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I want to indicate that someone has gone through a lot of difficulties to achieve an academic degree because he / she wasn't studious enough or was not smart enough to pass their exams. I wonder if there is any semantic nuance between the two sentences below:

a. He barely managed to get his bachelor's degree.
b. He had a hard time getting his bachelor's degree.

To me, they mean exactly the same thing and can be said interchangeably. Nevertheless, I need a native confirmation in my view about it.

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These don't mean the same thing.

"Barely managed" means "he struggled and succeeded by the barest margins". It usually implies the problem was with his capacity to do the work itself. "Had a hard time" has a more general meaning, like "he had some problems while doing something". It doesn't suggest anything about how well he did, nor what the problems were.

For instance, a single parent with financial troubles and no support from their family would likely "have a hard time" completing a degree, and might take ten years to do so, yet still get very high marks and never doubt that it would get done. This is not someone who "barely managed".

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