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How Many Years is a Bachelor's Degree?

Personal preferences, goals, academic progress, transfer credit eligibility, cost and time considerations are all factors that may impact how many years it takes to earn a bachelor's degree, but 4 years is the traditional timetable to earn the 120 credits you need.

A person using a laptop, researching how long it takes to get her bachelor's degree online.

Many college graduates spent four years earning the 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s degree. But that’s only one path to a degree. An online bachelor’s degree program can help you fit your learning into a busy schedule while working toward the key credential.

Your personal preferences, the time and resources you can put toward your coursework and especially any credits you’ve already earned are all factors that will impact how quickly you can reach your educational goals.

It’s Personal

One thing you may not have realized is just how personal earning a degree is. It’s all about you, your goals and what’s going on in your life. For example, do you have time to commit to being a full-time college student at a traditional campus, or is there a need to schedule education around your life – be it full-time work, raising a family or other responsibilities?

Maybe you haven’t thought school was possible simply because you have so much going on. There are options out there, such as online degree programs, that allow you to move toward your educational goals while balancing everything else. Determining when and how you want to learn may influence your potential timeline.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete, but that time can vary – especially if you’re earning an online bachelor’s degree.

At Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), students pursuing their bachelor's degree online typically take one or two courses per term. With six 8-week terms throughout the year, you can complete as many as 12 courses annually.

Stephanie Ratliff and the text Stephanie Ratliff

An online degree program offers far more flexibility than on campus degrees, said Stephanie Ratliff, an admission counselor at SNHU. Flexibility allows you to fit your learning around your career, family and other obligations and can help you earn your degree faster. But courses can still take up as many as 15 hours of work each week, so it’s important to consider how much time you can put toward your degree when signing up for classes.

“Online courses are flexible because we’re never going to tell them when they have to be on their computer or how many times they need to be logging in,” Ratliff said. “But I usually tell students, start with one class, get your feet wet, gauge the workload and see how things feel.”

Will My Credits Transfer?

Another important consideration is where you are in your academic journey. Are you starting completely new to a degree program, or have you earned course credits along the way? If you’ve completed any prior college coursework, you'll need those transcripts to determine whether your credits will transfer to your new college or degree program, saving you time and money. At SNHU, an admission counselor walks you through this process from start to finish.

If you have prior credits to add to the mix, be sure to check on a potential school’s credit transfer policy. You’ll want to take full advantage of any credits you have available and ensure that the school you choose is transfer-friendly.

Students at SNHU can transfer up to 90 credits toward an undergraduate degree. With a full transfer load, you could complete your degree in as few as five terms or 10 courses.

Previous professional experience could also help you move through your degree faster, allowing you to earn college credit for work experience and prior knowledge. Industry-specific credentials, professional certifications and law enforcement training could all help you earn college credit and reduce the number of courses needed to complete your degree.

Are you starting fresh? Here’s what you need to know: To complete a bachelor’s degree, you must earn 120 credits. This translates roughly to about 40 undergraduate courses, including general education components and courses specific to the area of interest within your degree program, along with some elective courses of your choosing.

Put a Plan Together

An infographic piece with the text bachelor’s degrees are 120 credits. That’s roughly 40 classes.Whether you have transfer credits in the mix or are just starting, think about the time you have to commit to your education and what you hope to achieve. What’s a realistic timeline for you?

You could feel a bit nervous about expectations and schoolwork, which may be a whole new experience for you. That's where support and assistance from your school come in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions related to your concerns. Admission team members should be able to answer your questions and get you off to a solid start. Be sure to ask about resources and support available as you go through your courses and where to turn when you need help.

If you’re not comfortable with their answers, their particular school may not be the right fit for you.

When it's time to register for courses, you'll want to create a schedule that allows for a reasonable workload and the ability to balance other responsibilities in your life. Once you have completed a term or two, you’ll be able to assess if this schedule is feasible for you and adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that life consistently offers up challenges and changes, and you may need to be flexible in changing up your workload at school from time to time.

Are Online Degrees Cheaper?

The cost will also be a significant factor when mapping out your plan, and perhaps it's the primary reason you’ve shied away from returning to school. The cost of a bachelor’s degree can vary significantly. Earning an online bachelor’s degree can often help you save money compared to an on campus degree because you’ll save on student housing costs, meal plans and other fees for on campus services.

But it’s important to remember that even as an online student, you’ll likely have additional costs on top of your tuition. Textbooks, online learning resources, software and specific technology may be needed to help you complete your courses and earn your degree.

If you’re planning on getting started with a bachelor’s degree program, be sure to ask about financial aid and scholarships:

Speak to a student financial services team member about how you can pay for college, and you may be surprised to learn that college is indeed within your financial reach.

Getting Ready: Are Bachelor's Degrees Always 4 Years?

As you think about the time required to earn your bachelor’s degree, remember:

  • It’s personal. Consider your goals and responsibilities and what schools offer programs based on your academic interests.
  • Starting points vary. Whether you've taken college courses or not, you may be able to reduce your time with existing credits or accepted credentials.
  • Plans are flexible. What type of schedule works well for you now may change as you progress through your degree.

A four-part infographic piece from top to bottom: 120 credits to earn your degree, 3 credits a course (on average) and the icon of a laptop, 30 credits a year and the icon of a calendar, 4 years to earn your degree and an icon of a graduation cap.Combine your goals, options and starting point to put together a plan. Understanding these three variables can help you create a plan that takes a potential four-year degree path down to two years or allows you to create a plan over six or more years.

As you define your goals, consider this simple equation: You need 120 credits to earn your degree. If the average course is three credits, then taking 30 credits a year breaks out into a four-year period of time. If you can up the course load to almost 40 credits a year, it breaks down into three years and so on. The more credits each year, the less time it takes to finish your degree – and the opposite as well. Your course load determines the length. With transfer credits, you’ll be able to lessen that time for completion.

Don’t forget to turn to school admission and advising teams for help, and let your family and friends be an important part of your support team so you can keep moving forward and earn your bachelor’s degree.

What Degrees Can You Get Completely Online?

An infographic piece with the text BA vs BS. The left column, under BA, has icons of a pencil, speech bubble and three people with a heart. The right column, under BS, has icons of a brief case, stethoscope and technical line segments. Now that you know how to tailor your timeline to your life, you might be interested in learning what degrees are available to pursue online. Well, no matter what your career interests are, there’s an online bachelor’s degree that can help you get there.

There are two main types of bachelor's degrees: a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science. You may be wondering what the difference is.

An online Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, often described as a liberal arts degree, is designed to give you general knowledge on a subject and help you develop critical thinking and communication skills.

Online bachelor’s degree options for BA majors include:

An online Bachelor of Science (BS) degree is focused on teaching the technical skills you need to succeed in a variety of careers.

Online bachelor’s degree options for BS majors include:

Ready to get a bachelor’s degree that supports your intended career path? The first step is choosing the program that's right for you.

What Bachelor’s Degrees Are in Demand?

Online bachelor’s degrees across many industries are in demand, including business, science, healthcare, technology and many other fields. In today’s competitive job market, earning an online bachelor’s degree can help you stand out and boost your long-term earning potential.

Bachelor’s degrees are the most common type of college degree. According to a 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report, 36% of adults age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree.

An infographic piece with the text BLS projects jobs for bachelor’s degree holders will grow 9.9% by 2030.Four-year degrees are also increasingly in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for bachelor’s degree holders will grow 9.9% by 2030 – faster than jobs for workers without a college degree.

Bachelor’s degree holders also earn significantly more than workers without a four-year degree. According to BLS data, bachelor’s degree holders earned 38.5% more per week in 2021 than workers with an associate degree and 64.9% more per week than workers with a high school diploma.

Unemployment rates are also lower for workers with a bachelor's degree, at 3.5% in 2021. That same year, associate degree holders saw a 4.6% unemployment rate, and workers without a college degree saw 6.2%.

Earning a bachelor’s degree can also help you prepare for a master’s degree program, certificate program or professional credential, which can help you advance your career even further.

How to Choose an Online Bachelor’s Degree

Amanda Jennings with the text Amanda Jennings

Whether you have a specific major in mind or want to complete an undergraduate degree you previously started, it's important to research all your degree options before applying, said Amanda Jennings, an admission team lead at SNHU.

You can start by thinking about the type of work you enjoy doing and the work environment you’d like to be in on a daily basis.

It's also important to determine if your chosen career path requires any specific educational credentials or licensure to work in the field and make sure your chosen online bachelor’s degree meets these requirements, Jennings said.

If you're wondering what jobs you can get with a bachelor's degree, some may require a specific educational background. For example, licensing organizations may require a degree from an accredited program. Other job listings may list a preferred major – such as someone with a business degree.

Is an Online Bachelor’s Degree Right for You?

Whether you’re leaving a job to start a new career or advancing in your current role, an online bachelor's degree can help you stand out in a competitive job market.

No matter what career path you hope to follow, earning a bachelor’s degree can give you a leg up when applying for new jobs or seeking a promotion. If you’ve been working in your field without a degree, earning a four-year degree can help you turn your professional experience into a marketable credential, boosting your long-term career and earning potential.

Still wondering if an online bachelor’s degree is right for you? Take some time to consider your goals and how you want your career to grow, said Jennings.

“One fear of a lot of students is that they don’t want to start something they’re not 100% sure about,” Jennings said. “But focus on why you want to go back to school. Finding that 'why' can help you determine if a bachelor’s degree is the right idea for you.”

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU bachelor's degree that can best help you meet your goals.

Pamme Boutselis is an adjunct, writer and senior content director in higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.