Difference between a BA and a BS degree

One of the biggest dilemma faced by an undergraduate student is deciding between BA and BS. Before weighing their pros and cons, it is essential to understand the difference between BA and BS.

Updated by Sarvar on 27th August 2019

Choosing between degree options can be a tedious task. After all, pursuing something for 3-4 years mandates to be thoroughly researched and analyzed, right? The USA has thousands of colleges and many colleges offer the same course with different types of degrees. What if you’re interested in studying one of the fields that are naturally associated with the sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry), in most universities you will have the option to choose either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science program. Fields like Psychology, Accounting and Business can also sometimes be offered in both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs. At some schools where both the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology and a Bachelor of Sciences (BS) in Psychology are offered, students without clear cut future plans get confused with the types of degrees. So it is natural for one to wonder about the difference between a BA and a BS degree is.

The bachelor’s degree you choose will determine not only your future career but also your future earnings potential. This is why understanding the difference between a B.A. and a B.S. can immensely help you choose the degree program that caters to all your academic and professional requirements.

What is a Bachelor of Arts (B.A)?

Bachelor of Arts degree is awarded for the completion of an undergraduate course or program involving a variety of liberal art subjects such as humanities, literature, history, social sciences, and a foreign language; it is paramount for a student to gain a wider perspective on the whole course. BA degrees offer students a broader education in their major. As a BA student, you must pursue at least one major area of study from that subject offered in the courses each year, although you may choose to complete upper-level classes in the same year which permits you space for elective subjects from a different field. At some universities, you can either choose to pursue a second major OR decide to take up with a minor area of study and other individual or stream-based subjects in your first two years. This allows you to actively mold your education to your interests. BA degree provides a more diverse education in a particular major, therefore, a BA degree is the one requiring fewer credits compared to a BS degree. The most common majors include English, Art and music, Theatre, Communications, and Modern Languages. 

Graduate Education

A Bachelor of Arts degree can take three to four years to complete, depending on the country and the institution:

Countries with four years Bachelors: U.S., Japan, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Turkey;

Countries with three years Bachelors: all the EU countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, India.

Although there is no overall grading involved, qualified students with high overall grade point average may be admitted, to a further one year Bachelor (with) Honours degree program where an extra postgraduate year and a high research Honour's thesis must be completed. A student who holds a BA (with) Honours degree is eligible for direct entry to either a Doctorate (Ph.D.) or a very high research master's degree program. At the graduate level, if you want to continue your education, you can opt for a Master of Arts degree, generally a two-year option, which is similar to the BA degree and focuses mostly on liberal arts and humanities involving research and discussion-based learning.

Since BA is more of an exploratory degree, you can also choose to pursue a Master of Science instead. If that is the case you may have to take additional courses to keep up with MS as BS programs are going to be more practical in their curriculum design.

Career options

The reason why a Bachelor of Arts degree program is perfect for the undecided students with an inconclusive career path is its expansive and dispersive nature of the course; you can explore and choose your area of specialization later as the course progresses. There are numerous career paths to start as an individual with BA degrees like teaching, software and graphic design, Human Resources Department, Project Manager, an analyst in data or finance, and more. Among the important skills, you’ll gain throughout the course duration include analytical and research skills, critical reading and thinking, and communication. The average salary for someone with a BA degree is around $60,000 as calculated according to PayScale.

What is a Bachelor of Science (B.S)?

As the name suggests, Bachelor of Science degrees is typically more closely related to fields involving science like math, health-related professions, technology, engineering, and other similar areas. Bachelor of Science degree requires the students interested to focus on studying their major at a more in-depth level where they are offered more specialized and detailed education in their major, which is why a BS degree requires more credits than a BA degree. It usually consists of 120 credits and will take you four years to complete; which you can earn sooner through an accelerated degree program if you find an online B.S course that suits your needs.

The main trait of a BS degree is its strong technical orientation and practical learning. BS is going to have a higher concentration of math and statistics courses even with the degree of psychology. With BS Students generally have fewer chances of taking up classes aside from their BS programs, there is an accelerated focus on the course. This is a great choice for those of you who already know what you’d like to do as a career because it gives you the chance to really explore it in depth

Graduate Education

If you have earned a BS degree, getting a Master of Science or MS degree is the most likely next step. Like discussed above, the students pursuing BS are already well aware of the career path and the options they need to further take which is why even though both MA (Master of Arts) and MS (Master of science) can be done after BS, majority of the students continue with technical and practical curriculum of MS which is going to be similar to BS, if not more concentrated in your chosen field and will be more tailored to the career you’d like to have.

The average timespan to earn an MS is still just two years, and with plenty of options online or on-campus you can get an MS degree sooner as well. Most MS degrees will have an option for you to complete a thesis track or a non-thesis track.

Career options

If you have chosen to earn a Bachelor of Science, it implies you already have their career path in your mind because, like discussed, the BS degree path is going to be more specialized towards what you want to do with your professional life. But even if you don’t know that yet, there are plenty of options you can look into like teaching at the high school level, working as a veterinarian, a nurse, in environmental science, public health, software design, and development, lab tech, work in sales, account management, and so much more. There are a lot of programs online that are designed to fit the lives of working professionals in these types of fields allowing you to continue your education further on.

While a BS degree is generally offered in scientific degrees with scientific and technical topics like engineering, technology, mathematics, computer science, nursing, and biochemistry, many schools offer BS degrees in specialized fields like Music as well. Some of the majors that are popularly chosen are Computer Science, Business, Economics, Nursing, Chemical Engineering, Biology. According to PayScale, the average salary for someone with a Bachelor of Science degree is roughly $65,000. Skills you’ll gain over the course of earning your degree include strong logic skills, interpreting quantitative data, doing research, and more.

Difference between a BA and a BS degree

A Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of science are both perceived equally. Neither one is better than the other. With subjects like psychology, accounting and business regularly offered in both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree programs, it is purely your choice whether you’d like to receive a broader (BA) or specialized education (BS) in your major.

  • While the Bachelor of Arts degree allows you to hone your communication and writing skills, a Bachelor of Science degree typically refines your analytical skills and a detailed understanding of the subject matter.

  • While the Bachelor of Arts degree includes humanities, a Bachelor of Science degree typically is involved with technical fields.

Examples of differences in the degrees have to be illustrated using the focus of the syllabi and the career choices that are offered.

  • University Of Washington (UW) offers both B.A and B.S in Psychology. B. A in Psychology from UW requires less mathematics and statistics courses unlike a B.S in Psychology which will have a high emphasis and in-depth coaching on these subjects.

  • In the University of Colorado-Boulder, computer science students interested in becoming engineers prefer the B.S degree, whereas the B.A. option is for those interested in the field but would not prefer being identified as engineers.

  • Depending on the field, a B.A. or B.S. offers students different career tracks. Students who preferred B.A psychology degree options often go into counseling, while those who Bachelor of Science tend to focus on research. For a student with the intent of earning a Ph.D. in psychology, a B.S. is a practical first step as that option will augment an understanding of statistics and research methods.

Reasons to choose each

Before deciding, ask yourself these questions.

  • Academically, would you like to be free to learn about other topics or do you want to really go in-depth in your chosen major?

  • Professionally, is there a specific job that you want to work that sways your decision one way or the other? 

Like previously discussed, a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree are equally valued. Although BA and BS tend to hone different strengths, students from both the types of degree have the opportunity to continue their education at the master's degree level. You should always consider your personal strengths and interests when it comes time to pick your career. When deciding which degree program is the best fit, students should think about what.

  • Types of classes they have enjoyed in the past.

  • What they are currently interested in studying.

  • Future career options they would like to pursue.

Some employers have very specific ideas about your degree. Others don't. Penning down the current situation and the future plans are the best way to research and come to a conclusion. One optimistic prospect for the students is that most employers look at whether you have a relevant course experience, not whether you have B.A or B.S. If you're looking at an appropriate field, the type of degree wouldn’t matter much. Few technical fields aside, a Bachelors degree will speak for itself.'