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How Long Does an Undergraduate Degree Take?

by Douglas Mikutel

Education requires a significant investment of time. Before starting an undergraduate degree program, students will want to know how much time it will take to complete the program. The time to degree completion will depend on how many courses the student takes each term and the type of degree program entered.

How Long Does an Undergraduate Degree Take?

The typical undergraduate bachelor’s degree will take four years of full-time study to complete. There are a number of issues to consider such as the number of terms in the academic calendar and how many credits to take each term. A traditional school will generally expect students to take 15 credits each fall and spring semester to earn 120 total credits for the degree. Taking courses for a total of eight semesters (four in fall and four in spring) without taking courses in the summer, will require four years of studies for the traditional student. Students at non-traditional schools may take courses with a different term length, and during more terms beyond the traditional fall, spring and summer academic calendar.

The Traditional, Bricks-and-Mortar Institution

While traditional schools may expect students to take 15 credits in each fall and spring term, taking additional or summer term courses may decrease time to graduation. Transfer credit from other institutions, advanced standing or credit from standardized testing may tend to reduce time to graduation. Failing courses, changing majors or taking courses that do not count toward the degree program can extend the time to degree. Schools provide academic advising to help keep students on target or minimize time to graduation.

The Online or Non-Traditional Institution

Alternative calendars at online and non-traditional schools often use five-, eight- or nine-week terms. These alternative calendars help students to minimize overlapping classes and maximize the number of classes completed during the academic year. For example, a school offering classes every month with eight-week terms may allow for students to take up to 20 courses in the span of one year and never have to take more than four overlapping classes at any given time. By offering more terms, non-traditional schools may help decrease the time it takes to earn an undergraduate degree from the traditional four years.

Discuss Earned Credit and Time to Degree Before Enrolling

Ultimately, the time to degree completion depends upon the academic calendar of the school and how quickly students can earn credit. Students transferring-in previous credit may reduce the time to graduation. Students should discuss the award of previous learning, testing or professional experience before enrolling. Students with military experience, for example, may be eligible for advanced standing through service schools, rates and ranks. Students with CLEP, Advanced Placement or other standardized testing scores may be awarded credit toward the degree as well. It is important to find out about the policies of any school and discuss all possibilities of being awarded credit before enrolling.

About the Author

Douglas Mikutel has worked in several educational institutions fulfilling roles in management, student services and instruction. Dr. Mikutel completed his PhD in history and philosophy of Education at Florida State University. He is an adjunct assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Worldwide, but instructs for several other schools.

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