What is an Undergraduate Degree? Meaning, Requirements, Costs, and Best Schools

undergraduate degree

Oftentimes, the path to higher education begins with earning an undergraduate degree. This pivotal step opens doors to knowledge, skills, and opportunities. At its core, an undergraduate degree signifies successful completion of a structured program of study, typically lasting three to four years.

It equips you with in-depth knowledge and specialized skills within a chosen field, laying the groundwork for a fulfilling career or further academic pursuits. So, for a curious high school graduate or a working professional considering a return to academia, an undergraduate degree is valuable.

In this guide, we’ll explore the essence of an undergraduate degree, its prerequisites, and associated expenses, and even highlight some esteemed institutions.

What Does an Undergraduate Degree Mean?

An undergraduate degree is a fundamental milestone in higher education, typically pursued after secondary schooling. It signifies the successful completion of colleges and universities’ structured academic programs.

These degrees, which include Bachelor’s degrees, lay the groundwork for specialized knowledge and skill development in various fields such as arts, sciences, engineering, and more.

Apart from imparting subject-specific expertise, undergraduate education fosters critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving abilities. It acts as a stepping stone for advanced studies or entry into the workforce.

By offering a well-rounded education, undergraduate degrees empower individuals with the tools to navigate their careers and contribute meaningfully to society.

Read also: Top 8 Easy Degrees That Pay Well

What is Another Name for Undergraduate Degree?

An alternative term for an undergraduate degree is a “Bachelor’s degree.” This type of academic accomplishment is typically obtained through completing a prescribed course of study at a college or university.

It is a foundational qualification that signifies a certain level of expertise and knowledge in a particular field.

Earning a Bachelor’s degree opens doors to further educational pursuits or professional opportunities, making it a crucial stepping stone in one’s academic and career journey.

What is the Undergraduate Degree For?

An undergraduate degree is a crucial gateway to personal and professional growth. It is designed to provide students with a comprehensive foundation in their chosen field of study, equipping them with essential knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities.

This education goes beyond subject-specific learning, fostering communication, problem-solving, and research skills that apply to various aspects of life.

Moreover, an undergraduate degree is a prerequisite for pursuing advanced degrees, such as Master’s or Ph.D. programs, enabling individuals to specialize further in their interests.

Additionally, it enhances employment prospects by demonstrating expertise valued by employers across diverse industries, making it an essential qualification for numerous career paths.

Types of Undergraduate Degrees

Here are the types of undergraduate degrees:

Bachelor of Arts (BA):

Earned through humanities or social sciences majors like history, psychology, English, or communications. Emphasizes critical thinking and communication skills, offering versatile career opportunities.

Bachelor of Science (BS):

Obtained by studying technology, mathematics, or natural sciences like biology, chemistry, finance, or computer science. Focuses on quantitative skills, suitable for STEM careers.

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA):

Earned via fine, visual, or performing arts majors such as creative writing, theater, drawing, or graphic design. Ideal for careers in arts-related fields.

Why You Should Get an Undergraduate Degree

Obtaining an undergraduate degree is a transformative investment in your future. It offers many benefits, from expanded career opportunities and increased earning potential to personal growth and intellectual development.

With an undergraduate degree, you acquire specialized knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a foundation for lifelong learning.

It opens doors to various professions and industries, boosting employability and marketability. Beyond the professional advantages, it fosters essential life skills like effective communication, problem-solving, and adaptability.

By pursuing an undergraduate degree, you’re qualifying and embarking on a journey of self-discovery and advancement that lays the groundwork for a fulfilling and successful life.

What Level is an Undergraduate Degree?

An undergraduate degree is considered a post-secondary education level that follows the completion of secondary schooling (high school or equivalent). It represents the first tier of higher education and is typically earned at colleges and universities.

This level of education encompasses various degrees, including Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, depending on the program’s duration and depth of study.

While an Associate’s degree usually requires around two years of study, a Bachelor’s degree typically takes four years.

Both degrees provide foundational knowledge and skills, paving the way for further specialization through advanced degrees or direct entry into the workforce.

Is an Undergraduate Degree the Same as a Bachelor’s Degree?

Yes, an undergraduate degree is often synonymous with a Bachelor’s degree. Both terms refer to the first formal higher education level obtained after secondary schooling.

A Bachelor’s degree is one specific type of undergraduate degree, usually requiring around four years of study at a college or university. Other undergraduate degrees include Associate’s degrees, typically taking about two years to complete.

While “an undergraduate degree” encompasses various degrees pursued at this level, “Bachelor’s degree” specifically points to the most common and recognized form of undergraduate education, offering specialized knowledge and skills in a chosen field of study.

What is the Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate and Postgraduate Degrees?

The key distinction lies in the level of education and the stage of one’s academic journey. An undergraduate degree, such as a Bachelor’s degree, is the initial phase of higher education obtained after secondary schooling. It provides foundational knowledge in a chosen field.

Graduate and postgraduate degrees, on the other hand, are pursued after completing an undergraduate degree. Graduate degrees encompass Master’s and Ph.D. programs, offering advanced specialization and research opportunities.

Postgraduate degrees refer specifically to programs pursued after completing a Bachelor’s degree, including Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. These degrees delve deeper into a subject, focusing on expertise and research.

In essence, undergraduate degrees initiate higher education, while graduate and postgraduate degrees signify advanced specialization and research within a field.

Also, see: What Does Hons Mean? Honors Degree Meaning And Benefits

What is the Best Degree to Get Undergraduate?

When considering the best undergraduate degree, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs often stand out as they lead to well-paying careers.

These degrees provide a strong foundation for fields with high demand and innovation.

However, it’s important to note that while some humanities and social science bachelor’s degrees might not offer initially high salaries, they can lay the groundwork for pursuing a graduate degree and, ultimately, a more financially rewarding career.

These disciplines foster critical thinking, communication, and analytical skills valued in many professions.

Therefore, choosing the best undergraduate degree should align with your interests, strengths, and long-term career goals, considering both immediate prospects and potential pathways for growth.

Read also: 15 Best Duke Undergraduate Majors in 2024

How Do You Get an Undergraduate Degree?

Obtaining an undergraduate degree involves several steps that culminate in completing a structured academic program. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

Choose a Field of Study:

Select a subject or major that aligns with your interests, skills, and future career goals—research different fields to make an informed decision.

Research and Apply to Institutions:

Explore colleges or universities that offer programs in your chosen field—research factors like reputation, faculty, facilities, and available resources. Apply by submitting required documents like transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation.

Complete Coursework and Requirements:

Once enrolled, attend classes, participate in discussions, complete assignments, and take exams as per the curriculum. Fulfill both general education and major-specific requirements.

Engage in Extracurricular Activities:

Join clubs and organizations, or participate in internships and research opportunities related to your major. These experiences enhance your practical skills, network, and overall college experience.

Plan for Graduation:

Consult with academic advisors regularly to track your progress toward meeting degree requirements. Plan your courses, ensuring you’re on track to graduate on time.

Apply for Graduation and Receive Degree:

In your final year, apply for graduation according to your institution’s process. You’ll receive your undergraduate degree once you’ve met all requirements, typically in a formal graduation ceremony.

Requirements for an Undergraduate Degree?

The requirements for an undergraduate degree encompass a set of criteria that students must fulfill to earn their chosen degree.

These criteria vary based on the field of study, the specific program, and the institution.

Generally, they include completing a predetermined number of credit hours, including attending lectures, participating in discussions, completing assignments, and passing exams.

Additionally, students must meet specific course requirements within their major and fulfill general education requirements in diverse subjects.

Maintaining a satisfactory GPA and adhering to academic regulations are also vital. Some programs may require capstone projects, internships, or research work.

How Much Does It Cost to Get an Undergraduate Degree?

The cost of obtaining an undergraduate degree can vary widely based on factors like the institution type, location, and whether you choose in-person or online learning.

In the United States, a popular destination for international students, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree ranges from $15,000 to $45,000. However, top universities often have higher tuition fees.

Private institutions can be more expensive, with an average yearly cost of $39,400.

According to Coursera, the College Board found that one year of tuition and fees, on average, cost $10,940 at public four-year institutions for in-state students and $28,240 for out-of-state students.

Private nonprofit institutions cost even more at $39,400. Online bachelor’s programs offer flexibility and can be more cost-effective, with public online programs costing around $38,496 for in-state students and $60,593 for private institutions.

Financial aid options, including FAFSA and scholarships, help offset costs. It’s important to consider living expenses like housing and transportation alongside tuition fees.

Research and financial planning can help you make informed decisions about funding your undergraduate education.

See: How Much Does a Master’s Degree Cost in 2024?

How Many Years Is an Undergraduate Degree?

An undergraduate degree usually takes four years to complete as a full-time student, although factors like program requirements and individual pacing can influence the duration.

This educational milestone culminates in a bachelor’s degree earned within a specific college major.

While the standard timeframe is four years, some students may opt for accelerated programs, take extra courses, or engage in internships that could extend the timeline.

Balancing coursework, extracurricular activities, and personal commitments contributes to obtaining a comprehensive education and earning a bachelor’s degree.

Best Schools for Undergraduate Degrees

Here are five of the best schools for undergraduate degrees:

Harvard University:

Harvard is renowned for its academic excellence, offering many majors and exceptional faculty. Its global reputation and extensive resources provide unparalleled opportunities for research, networking, and personal growth.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

MIT is a leader in STEM education, known for its rigorous programs and cutting-edge research. Its emphasis on innovation and hands-on learning prepares students for impactful careers in science, engineering, and technology.

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Stanford University:

Stanford’s commitment to interdisciplinary education fosters well-rounded individuals. The university’s Silicon Valley location facilitates connections with industry leaders, making it a hub for entrepreneurship and technology.

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University of Oxford:

Oxford’s rich history, esteemed faculty, and intimate tutorial system provide an immersive and personalized learning experience. Its global network and emphasis on critical thinking attract students seeking a comprehensive education.

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California Institute of Technology (Caltech):

Caltech excels in science and engineering education, emphasizing small class sizes and close collaboration with professors. Its strong research focus and dedicated campus resources create an environment conducive to innovation.

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What To Do After an Undergraduate Degree

After completing an undergraduate degree, numerous paths open for further personal and professional growth.

Many pursue advanced degrees like Master’s or Ph.D. programs to specialize in their field and enhance career prospects.

Alternatively, entering the workforce directly is another option, applying the acquired knowledge and skills in various industries. Some opt for internships or fellowships to gain practical experience.

Travel and cultural immersion, entrepreneurship, volunteer work, and gap years for self-discovery are also popular choices.

Continual learning through online courses, workshops, or certifications keeps skills current. Deciding the next step depends on individual goals, values, and the desired blend of academic, experiential, and personal growth.


Can I change my major during my undergraduate studies?

Yes, many institutions allow students to change their majors. However, switching might require additional coursework or extend your degree completion timeline.

What is the difference between a minor and a major?

A major is a primary subject you study in-depth, while a minor is a secondary area requiring fewer courses. Minors offer a chance to explore other interests.

Can I work while pursuing an undergraduate degree?

Many students work part-time jobs or internships to gain practical experience and earn money while studying. Balancing work and studies requires effective time management.


Pursuing an undergraduate degree marks the initial step towards academic and professional fulfillment. This guide has explored the intricacies of degree choices, career trajectories, and the transformative experience that lies ahead.



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