The names for undergraduate degrees may sound fancy but they are actually simple expressions with interesting histories. When referring to an academic degree, the words "bachelor" and "baccalaureate" have now become virtually interchangeable. Although in the 12th and 13th centuries, when the university structure as we know it began, baccalaureate originally referred to the degree while bachelor referred to the degree holder.

Origin of Baccalaureate Degree

Looking at the baccalaureate degree meaning, baccalaureate is a French word that has been described as originating from "baccalareus" based on the Latin words "bacca" and "laureus" transalted to berry and laurel leaves. During the renaissance, a wreath of berries and laurel leaves were given to a graduate in honor of his achievement. The tradition of recognizing achievement with a crown of leaves began with the Olympic games of antiquity. This tradition of distinction has continued today in ceremonies as well as in education logos like those of Yale and Harvard universities.

Alternative Origin for Baccalaureate

An alternative origin for the term "baccalaureate" is that baccalarius is Latin for herdsman from “bacca” for cow and herdsman eventually evolved to apprentice and student. The commonly-used term "bachelor" was given to the new association with laurel wreaths when universities took over the function of education from the guilds and cathedral schools.

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Today's Baccalaureate vs. Bachelors

Today, the terms bachelor and baccalaureate both refer to an undergraduate college degree that takes four to five years of study and generally requires 126 to 132 college credits. The degree usually requires a high school education and is generally a requirement for entrance into a graduate program. Some universities use the term bachelor to refer to the degree and baccalaureate to refer to the program offering the degrees. The term baccalaureate also refers to the Christian religious service associated with commencement at many universities and even some private high schools.

Types of Bachelor's Degrees

The most common bachelor degree given is the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). The Bachelor of Arts is usually less specialized and is generally found in the social sciences and humanities like literature, philosophy and history. The Bachelor of Science customarily involves the sciences and technical fields, such as biology and engineering. Generally other bachelor’s degrees refer to a specific specialization, such as the BPharm for a Bachelor’s in Pharmacy, BEd for education, BFA for fine arts, BBA for business administration and designations for other conferred degrees.

About the Author

Christine Jax has been a writer since 1991 in the areas of education, parenting and family relationships. Professor Jax has a Ph.D. in education policy and administration, a Master of Arts in public administration and a Bachelor of Arts in child psychology. She has worked in PK-12 and higher education for more than 20 years.