30 January, 2016
A bachelor’s degree is typically an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world. In some exceptional cases, it may also be the name of a postgraduate degree, such as a Bachelor of Civil Law, the Bachelor of Music, the Bachelor of Philosophy, or the Bachelor of Sacred Theology.
During the Renaissance, doctors, upon passing their final examinations, were decorated with berried branches of bay, an ancient symbol of highest honor.
From this ancient custom derives the French word baccalauréat (from the Latin bacca, a berry, and laureus, of the bay laurel), and, by modification, the term “bachelor” in referring to a university degree.
Several United States universities and colleges award bachelor’s degrees with latin honors, usually (in ascending order) cum laude ‘with honor/praise,’ magna cum laude ‘with great honor/praise,’ summa cum laude ‘with highest honor/praise,’ and the occasionally seen maxima cum laude ‘with maximal honor/praise.’ Degrees without honors are awarded rite. Requirements for such notations of honors usually include minimum grade point averages (GPA), with the highest average required for the summa distinction (or maxima, when that distinction is present). In the case of a few rigorous schools, such as Reed College, Bates College, Colby College, Middlebury College, Franklin College Switzerland, and larger universities like the University of Virginia, a senior thesis for degrees in the humanities or laboratory research for natural science (and sometimes social science) degrees is also needed. Four notable exceptions are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Evergreen State College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Bennington College, which do not have a dean’s list, Latin honors recognition, or undergraduate honors program or subjects.
Bachelor’s degrees in the United States are typically designed to be completed in four years of full-time study, although some programs (such as engineering or architecture) usually take five, and some universities and colleges, such as Grace College let ambitious students (usually with the help of summer school and/or high school Advanced Placement courses) to complete them in as little as three years. Some U.S. colleges and universities have a separate academic track known as an “honors” or “scholars” program, generally offered to the top percentile of students (based on GPA), that offers more challenging courses or more individually-directed seminars or research projects in lieu of the standard core curriculum. The students are awarded the same bachelor’s degree as students completing the standard curriculum, but with the notation in cursu honorum on the transcript and the diploma. Usually, the above Latin honors are separate from the notation for this honors course, but a student in the honors course generally must maintain grades worthy of at least the cum laude notation anyway. Hence, a graduate might receive a diploma Artium Baccalaureatum rite or Artium Baccalaureatum summa cum laude in the regular course or Artium Baccalaureatum summa cum laude in cursu honorum in the honors course.
If the student has completed the requirements for an honors degree only in a particular discipline (e.g., English language and literature), the degree is designated accordingly (e.g., BA with Honors in English). In this case, the degree candidate will finish the normal curriculum for all subjects except the selected discipline (“English,” in the preceding example). The requirements in either case usually need completion of particular honors seminars, independent research at a level higher than usually required (often with greater personal supervision by faculty than usual), and a written honors thesis in the major subject.