Years to earning an Undergraduate Degree

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Though you may hear undergraduate degree programs referred to as two-year or four-year, these labels are no guarantee of how long it takes to graduate. Many students take longer to attain their degrees. However, some degree programs help students graduate early.

Types of Undergraduate Degrees

At the undergraduate level, there are associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees.

Associate’s degree programs typically require around 60 college credits, which equals around 20 courses. Community colleges often offer associate’s degree programs. Types of associate’s degrees include the Associate of Science (A.S.), Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees.

The term “undergraduate” most often refers to bachelor’s degrees, such as the Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degrees. A bachelor’s degree program typically requires 120 semester hours of study, or twice the amount of coursework as an associate’s degree. Some students earn an associate’s degree at a junior college and then complete the remainder of their bachelor’s degree requirements at a four-year school

The Length of Time to Earn an Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is called a two-year degree, but many students take longer than two years to graduate. Often, the delay isn’t even students’ fault, Inside Higher Ed reported. In a survey of associate’s degree programs, many schools and programs required more than 60 credits – some, up to 70 credits. Many students ended up taking 80 credits by the time they graduated, paying for extra courses and delaying the completion of their education, Inside Higher Ed reported.

How Long It Takes to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Likewise, a bachelor’s degree may be called a four-year degree, but it often takes longer. In reality, earning a bachelor’s degree often takes six years, according to The New York Times, and just 19 percent of public university students and 36 percent of state flagship universities graduate in four years.

Factors That Can Make Your Education Take Longer

It might take you longer to earn your degree if you:

  • Transfer into a new school or degree program that has different graduation requirements
  • Choose a program that requires more than the standard amount of classes or credits
  • Need to complete remedial courses that don’t count toward your degree
  • Choose to repeat a course to earn a better grade
  • Take too few classes at a time
  • Don’t take the right courses at the right time based on your program’s recommended schedule
  • Take courses that don’t count toward your graduation requirements
  • Need to complete a hands-on experience component that doesn’t fit into your class schedule

Earning Your Undergraduate Degree Quicker

If you’re eager to complete your education, there are a number of steps you can take to get your degree sooner rather than later. You can earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree fast with an online education, particularly if you choose a competency-based, rather than credit-based, degree program. You can also choose a school that offers an accelerated program either online or on campus. In fact, at some of the 20 best degree programs for undergraduates, students can earn their bachelor’s degrees in less than four years. At Miami University—Oxford, for example, the median time to graduation is just 3.7 years.

Some students take two years to earn an associate’s degree and four to earn a bachelor’s degree, while others take more time or less time. Ultimately, what’s most important isn’t how long it takes to get your degree, but how well your education helps you achieve your goals.