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Upon graduating from high school with diploma in hand, some students immediately begin working toward a bachelor's degree. Others may decide to halt their studies temporarily, though, and go back to school months or years later to earn their bachelor's degree. In either case, the bachelor's degree is quickly becoming the most popular base-level degree for those who desire a college education.
Whether you decide to head straight to college or not, one thing is certain: there will be a vast, if at times overwhelming, number of degrees to choose from when you decide to take the step. Some equip students with specific technical skills, while others rely on a broader approach, allowing students to delve into various aspects of a given field. Students should choose to study an area that both excites and challenges them. The diverse list of available majors includes aromatherapy, global governance, architecture, and neuroscience. The degree typically takes four years to attain, although the amount of time it actually takes often varies. Studies show that students who do not enter college until more than a year after graduating take longer—approximately 30 months longer—to attain their degrees than students who do not delay.
What to Expect
A bachelor's degree will prepare students for entry-level positions in the field of their choice, based on their chosen major. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) are the most common undergraduate degrees. Some colleges may award more specific degrees, such as a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), which is an undergraduate degree in the visual and performing arts. The distinction between a B.A. and a B.S. is sometimes an arbitrary one. A B.A. generally does not train students for a specific job, while a B.S. applies to specialized programs and degrees that are more technical in nature. Students pursuing degrees in the liberal arts or social sciences will receive a B.A.; students majoring in engineering, journalism, or statistics will most likely receive a B.S.
As they work toward their bachelor's degrees, students will be required to take certain courses within various subject areas, although programs often offer some flexibility in this regard. Typically, students also take 10 to 12 courses from within their major area of study. Specific requirements at each school will vary, and they may also vary among programs at the same school. Generally speaking, schools may require a designated number of general education classes in science, math, social science, and the humanities. Other schools may even require specific courses. Some students may choose to double major (major in two disciplines, related or not) or minor in another field of interest, which does not necessarily have to be related to the student's major.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the greatest numbers of bachelor's degrees were awarded in the field of business. This was followed by the social sciences and history; health sciences; and education. The Princeton Review also lists business as the most popular major, while psychology, nursing, biology, and education round out their top five.
Business leads the way as the most popular major among undergrads by a wide margin; more than twice as many business degrees are conferred every year when compared to the second most popular fields of social science and history. Accounting; economics; and business administration and management are among the most popular business-related majors. It doesn't hurt that many business disciplines can lead to job opportunities with substantial salaries. Armed with a business degree, students can enter business, government, and nonprofit industries.
Majors in the social sciences and history follow in popularity. The social sciences encompass a number of majors, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, even political science. Graduates who majored in the social sciences are sought after in various fields, including business and technology. The reason is simple: These students have studied human behavior, relationships, and interactions, and the skills they have garnered are applicable in a number of fields. History majors develop and strengthen their ability to critically analyze and communicate their ideas in writing. They also develop strong communication and problem-solving skills.
What to Consider
Since there is no dearth of colleges and universities out there, students should consider various factors when determining what institution they would like to attend. These can include the size, cost, and location of the institution, and whether they'd like to commute, live a few hours away, move out of the state, or learn online. Students should also keep in mind that working toward a bachelor's degree often means spending time on rigorous reading and writing assignments in addition to several hours of studying. However, the college experience also entails involvement in athletics or extracurricular activities, and students who are interested in an on-campus experience should consider the campus life each school offers.
Another point that deserves consideration is whether the college or university you are interested in is accredited by a legitimate accrediting body. Accreditation is granted to higher education institutions that meet certain standards set by the accrediting agency. It is one way students can determine which universities are an acceptable means of education. Accreditation is also a tool to monitor, assess, and improve the quality of education that learning institutions, colleges, and universities offer students. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of accredited institutions.
Selecting an unaccredited school could make students ineligible for financial aid. It can also make it difficult or impossible to transfer credits if you choose to switch schools, and employers are often skeptical of degrees from unaccredited schools. However, keep in mind that some perfectly legitimate programs may not be accredited, such as those from faith-based schools and newer programs. In those instances, use your best judgment to determine whether the school will offer you a high-quality educational experience.