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How long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree?

Interested in taking a degree but don’t know what time commitment is involved? We take you through the options available so you can choose the right course for you.

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A bachelor’s degree is a great achievement. In addition to being a way of proving to yourself that you have what it takes to study hard and reach a high standard, it can make a significant difference to your career opportunities. The first step is to decide degree interests you, and what other qualifications you’ll need first as a requirement to apply. There are different types of degree from undergraduate to postgraduate, as well as the option of flexible online learning. 

They key to choosing what type of degree suits you is to ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • Do you want to study on a university campus or online?
  • Do you want the opportunity to work for a year in industry or abroad?
  • Do you want to study full time or part time?

What is the standard length of a UK bachelor’s degree?

In the United Kingdom, most undergraduate Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Art degrees are three years long. This is very similar in Australia and Canada. Year one will typically involve compulsory and core modules, to give you a broad grounding in your subject. As you progress, you’ll be able to choose from different options. Some of these are assessed via coursework or dissertation, (for example, an extended essay or thesis), while others are assessed through the kind of timed examinations you’ll have faced at an earlier stage of your academic career. However, in the UK, many degree subjects are also four, or even five years long.

Types of undergraduate degree include:

  • BSc (Bachelor of Science) – a science degree
  • BA (Bachelor of Arts) – an arts degree
  • BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) – an engineering degree
  • Undergraduate master’s degree (eg MEng) – an enhanced four-year undergraduate degree including extra subjects studied at a deeper level

How long is a bachelor’s degree in the USA?

Unlike the UK, Canada and Australia, bachelor’s degrees in the United States usually take between four and six years. That’s how long it usually takes for students to earn the 120 credits required to graduate. Full-time students who dedicate their time completely to their studies and take a full course load, will gain around 15 credits per semester, averaging two semesters each academic year. However, a part-time student who takes around 9 credits each semester, may take over six years to achieve their bachelor’s degree. 

Factors that affect a bachelor’s degree length

Quite a few factors can affect the length of a bachelor’s degree, such as study abroad or work experience. Many degrees offer a year in industry, sometimes called an industrial placement or sandwich year. This opportunity allows you to spend a year of your studies working within an industry relating to your chosen subject. Language degrees often include a year abroad, while Medicine is either five or six years long, divided between a three-year pre-clinical stage where you will be studying for a BA in Medical Science, followed by the clinical stage, which takes another two or three years. According to a 2019 University UK report, 8% of UK undergraduates take a year abroad. The most common subject for taking a year abroad is Languages (33%), followed by Medicine and Dentistry (31%). 

Other types of degrees

You may choose to follow an undergraduate degree with a postgraduate degree. This is a more advanced academic degree that usually takes one year.

Postgraduate degrees include: 

  • Master’s degrees (e.g. MA, MSc, MEd)
  • Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) & Postgraduate diplomas (PGDip)
  • Doctorate or Doctoral Degree (PhD, MPhil)

How long does a postgraduate degree take?

Postgraduate degrees can take anywhere from a few months to several years. We’ve broken down typical course durations for some of the most common postgraduate degree types below:

  • PGCert & PGDip: from 15-30 weeks
  • Master’s: from 1-2 years for full-time study or from 2-4 years for part-time study
  • Doctoral degree: from 3-4 years for full-time or from 6-7 years for part-time study

Online degrees

Choosing an online degree programme allows you to combine your studies with work, family, hobbies and any other commitments. This option allows you to study any time of day and night, wherever suits you. In this scenario, degrees can take between six years part-time or three years full-time.

  • Flexibility: Fit your classes into your schedule. This makes a lot of sense if you have a job or family obligations. You can study during your free time, such as nights and weekends, without disrupting your daily obligations.
  • Steadier income: Giving up a steady income to be a full-time student may not be an option, so online study might be a better fit for you. This allows you to work toward your degree while remaining in the workforce.

Are there any shortcuts to taking a bachelor’s degree?

Perhaps you’re still worrying whether the investment of time and money into a bachelor’s degree is worth it. After all, it’s natural to ask if it makes sense in the current economy, especially if it can take six years or more to complete. If this is your mindset, there may be a few things you can do to shorten the amount of time it takes to complete your degree. It may be that a bachelor’s degree is not right for you, however two-year or accelerated degrees are available. These courses take two years to complete rather than the usual three or four.

Two-year accelerated degree

In a fast-tracked course, you cover the same content and get the same qualification at the end. However, you’ll need to consider that there will be more for you to cover in a shorter period. Also, while you will save time, you’ll be unlikely to save money as most two-year degrees cost the same as a three-year course, making them technically more expensive on a per-year basis. However, if you choose to attend a university to take your degree, rather than taking it online, you will save money by not having to pay for third year living costs.

Are bachelor’s degrees worth the money?

With the average student debt in the UK at £45,800 many people are wondering whether a bachelor’s degree makes financial sense. However, all the evidence points towards a degree being a fundamental step toward a better career. Graduates tend to experience a higher income potential, better overall financial stability, and more satisfying careers. It’s worth bearing in mind that a few factors will affect your career options:

  • Your choice of degree subject
  • The university you go to
  • Any skills you gain while you are there
  • The career you choose to go into can affect your salary in the short and long term

Better prospects, better pay

A UK government Department for Education report in June 2022 reported that in the year 2021 graduates on average earned £10,000 per year more than people who don’t go to university. This was based on all graduates and non-graduates aged 16-64, excluding postgraduates (although women and people from an ethnic minority background earnt less). Ultimately the difference to your job prospects could far outweigh the cost of your course, as 65.2% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment, compared to 77.4% of postgraduates and 24.3% of non-graduates.

Explore bachelor’s degrees on FutureLearn

Still interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree? Head over to our online degree collection where we offer a diverse and comprehensive collection of undergraduate degrees from top universities across the UK. 

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