How Many Years Does It Take to Earn 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.

So, how long does it take to get an undergraduate degree? That depends on the program, the student, and life circumstances. Read on to learn more about average degree completion times and the factors that can slow down or speed up undergraduate study. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

How Many Years Does It Take to Earn Different Types of Undergraduate Degrees?

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

How Long Is Undergraduate Study for an Associate’s Degree?

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 following:

  • Associate of Science (A.S.)
  • Associate of Arts (A.A.)
  • Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)

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.

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Some students seeking associate’s degrees take longer to finish school due to course scheduling conflicts, such as needing to take courses in a sequence when one of those courses is only available in certain semesters. Other times, students mistake full-time study for the full course load required to graduate on time. You might be considered a full-time student while taking only four classes a semester, but your degree plan may require you to complete five courses if you’re going to graduate in two years.

How Long It Takes to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The term “undergraduate” most often refers to bachelor’s degrees, such as the following degrees:

  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)

A bachelor’s degree program typically requires 120 semester hours of study, or twice the amount of coursework as an associate’s degree. Bachelor’s degrees can sometimes require more than 120 credits. For example, a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree typically requires 150 semester hours of study.

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. In theory, students taking this route can complete their undergraduate education within four years, obtaining both an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree. In reality, though, students sometimes take longer than four years total to earn an associate’s and bachelor’s degree. These delays may occur due to scheduling issues and differences in degree program requirements and course equivalencies between schools.

A bachelor’s degree may be called a four-year degree, but actually earning this degree often takes longer. In reality, many students take six years to complete their “four-year” degree, according to The New York Times. 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 schools
  • Switch majors
  • Choose a program with higher credit requirements
  • Take remedial courses
  • Repeat courses
  • Take a smaller course load
  • Take courses out of sequence or your recommended schedule
  • Enroll in classes that don’t count toward graduation
  • Participate in hands-on experiences that don’t fit in a regular course schedule

Transferring Into a New School or Degree Program

Each school and degree program has its own graduation requirements. If you start your undergraduate studies preparing to meet one set of graduation requirements and then you switch schools or programs, you don’t necessarily have to start over from scratch. However, you might lose some of the progress you had made. Switching majors or transferring schools at the end of your sophomore year may mean that, instead of being halfway to your new degree, you could need an extra semester or more of study to get back on track.

The impact of switching your major may depend on how closely your original program of study relates to your new program. If you switch fields entirely, you may find that several of the courses you already completed don’t count toward your new degree. However, if you shift your focus only slightly – such as from business to finance or vice versa – then you have a better chance of being able to use your prior coursework toward your new program.

RELATED: How Long Does It Take to Get a Business Degree?

If you plan to transfer schools, it’s important to discuss with your advisor what classes and credits will count toward your degree. The same is true when you’re moving from a community college to a four-year university, whether or not you’ve earned your associate’s degree. If you plan to transfer schools or to start your education at a community college, it’s often a smart idea to keep a copy of your course syllabi, so you can prove that a class taken at one school is equivalent to the course offered at another institution.

Choosing a Program That Requires More Than the Standard Amount of Credits

Certain programs may require more than the average number of college credits. This isn’t a factor you can necessarily change, other than avoiding any such programs when choosing your major and your school. However, it is something you should be aware of going into your studies.

A Bachelor of Architecture degree is one example of a major that takes longer to study. Some bachelor’s degree programs in accounting also require additional credits, putting students on the path to acquiring the 150 credits required to earn the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential. Degree requirements above 120 credits are “the norm” in fields like education, engineering, computers and fine arts, and 10 percent of degree programs in psychology, history, and English literature require at least 125 credits, according to a survey by Complete College America.

When you start choosing a college, a question to ask is how long is undergraduate study at that school. If your credit requirement for graduation is more than 120 semester hours, you need to know that going in so you can plan your studies and career path accordingly. Under the 1990 federal Student Right-to-Know Act, colleges and universities that receive federal student aid are required to disclose their four-year graduation rates. While no school is likely to have a 100% four-year graduation rate—life happens, and it sometimes causes students to take a semester off, drop to part-time enrollment or transfer schools—students can use this statistic to understand how likely it is that their undergraduate education will take extra time.

Taking Remedial Courses

In some cases, students who are otherwise ready for college may struggle a little with foundational skills, like writing and mathematics. Since you need these skills to succeed in a college-level curriculum, you may have to start your studies with some remedial coursework. Unfortunately, these classes often don’t count toward your degree, which means having to take them can put you behind in your course schedule.

Repeating Courses

Taking the same course more than once typically doesn’t give you twice the credits. However, in some cases, repeating courses is necessary or beneficial in some way. If you fail a required course, you will have to take it again before you can graduate.

Students sometimes repeat a class to earn a better grade in it, even if they passed the course. They may want to bring up their GPA, especially if they need to maintain a certain GPA to keep their financial aid or they just want stay competitive in internship and job searches or graduate school applications.

If you’re repeating a class to earn a better grade, go into this endeavor with a plan. Identify content areas where you might benefit from extra help.

There are some exceptions in which repeating a class may award additional credit, such as special topics courses that change each semester, independent studies, and internships.

Taking Too Few Classes at a Time

If you don’t take the full course load required in your degree plan, you might not be prepared to graduate on time. This is one reason it’s crucial that students follow their degree plan closely and work with their advisor when choosing their courses. Just taking enough classes to count as full-time doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to graduate on time.

Not Taking the Right Classes at the Right Time

It’s not unusual for students to have to take classes in a certain sequences, especially as they advance to more difficult coursework. Unfortunately, this means that taking courses out of order or failing to sign up for a class at the right time could knock your progress toward earning a degree off track.

Some schools only offer certain classes during certain semesters. If you realize in the spring that you missed a course that’s only offered in the fall – and you need that course to move to the next class in a sequence – you could end up delayed by a year.

Taking Courses That Don’t Count Toward Your Degree

There’s no shame in taking classes for the purpose of pure intellectual curiosity, but doing so without the right planning could derail your graduation schedule. Classes that aren’t relevant to your program are usually counted as either general education courses or free electives.

Your free electives are usually limited. Taking too many classes that can only count as free electives may mean you have plenty of credits to graduate, but you don’t have the right coursework for a degree in your field.

Needing More Time to Fit in a Hands-On Experience

Experienced acquired outside the classroom is valuable in just about any field, but in some degree programs, it’s mandatory. If your hands-on component doesn’t fit into the regular course schedule, you’re going to have to spend more time pursuing your degree requirements.

For example, students majoring in education typically have to complete a semester-long student-teaching experience at the end of their studies. This may require you to spend four years in college classrooms and an additional semester in an elementary school or high school classroom.

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.

Make the Most of Your Undergraduate Years

How long it takes to get your degree isn’t as important as how much you get out of your undergraduate degree years, both in the classroom and outside of it. For example, students sometimes have the opportunity to participate in a co-op experience, in which they perform work in the field in which they are studying, often on a paid, full-time basis. While co-op experience may delay your graduation date by anywhere from a few months to a year, it allows you to earn money while gaining real work experience in your field.

Other ways to make the most of the time you spend earning an undergraduate degree include getting involved in extracurricular activities. These opportunities allow you to explore your interests, make new friends, develop leadership skills, and become a more well-rounded individual. The skills you gain and the connections you make with other people through your extracurricular activities can also help you with your future career opportunities.


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.

Additional Resources

What Can I Do With a Bachelors Degree?

What Can I Do With an Associates Degree?

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate Degree?

How Long Does It Take to Become an Accountant?