degrees: an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s degree. Most people think of a Bachelor’s degree when considering an undergraduate degree, but Associate’s degrees are also available. An Associate’s degree is a two-year program that usually requires 60-80 credit hours of regular coursework. This degree is typically geared toward students looking for entry-level jobs or who plan on transferring to a four-year program.

A Bachelor’s degree, meanwhile, is the most common type of undergraduate degree and requires 120 credit hours of coursework. The most well-known degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.). Each degree requires its own core classes and electives, and some areas of study require additional courses. Additionally, Bachelor’s degrees can come with specializations or concentrations in specific subjects or fields.

Structure of Undergraduate Degree Programs

Undergraduate degree programs typically require four years to complete. Students are expected to take core classes and electives to fulfill the degree requirements during this time.

Most programs also require students to complete an internship or other field experience to gain practical experience. While some programs can be completed in less than four years, such as an Associate degree, some programs go beyond that, such as medicine and law, which require additional coursework and exams to be completed. Because of their length and intense academic focus, many undergraduate programs are designed to be completed full-time.

Choosing an Undergraduate Degree Program

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Program

When considering an undergraduate program, it’s essential to consider different factors in the decision-making process. These include the following:

1. Interests

One’s interests should be the primary consideration when choosing an undergraduate program. Consider what areas of study or career paths interest you, and then look for programs that offer those courses or majors. When possible, explore different majors and their courses to understand better what the program offers.

2. Career Goals

Considering one’s career goals when choosing an undergraduate program is important. Ask yourself if the degree will help you meet those goals or if additional studies will be required. Consider what employers are looking for before deciding. If you’re uncertain, talk to a career counselor or a professor in the field.

3. Job Market Demand

a postgraduate poses inside her office

The job market constantly changes, and the demand for certain degrees may rise or fall over time. Research current trends in the job market to determine if the degree is in demand and to evaluate potential salary ranges.

4. Cost

The cost of an undergraduate program is another crucial factor to consider. Research the tuition and fees associated with different programs to make an informed decision. Consider if any scholarships or financial aid packages are available to help offset the cost.

5. Program Requirements

It’s also important to consider the program requirements for each degree. Look at the coursework and electives required, as well as the length of the program. Consider if you have enough time to complete the necessary coursework or if there are any special requirements, such as internships or field experiences.

Importance of Researching and Comparing Programs

Once you’ve identified a few programs that meet your interests, goals, and budget, doing additional research is important. Compare the programs to understand better what each one has to offer. Contact the schools and speak with professors or students in the program to get an idea of the learning environment and culture. Research job prospects for graduates of each program and any additional certifications or qualifications that may be necessary.

When researching and comparing programs, it’s essential to consider the long-term implications of each decision. Think about how the degree will help you reach your career goals and how it will affect your prospects. Consider the type of jobs available to you upon graduation and the potential salary range. Ultimately, the decision should be based on what will provide you with the best opportunity to succeed in the long run.

Benefits of Obtaining an Undergraduate Degree


Earning an undergraduate degree provides many benefits. An undergraduate degree can open the door to job opportunities and career advancement, providing valuable skills and knowledge. It also provides the foundation for further study at the graduate level. The following are some of the key benefits of obtaining an undergraduate degree:

1. Improved Job Prospects

An undergraduate degree can open the door to many job opportunities. Employers are often looking for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in their particular field, which indicates a certain level of expertise and knowledge. This can make you a more attractive job candidate and better position you for success.

Statistics show that those with an undergraduate degree have higher employment rates and better job prospects than those without. 86% of those with a bachelor’s or higher degree were employed in March 2021, compared to 75% for those with some college but no degree, 68% for high school graduates, and 53% for those who had not completed high school. This demonstrates the value of obtaining an undergraduate degree in today’s job market.

2. Career Advancement

An undergraduate degree can help to advance one’s career. With the skills and knowledge gained through a college program, you can take on more responsibility in the workplace or pursue higher-level positions that would have otherwise been unattainable. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and higher salaries.

Studies show that an undergraduate degree can also lead to more significant career growth. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2010 to 2021, higher educational attainment was associated with higher median earnings. For 25- to 34-year-olds, the median earnings of those with a bachelor’s degree ($61,600) were 55 percent higher than those who completed high school ($39,700). So more education can lead to better job opportunities and higher pay.

3. Further Education Opportunities

An undergraduate degree provides the opportunity for further study at the graduate level. Many employers require an advanced degree for certain positions, so obtaining a bachelor’s degree is essential if you plan on attending graduate school. Graduate programs often require a bachelor’s degree as an entry requirement, so earning one is essential if you want to pursue this path.

4. Knowledge and Skills Acquisition

Earning an undergraduate degree provides the opportunity to learn a wide range of topics and acquire valuable skills. Most degree programs require the completion of core classes, electives, and even internships, exposing students to various subjects and fields. This can help to develop critical thinking skills and expand one’s knowledge base.

5. Opportunity to Explore Interests

Of course, an undergraduate degree also allows one to explore one’s interests. With a wide range of courses and electives offered, students can explore different areas and discover what they are passionate about. This can lead to potential career paths and further study opportunities.

6. Personal Development

Finally, an undergraduate degree can help to promote personal development. A college education allows you to learn more about yourself and develop a better sense of identity. It can also help to foster relationships and expand one’s network. Some studies have even found that college graduates are more likely to be healthier and live longer.

Understanding Undergraduate Degree Requirements

General Requirements for Completing an Undergraduate Degree

To receive an undergraduate degree, students must typically complete a combination of the following requirements:

1. Core Courses

Most undergraduate programs require students to take a certain number of core courses related to the major. These courses provide the foundation for the degree and help to build essential skills and knowledge in the field. For example, a Psychology major might need to take classes like Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Developmental Psychology.

2. Electives

Most programs also require students to take several elective courses unrelated to the major. These classes can provide valuable knowledge about different fields and help to develop a broader perspective. So a Psychology major might take courses like Art History or Environmental Science to gain a more well-rounded education.

3. General Courses

Many programs also require students to take general courses emphasizing communication, writing, and other essential skills. These classes help to develop the necessary skills for success in the workplace and life. Some examples of these courses include English Composition, Public Speaking, and Humanities. When selecting a program, check the curriculum and ensure it includes the general courses you need.

4. Internships or Field Experiences

Most programs also require students to complete an internship or field experience, usually related to the major. These provide hands-on learning opportunities and allow students to gain practical experience in the field. For example, a Psychology major might need to complete an internship at a hospital or mental health facility.

5. Additional Requirements

Depending on the program, additional requirements to complete the degree may exist. These may include a senior project, comprehensive exams, or a thesis. Specific programs, such as Medicine and Law, require additional coursework and exams to be completed. For example, a Medical student might need to complete additional classes and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to obtain their degree.

6. Credit Hours

As mentioned, most undergraduate programs require four years to complete. To graduate, students must typically meet the minimum number of credit hours required by the program or school. This is typically around 120-130 credits for a Bachelor’s degree. While some programs can be completed in less than four years, such as an Associate degree, others may require more than four years due to the amount of coursework or other requirements.

Importance of Academic Advising and Planning

When pursuing an undergraduate degree, academic advising is essential. This involves working with faculty or staff to discuss program completion plans and choosing the right classes. It’s essential to find an adviser who is knowledgeable and familiar with your program or major and can provide helpful advice on course selection and career paths.

Academic planning is also vital for achieving success in a college program. This involves creating an educational plan with achievable goals and a timeline for completing the degree. It’s essential to set realistic expectations and plan ahead to ensure you stay on track. This includes planning for holidays, school breaks, and other commitments.

An academic plan will help you stay on track and graduate on time. It’s also beneficial to communicate with your adviser regularly and make any necessary changes to the plan as needed. A plan can help reduce stress and give you a sense of direction during your college years.

Types of Undergraduate Degrees

Various types of (Bachelor’s) degrees can be earned at the undergraduate level. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes over 80 types, which vary in requirements and programs offered. But here are some of the most common ones:

1. Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

A B.A. program focuses on the humanities and liberal arts, such as history, literature, music, and philosophy. These degree programs are designed to develop students’ critical thinking and communication skills while providing a broad knowledge base.

2. Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

A B.S. program is geared more toward the sciences and math. This type of degree is ideal for students interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field, such as engineering or medicine.

3. Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.)

A B.B.A. degree program focuses on business and management principles, such as economics, finance, and marketing. This is ideal for students interested in pursuing a career in the business world. They can also benefit students interested in starting their own business or working in the corporate world.

4. Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)

A B.F.A. is a degree program focused on the arts, such as painting, sculpture, music, and theater. This type of degree is ideal for students interested in pursuing a more creative career path, such as an artist or musician.

5. Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.)

A B.Ed. is a degree program that focuses on teaching and education principles. This type of degree is designed for students who want to become teachers, counselors, or administrators in schools.

6. Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.)

A B.E. degree program focuses on engineering principles and practices like mechanics, electronics, and construction. This is ideal for students interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

Some of these degrees have sub-specialties that you can choose from. For instance, one might pursue a B.S. in Computer Science or a B.A. in English Literature. These degrees require different courses and requirements, so it’s important to research each option to find the ideal fit for you. Some degree types require additional certifications or qualifications, such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for teachers. These certifications are often specific to certain states or regions, so it’s essential to research the requirements for your area.

Pursuing an Undergraduate Degree Online

Due to the rise of technology and the accessibility of online education, students now have more options for earning an undergraduate degree. With the availability of online undergraduate degree programs, students can now complete their degrees from the comfort of their own homes. These programs are becoming increasingly popular as they provide the same quality of education as a traditional program but often require less time and money.

Especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities and colleges have shifted their programs entirely online. Students no longer need to travel or commute to campus for classes. While this does limit students’ access to in-person resources such as the library or lab facilities, many online programs provide access to these resources online.

Benefits of Pursuing an Online Undergraduate Degree

1. Flexible Schedule

One of the main benefits of pursuing an online degree is that it allows for a more flexible schedule. Online classes are typically offered in an asynchronous format, which means students can access the course material at any time and work on assignments at their own pace. This can be especially helpful for working professionals or those with other commitments.

2. Cost Savings

Online programs typically cost less than traditional on-campus programs. Online programs typically have lower overhead costs and don’t require students to pay for housing or travel expenses. Additionally, some online programs offer discounts or financial aid options to help make the degree more affordable.

3. Accessibility

Online programs are more accessible than traditional programs as students don’t need to be physically present on campus. This can be especially helpful for those with disabilities or other mobility issues. Online programs also open up educational opportunities to students who live in rural areas and don’t have access to a college or university nearby.

4. Networking Opportunities

Online programs allow students to connect and network with classmates worldwide. This can be a great way to meet people with different perspectives and gain valuable advice from those in similar fields. Additionally, many online programs offer virtual career fairs and networking events to help students gain valuable experience and potential job opportunities.

5. Variety of Programs

Online programs offer a variety of degree programs, from traditional degrees such as Business or Psychology to more specialized ones such as Cybersecurity or Data Science. This allows students to pursue a degree in their field of interest without sacrificing the ability to work or take care of other commitments. But it’s essential to thoroughly research the program before enrolling to ensure it meets your needs and expectations.

Other Considerations

There are also other considerations when pursuing an online undergraduate degree. It’s essential to ensure the program is accredited by a recognized accrediting body to ensure its quality and that other institutions and employers will accept the credits you earn. Additionally, it’s important to consider the program’s technical requirements to ensure you have the necessary hardware and software.

Some online programs also require students to attend classes on a specific schedule, so planning and marking important dates in your calendar can be beneficial. This can help to ensure that you stay on track and complete the degree in a timely manner. Additionally, setting aside time for studying and completing assignments is essential to ensure the best possible outcome.

Reputable Online Universities

When researching online programs, it’s vital to ensure that a reputable university offers the program. Here are some of the top online universities:

  • University of Florida
  • University of Central Florida
  • Purdue University
  • Florida International University
  • University of Minnesota
  • Indiana University
  • Utah State University
  • Colorado State University – Global
  • Arizona State University

Funding and Financing an Undergraduate Degree

Funding Options

The cost of undergraduate education can vary widely depending on the type of school, the program, and the location. Most programs require students to pay tuition, which typically ranges from a few thousand to tens of thousands per year. This cost can burden many families and students, but various funding options are available. Some of the most common funding options are:

1. Scholarships

Scholarships are one of the best ways to fund an undergraduate degree. These awards are typically merit-based and don’t need to be paid back. Many universities, organizations, and businesses offer scholarships for students of all backgrounds and interests. Some scholarships are also provided to students with specific characteristics, such as those from a particular ethnic background or those with a disability.

2. Grants

Grants are another great funding option for undergraduate students; they don’t need to be paid back. The government or other organizations typically offer these, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. But like scholarships, grants are generally merit-based and may require students to meet certain criteria.

3. Loans

Loans can be an excellent option for students who need additional funding. When taking out a loan, it’s important to research each option’s terms and interest rates to ensure you make an informed decision. Student loans typically come with lower interest rates and flexible repayment plans, so exploring all your options is important.

4. Work-Study Programs

Some universities offer work-study programs, which allow students to work part-time on campus to pay for tuition and other expenses. This can be a great way to gain experience and help pay for school. And it can also be beneficial for those who don’t have the time or funds to take out a loan or apply for scholarships.

5. Private Funding

You may also be eligible for private funding or grants depending on your circumstances. Businesses and organizations typically offer these, so it’s essential to research all your options. Additionally, some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs for employees pursuing a degree.

Tips for Managing Educational Expenses

When funding your education, it’s crucial to create a budget and plan ahead. This can help you manage your expenses and maximize your funds. Here are some tips for managing educational expenses:

1. Apply for Financial Aid

It’s important to apply for financial aid, as this can help lower the cost of your degree. Filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form should be your first step in applying for financial aid. If you don’t qualify for loans, grants, or scholarships, other options may be available to help reduce the cost of your degree.

2. Look for Discounts

Many universities offer discounts or financial aid packages to help make the cost of a degree more affordable. These packages can include tuition discounts, grants, scholarships, and loans. You can usually find this information on the university’s website or by speaking with a financial advisor.

3. Manage Your Expenses

Creating a budget can be a great way to manage your expenses. It’s vital to include tuition, textbooks, and all other costs associated with attending college. And it’s also helpful to set aside an emergency fund in case of unexpected expenses.

4. Research Your Options

It’s essential to research all your options when financing an undergraduate degree. While scholarships and grants are a great way to fund your education, they’re not the only option. Other financing options, such as work-study programs and private funding, may also be available. You may even enroll in a community college which typically charges less than a four-year university.

5. Speak to an Advisor

Financial advisors can be an excellent resource for helping you plan and manage your expenses. They can help you understand the different types of funding available to you and decide which option is best for your situation.


Undergraduate degrees are becoming increasingly popular and more accessible with the rise of technology. And various degree programs are available to fit your interests, needs, and budget. But it’s important to research all your options before enrolling in a program and understand the various types of funding available. With careful planning and research, you can find the right degree program and maximize your educational experience.

If you are thinking about pursuing an undergraduate degree, take the time to explore all your options. Always research the program before enrolling and thoroughly investigate all the available funding types. With careful planning, you can make the most of your educational experience and pursue the degree of your dreams.

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