Thinking of going to school for a bachelor’s degree? Then you are probably thinking of how much such an endeavor will cost you. But you might want to keep your eye on one more important factor: time. You see, when it comes to a college education, time is money… literally. Every credit hour you take will cost you. Dragging your feet can hurt you. Finishing your degree faster can save you money.

Interestingly enough, studies have found that, for those students who take too long, the odds are increasingly against them finishing their degrees at

The simplest way to answer the question of how long your bachelor’s degree will take is to think in terms of credit hours.

What is a credit hour?

A credit hour is a measurement of the time you spend and earn for a given course. For instance, a course that requires you to spend one hour in lecture and another hour in lab every week will likely be worth two credit hours. Typically, the number of credit hours is also a good indicator for how difficult and time-consuming a course will be. One credit hour is easy. Four credit hour courses are going to challenge you.

As you pass these courses, you accumulate credit hours that will eventually count toward earning your bachelor’s degree. Most universities will require that you earn a certain number of credit hours in different types of courses (math, science, humanities, etc.). When you choose a major, your major will also require that you earn a certain number of credit hours to complete your major.

The total amount of credit hours that you count toward graduation will come from both your general education classes (i.e. required classes that aren’t part of your major) and major classes. You need both to graduate.

What do credit hours have to do with time to earning my degree?

Full-time students typically pay a flat tuition rate per semester, as long as they take 12 or more credit hours. This means, if you’re full-time, you want to get the most bang for your buck and fit in as many credit hours per semester as you can without losing your mind. Full-time students usually take between 12 and 24 credit hours per semester, but 15 to 18 is the average. Most programs require that you earn 127 to 132 credit hours to graduate.

The more credit hours you take per semester, the faster you graduate. Simple as that.

So let’s take a hypothetical student named Ambrose. He wants to graduate in the typical four years and he’s planning on studying full-time for two semesters per year. The major that Ambrose is interested in requires a total of 124 credit hours to graduate. How many credit hours should he take per semester to graduate on time?

If you divide 124 credit hours by the eight semesters he will be a full-time student, you get the number 18. That’s how many credit hours he’ll need to take on per semester to graduate within four years. He also has the option of taking summer courses or earning credit during internships to cut that down.

But let’s say, just for example, that Ambrose decides to take only 13 credit hours per semester. Instead of having to take eight semesters he has to take one, maybe two, more semesters. That’s five years, instead of four, and that much extra that he has to pay in tuition.

The basic lesson here is that you want to get your bachelor’s degree program done as quickly as possible. Taking as many credit hours per semester as you can is the key to this.

But what if you’re working on your bachelor’s degree as a part-time student? This can get really drawn out since you might be taking as little as two credit hours per year. It’s easy to see how some students might lose steam and just give up after years of trying to accumulate enough credit hours to graduate.

Again, the recommendation here is that you do all you can to graduate as quickly as possible. The longer it takes, the worse your chances of actually finishing.

How long do students usually take to earn their bachelor’s degrees?


The bachelor’s degree is designed to take four years to complete, if you go full-time, you stick to the prescribed courses, and you don’t slack off on your credit hours per semester or term. But the closer you look at the numbers, according to National Center for Education Statistics, the more you see that many students don’t exactly stick to the prescribed path:

  • Out of those who actually complete their bachelor’s, only 57 percent of them finish within six years.
  • Seven percent of those students graduate in less than four years.
  • Students who graduate in four years are significantly more numerous at 41 percent.
  • Students who graduate in five years are a close second place at 32 percent.
  • Twenty percent of these same students finish in six years.
  • The average time for completing a bachelor’s degree is actually 4.7 years.

And what you did before starting your bachelor’s degree matters, too. Bachelor’s degree-holders who started their college education at a community college took 20 percent longer to finish. Students at four-year private colleges finish faster than those at public and for-profit universities. Those who take a year off of education after high school before entering a bachelor’s degree program take 60 percent longer to finish than students who go straight to college.

And then there are extreme examples like Burlyce Sherrell Logan who took 55 years to finally graduate from North Texas University with her bachelor’s degree. Better late than never!

So if you’re like the rest of us, the odds are decent that you will finish your bachelor’s degree within six years. The key is that you stick with it and do all you can to speed the process up.

Now that you’ve seen how long a bachelor’s degree can take, are you ready to take the next step? Start learning how to get a bachelor’s degree today!


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