What is a bachelor's degree?

Updated 12 February 2023

After secondary school, most students opt to enrol in a bachelor's programme. Other students prefer to get into the job market first and learn to earn a living before furthering their studies through a bachelor's programme. Whatever path you choose, there are several tangible benefits to completing a bachelor's degree in the subject of your choice. In this article, we explain what a bachelor's degree is, what it involves and why it could be beneficial for you and your career.

What is a bachelor's degree?

Also referred to as a baccalaureate or undergraduate degree, a bachelor's degree is a higher education certification that offers various professional, social and academic opportunities. In simple terms, it's a three or four-year degree programme where the learner gets to specialise in a subject of their choice. The subject equips students with the skills and knowledge for pursuing specific professions.

There are a huge number of subjects available to study at a university, and you can find many diverse programmes at the undergraduate level. Some of the bachelor's degree programmes that you could undertake when studying at university include:

  • Anthropology and archaeology

  • Social sciences (sociology, psychology)

  • Classical history

  • English (literature)

  • Computer science

  • Business (economics, management)

  • Law

  • Sciences (earth sciences, biology, chemistry)

  • Mathematics

  • Theology and religion

  • Medical fields/pre-medical fields

  • Music and arts

  • Engineering

  • Philosophy

There are also various types of bachelor's degree courses that have multiple subjects. For example, you may complete a bachelor's degree in English literature with a minor in history. This allows students to tailor their studies to meet their career goals. It also gives you the opportunity to pursue topics of personal interest.

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Types of bachelor's degrees

Your choice of bachelor's degree can depend on several factors, including your specific interests and career goals as a secondary school student. There are various types of these degrees, and they all focus on different areas. Here are the four key bachelor's degree programmes that you might take at a British university.

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Bachelor of Arts (BA)

This degree focuses on arts and humanities. BA degrees can help you major in areas like business, literature, and archaeology. They also allow you to get a taste for general subjects like history and English, benefiting students seeking a well-rounded education. A BA degree usually takes three years for a student who studies full-time. These three years prepare students for careers in a wide variety of crucial industries, though where they end up will depend on what they major in. After this degree, graduates are also able to advance their studies through post-graduate programmes or university employment.

Bachelor of Science (BSc)

A BSc focuses on science and technical skills like mathematics, engineering, and natural sciences. Unlike BA degrees, BSc degrees require more courses linked to a student's major and not as many general education courses. A BS degree may also include more technical skills courses, especially for science subjects like chemistry. An advancement to postgraduate study is also common for graduates of this degree.

Bachelor of Applied Arts (BAA)

BAA degrees primarily focus on vocational studies, which means practical skills that students can use in fields like publishing, fashion, and photography. For example, students can pursue BAA in studio arts or criminal justice and enter directly into the workforce instead of advancing to postgraduate study.

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Bachelor of Education (BEd)

This degree focuses on teacher training. It's the main undergraduate option for students looking to pursue a career in teaching and graduate with a Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). BEd programmes are an excellent route for primary school teachers, but British universities also offer secondary-level BEd programmes for specific specialisations. For instance, secondary-level teachers may often take studies in courses related to the subjects they plan to teach, like the sciences, mathematics, language studies and even honours subjects.

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What does a bachelor's degree involve?

Completing a bachelor's degree typically involves 1200 hours of academic work per year. This awards you with the equivalent of 120 credits per year, with a total of 360 credits qualifying you for a bachelor's degree with honours. The whole programme you complete splits into modules that cover a specific sub-topic of your chosen degree subject. Within those modules, depending on the topic, you may need to attend lectures and workshops, complete exams and coursework, perform practical work and give presentations. Bachelor's degrees typically follow the below grades:

  • First-class degree (a 'first')

  • Upper second class (2:1 or 'two-one')

  • Lower second class (2:2 or 'two-two')

  • Third class (3 or 'third')

Over the course of the three years, the rigour of the coursework can increase, with the first year as an introductory period and your second year becoming more challenging. During your final year, your work typically culminates in a final project that can vary, depending on the subject. For some subjects like the sciences, this may be a dissertation, or it may be a final project or study in fields like the arts or technology. Regardless of the type of work, this final project can make up a significant portion of your grade.

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Admission requirements for a bachelor's degree

Typically, you need to have completed a college-level education to be eligible for most universities. This could include relevant A-level or another equivalence qualification. You also need to complete your GCSEs and attain good grades in English and math. If you're lacking specific qualifications, you may have to complete an additional foundation course with the university for one year before moving on to the undergraduate degree.

Students have to complete an application form using UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). This is a portal where students can apply formally to study programmes of their choice, although some universities allow students to apply directly. Personal details, education qualifications, financial status, work experience and personal statements are the documents most often required by higher learning institutions.

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How much does a bachelor's degree cost?

Students at English universities can pay up to £9,250 per year. However, according to the Reddin Survey of University Tuition Fees, the international undergraduate fees vary and can start from around £10,000 and increase to an average of £38,000 or more if you're pursuing a medical degree or advanced credential. Humanities and social sciences degrees may often cost less than scientific and clinical degree programmes.

The fees associated with higher education are a struggle for many students, but thankfully, most UK universities offer shorter, more accessible programmes. British universities also offer three-year undergraduate degrees instead of four-year degrees. This saves you an extra year's worth of fees and living costs that you would have to shoulder while undertaking a four-year degree.

Related: How to balance studying and working full time

Career benefits of a bachelor's degree

If you're pursuing a bachelor's degree programme, doing some research on the different degrees and career opportunities can ensure that you get the best degree for your money and interest. However, with a bachelor's degree being a must-have credential for almost every career path, students have no choice but to complete a degree if they want to be taken seriously in the job marketplace. Here are some of the major benefits of completing a bachelor's degree in your chosen subject:

More job opportunities

Graduating with a bachelor's degree creates job opportunities for you that would otherwise not have been available. Most job opportunities require a higher level of education, and employers are always giving priority to applicants with university degrees. Some employers even make simply having a degree qualification, even when the job is outside an applicant's field of expertise. With companies receiving many applications for a single job listing, most have resorted to screening applicants by rejecting those without degrees before continuing with the short-listing process.

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Higher average salary

People that have a degree, on average, earn a higher salary than those without. This is because completing a degree proves to employers that you have increased knowledge of a specific subject and the skills to complete challenging work. Completing a three-year course also proves that you're committed to improvement, which is a desirable trait for employers. This difference further increases when completing postgraduate qualifications such as a master's or PhD.

Personal growth

Attaining a bachelor's degree doesn't just result in increased job opportunities and the chance to earn a higher salary. After completing the three-year educational programme, you'll likely experience personal and professional growth. You'll master additional skills like time management, teamwork, presentation skills and discipline during the education process. You can draw on these skills when growing your career.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.


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