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What is the difference between a BA and a BS degree?

So you’ve just earned your high school diploma or GED. Or maybe you’re close, and now you’re trying to figure out what’s next. But as you’re searching, you keep seeing terms like BA degree or BS degree and it’s all a little confusing. We totally get it; there’s so much to understand. That’s where this article comes in. We will explore the difference between BA and BS degrees to help you as you discover what’s next for you!

Before we get in too much detail, let’s talk about the history of Bachelor’s degrees in general.

The History of Bachelor’s Degrees

The common term “Bachelor’s Degree” can be traced back to the 12th century. In the 12th century, baccalaureus, or bachelor, referred to a knight bachelor, who would have been the lowest ranking knights in medieval Europe. Within the next 100 years, the term would also refer to junior members of guilds (name for associations that oversaw a merchant’s practice or trade) or universities. Through popular etymology, the term morphed into the phrase ‘Bachelor’s degree’ by the year 1700. Now, ‘Bachelor’s degree’ refers to an undergraduate degree that is given to a college or university student who completes four years of study.

Bachelor’s degrees generally require 120-credit hours if your school follows a semester system, and 180-credit hours if your school follows a quarter system. The degree is usually broken down into 3 parts:

General Education classes: foundational coursework like basic classes in English, Math, Science, and/or History.

Major classes: specific classes tailored towards your major, an in-depth study of your subject matter

Electives: courses that compliment your major but may not directly relate to it. Used to broaden your education and customize your degree to fit your interests and career goals.

Bachelor of Arts vs Bachelor of Science

When you’re searching for a college major, you may never have thought about the actual degree type you will earn. Degree types refer to the kind of general coursework you will take as well as what’s on your diploma. There are several different options like Bachelor of Science vs Bachelor of Arts vs Bachelor of Fine Arts vs Bachelor of Applied Science (with the BA and BS being the most common).

Now let’s talk about BS and BA degrees from a general perspective. All the abbreviations can be overwhelming and you might be wondering questions like, “What does BA stand for in college?” or “What does BS stand for in college?”

A BA degree is short for a Bachelor of Arts degree, and a BS degree is short for a Bachelor of Science degree. Both are undergraduate degrees, typically earned in 4 years (depending on your existing credits, your program’s requirements, and/or whether you are a full-time or part-time student). The main difference between BS and BA degrees is the kind of foundational general coursework you will take.

What is a BA degree?

Commonly called a BA degree, a Bachelor of Arts is an undergraduate degree that focuses on the humanities. This means that you will be taking coursework in liberal arts like literature, social sciences, communications, foreign languages, and/or history. BA degrees will provide a broad education in the liberal arts field, which means students will take less college credits directly linked to their actual major. More credits will be dedicated to a broad liberal arts education, including a variety of electives that students can take to customize their degree and tailor it to their likes and interests.

Benefits of a BA degree could include:

  • more flexibility
  • more customization with electives
  • easier to double major
  • broad education in your field

Degrees that typically yield a BA degree:

  • English
  • Communications
  • Art
  • Music
  • Foreign Language

Sample Rankings with majority Bachelor of Arts Degrees from GVC:

What is a BS degree?

A Bachelor of Science differs from a BA degree in that it will not focus on the humanities. Instead, it will dive deep into mathematics and science coursework. It will yield fewer credits in foundational courses and spend more time in the actual major. The benefit of this? You’ll spend more time pursuing an area of expertise in your field, which will allow you to study your discipline at a more in-depth level. Generally speaking, BS degrees will focus on majors in technical fields like technology, science, and math.

Benefits of the degree could include:

  • more specialized education in your field
  • more concentration options
  • a degree in a more technical/practical discipline
  • possibly a more straight-forward class schedule
  • depending on your career aspirations, your technical degree could give you a competitive edge over applicants with a BA degree

Degrees that typically yield a BS degree:

  • Business
  • Economics
  • Computer Science
  • Nursing
  • Mathematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Physics

Sample Rankings with majority Bachelor of Science Degrees from GVC:

To recap:

The main difference between BA and BS is the BA will feature a curriculum in the arts and humanities while the BS will focus on practice-oriented technical subjects like math, science, and healthcare.

BS vs BA Degree FAQs

Q: Which degree is better, a BS or BA?

A: When it comes to this question, there isn’t an earth-shattering answer. One isn’t necessarily better than the other; they really do just represent the foundational coursework you will take. In addition, you can rest assured that they are both academically equal. We think the bigger question is this: which one will make you the most successful? Are you typically more inclined to do well in math and science? Or in language and social science? The answer to that question might help you determine which degree is better for you.

**It is important to remember that there isn’t an agency necessarily regulating the curriculum that make up a BA or BS degree, so the requirements could vary from school to school.

Q: Which degree should I choose, a BA or BS?

A: Once you declare your major, you’ll know which degree path you are on, either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree. So, before you get to that point, you’ll want to consider a few factors just to make sure you are as successful as possible.

Points to consider when choosing a BS vs BA:

Which degree are most students earning in your major?

No, we aren’t all about jumping on the bandwagon on most things in life, but when it comes to degrees, maybe we are. It’s important to look around and see what degree most people are earning because that could clue you in to what path is best for your degree and your future. It’s not an end all be all, but it’s a good place to start.

What are your core strengths?

When you are taking college courses, you’ll notice they can be pretty intense and can take more effort and/or energy than what you’re used to. Because of this, you’ll really want to take courses that come naturally to you, so you can lean into your strengths and make college a successful experience. Take stock of what areas you are gifted in, and pursue those. For example, do math and sciences come easy to you? Or do you love reading, foreign languages, or social sciences like philosophy? The answer to that question could direct you to whether you not you earn a BS vs BA.

What subject matter do you actually like?

Beyond your strengths, think about what you actually like to do. If you do not like to write or read novels, you may not like a BA degree because of its heavy coursework in the humanities. On the other hand, if math confuses you and you aren’t interested in classes like Biology or Chemistry, getting a BS degree may not be right for you.

Do you plan to get any additional degrees? Yes, that might help determine what undergraduate degree you get.

If you are planning to get any graduate degrees, take a look at your options. If the subsequent degrees lean toward a specific area then you might want to earn the undergraduate degree that matches. For example, if the subsequent degree is a Master of Science, for example, you will want to earn a Bachelor of Science undergraduate degree. Plus–that might help you gain admission to your graduate program.

Q: Are employers looking for a Bachelor of Arts vs Bachelor of Science degree?

A: As a whole, a BA vs BS degree doesn’t necessarily matter for your future employers. What matters more is that you have a Bachelor’s degree in the first place and that it’s relevant to the specific job you are applying for. However, it would be wise to think about your future career aspirations and make a decision based on that. You could also look at the progression of your degree, meaning if you ever were to go back to school to advance your career, what degree do most people in your position normally earn? If it’s a Master of Arts, then consider a BA undergraduate degree so that the transition and admissions process could be seamless.

Q: Do some degrees offer a choice between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in the same major? If so, how do I know which one to pick?

A: Some subject matter will determine which degree type you get. For example, if you are majoring in English, you will most definitely get a BA in English. Likewise, a degree in Biology will yield a BS in Biology. But, in some cases, some majors like History or Psychology might offer both options. And we know that is where things can get extremely confusing.

But, you have the tools now. Think about what we’ve already said about evaluating your strengths, likes, and future plans to help you make a decision. If you’re still confused, utilize your academic advisor for help! He or she can guide you in the right direction for you.

For example, if you are pursuing a degree in Psychology, you could pick between a BA or a BS in Psychology. But, depending on your future career goals, which degree type you pick can matter for your future. If you plan to go into counseling, a BA would be the better option, whereas, a student who is considering a career in research would want to pursue a Bachelor of Science.

Example:

Degrees that could yield a BS or BA degree:

  • BA/BS in Geosciences/Geography
  • BA/BS in Sociology
  • BA/BS in Religion or Theology Studies
  • BA/BS in Anthropology
  • BA/BS in Criminal Justice/Criminology
  • BA/BS in Computer Science

Q: How will I pay for my Bachelor of Arts vs Science?

A: No matter which degree type you choose, paying for college can be daunting. Check out this article we wrote about understanding financial aid. Hopefully, this will help!

Sources:

Bachelor’s degree. In Wikipedia.com. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bachelor%27s_degree.

Bachelor’s degree. In The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bachelor%27s%20degree