What is the Difference Between a BA and a BS?

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Bachelor of Arts degrees are typically associated with fields such as:

  • anthropology
  • art history
  • drama and theater
  • English
  • history
  • education

Bachelor of Science degrees, in contrast, are often associated with fields such as:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • mathematics
  • engineering
  • computer science

The designation of whether or not an undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science, however, is not based on which academic department you have majored in. There are also several degrees that are offered as a B.A. or B.S., allowing you to choose between the two.

Bachelor of Arts degrees are more prevalent at private universities. They are still considered the gold standard due to the liberal arts tradition at most institutions. Bachelor of Science programs are far more specialized and do not have the longstanding tradition in academia. However, some would consider them more valuable because they are geared towards higher paying careers in many instances.

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science Curriculum

The difference between a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree is one that is based on the number of credits you have taken in both the core curriculum and the completed classes in:

  • the arts
  • liberal studies
  • humanities

If you are pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree you will take more courses in the core curriculum than students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Computer science, for example, is often thought of as a science-based course of study. Therefore it’s often associated with the Bachelor of Science degree. While the B.S. option is traditional, students are able to choose to pursue and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree at many post-secondary institutions as well. Bachelor of Science students might take 50 to 60 required credits in computer science, while Bachelor of Arts candidates may complete around 40 credits to qualify for graduation.

It is important for students deciding between a B.A. and B.S. to check with the individual institution. For examples, the differences between a B.S. and B.A. in Economics at one college or university may be different at another institution. This is due to no national standards governing coursework that makes the distinction between degrees.

The differences between institutions are minor, but should still be investigated when vetting potential degree programs. Conversely, having a bachelor of arts versus a bachelor of science in a particular field can have major ramifications on career paths and outcomes. For example, psychology students who graduate with a B.A. typically go into counseling and other fields requiring direct patient contact and care.  B.S. students usually focus on research.

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In-Demand BA Degrees

Bachelor of Arts in Business
A B.A. in Business has long been regarded as the top Bachelor of Arts degree program from an employment standpoint. Without fail, it is the top undergraduate degree awarded year after year to graduates looking for gainful employment. It is both specialized and diverse. Because business functions drive so many of the levers in modern society, B.A. degree holders can venture out into the marketplace and seek any number of career paths such as:

  • accounting
  • entrepreneurship
  • finance
  • human resources
  • marketing, and more

Bachelor of Arts in Communication
Similar to Business, the discipline of Communication is all encompassing and diverse. It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to employment because some view the degree as too generic with not enough specific skills. Because of this, many institutions provide students with concentrations within the degree path such as:

  • advertising
  • journalism
  • public relations

Moreover, social media concentrations are becoming popular with students and employees alike as social media platforms have become influential and widespread.

Bachelor of Arts in Economics
A Bachelor of Arts in Economics focuses more on theoretical concepts and history, compared to the more technical Bachelor of Science, which focuses on:

  • statistics
  • business math
  • the more technical side of the discipline

Regardless of the differences, a B.A. in Economics is a valuable degree and is seen as the most “scientific” of the social science disciplines. Graduates go on to careers as:

  • economists
  • business analysts
  • journalists
  • educators
  • consultants and more

In a capitalistic society such as the United States, a degree that teaches the philosophies, concepts, and skills surrounding modes of economic production will always have a place in the job market.

Bachelor of Arts in Education
B.A. Degrees in Education are one of the few that prepare graduates for a specific career. If you want to teach in a K-12 institution, you have to earn this degree. Within the degree there are several specializations you can earn depending on the subject matter or the grade level you want to teach.

Most elementary education majors earn a teaching degree that leads to certification in P-3 or K-8. They also have the opportunity to take additional specializations in areas like:

  • literacy
  • music
  • physical education
  • special education

Secondary teachers who want to teach a specific subject complete what is similar to a double major. They take subject matter courses such as:

  • Biology
  • English
  • History
  • Math

They also take  education courses that study how to effectively teach the subjects to students.

Bachelor of Art in Human Resources
For those seeking a business-related degree with a specific career path, a B.A. in Human Resources may be a great fit. HR specialist positions are in abundance across nearly every field. And as society moves more toward equity and fairness in the workplace, highly trained human resource professionals will be needed. Human resource departments are typically the first point of contact for prospective and new employees. In addition, workplace conflicts move through the human resources office. It’s critical for HR employees to have excellent conflict resolution skills.

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
A B.A. in Psychology has always been a popular undergraduate degree offering, as many students are curious about matters of the mind. Interesting content aside, the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology is an excellent gateway degree if you’re seeking to work with individuals in a clinical setting. A good example is  a counseling office where you help others understand their thoughts and behaviors to instill positive coping strategies. Other graduates go on to teach the subject in a variety of educational institutions. For many careers, especially those involving client or patient care, a master’s degree is needed.

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology
Sociology is the study of society within the context of:

  • social behavior
  • relational patterns
  • culture

It is a broad-based subject with many specialty fields and concentrations. They range from race and gender, to health and aging.

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In-Demand BS Degrees

Bachelor of Science in Accounting
A B.S. degree in Accounting offers more accounting courses than its Bachelor of Arts counterpart. Graduates can move into a variety of accounting careers in corporate, government, or non-profit entities. Employers generally don’t split hairs between the B.A. or B.S. But if you have a B.S. you should raise the distinction by highlighting your extra coursework resulting in more experience and expertise. In a tight job market, the slightest advantage may be critical.

Bachelor of Science in Biology
A B.S. degree in Biology focuses on research and involves fewer liberal arts courses and electives. Many students use the degree as preparation for health programs such as medicine and physical therapy. Those wanting to enter the workforce upon graduation have several options such as:

  • agriculture scientist
  • biological technician
  • biology teacher
  • pharmaceutical sales representative and more

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
A Bachelor of Science in Computer Science is a highly technical degree featuring many math and science courses, in addition to computer science classes. The B.S. offering generally has an extra sequence in Physics and more computer science classes, which gives it the science distinction.

Bachelor of Science in Engineering
A Bachelor of Science in Engineering offers a heavy workload of:

  • math
  • science
  • engineering

It is designed for rigor and preparation for the workforce. The degree has always had a lot of economic value. Engineering careers have a long history of paying handsome salaries and show no signs of slowing down.

Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
A B.S. in Information Technology offers a pathway to several different careers. This degree is technical in nature but not as rigorous in math and science as Computer Science. Graduates can move into a career where they utilize computer applications to solve problems and can expect strong entry-level salaries.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a highly competitive degree program that prepares you for a career as a registered nurse. The program is typically 4-5 years total due to the number of prerequisite courses that are required as part of the application. These courses typically include:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • cellular biology
  • chemistry
  • English composition
  • psychology,
  • statistics

These are in addition to all other general education requirements as part of a bachelor’s degree.

Salary Differences for BA and BS Degrees

According to salary data from Emolument, graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree earn 17% more than their peers who hold Bachelor of Arts degrees. The salary advantage holds true for the first 15 years of work. However, the gap shrinks, then turns the other way as BA degree holders start to earn more. The reason BA degree holders start earning more at the mid-career point is they have ascended into the ranks of management and leadership. Here,  technical expertise is less pertinent and salaries are more lucrative.

What is the Difference Between a Business BA vs BS?

A Bachelor of Science in Business is a more rigid and rigorous degree. It has more math and science courses as well as a focus on technical business-related skills. A Bachelor of Arts in Business gives students more elective credits and focuses on:

  • communication
  • humanities
  • theoretical business knowledge

The non-business courses give students greater context and an expansive worldview that can help them understand the bigger picture.

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What is the Difference Between a Computer Science BA vs BS?

A Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science offers a great mixture of liberal arts courses and computer science classes. The B.A. is a good fit for those who value creativity and theory offered by courses in the humanities and social sciences. Because of the less rigorous load, some students are able to double major or add minors.

The Bachelor of Science in Computer Science is a more scripted degree program with more courses in:

  • math
  • science
  • computer science

The B.S. is a better option for those looking for a more technical, skill-based career upon graduation.

What is the Difference Between a Psychology BA vs BS?

Both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Psychology offer general psychology courses in theory and research. B.A. students take courses in behavioral and social psychology. B.S. students take classes in:

  • clinical psychology
  • neuroscience
  • statistical analysis

Which Degree Program is Better: B.A. or B.S.?

Before deciding which degree is better, it helps to have an idea of the career you intend to pursue.  Are you more interested in a technical, specialized role in a firm? Or do you want to ascend the ranks into management? These fundamental questions can help guide you to which degree path is best for you.

Once you have an idea of what your career goals are, compare the requirements for the major you intend to pursue. If it’s offered as a B.S. and a B.A., you’ll want to check job postings to see if your dream job favors one over the other.

Ultimately, this is a subjective question that depends on the individual student. Do you have a high degree of technical acumen and prefer scientific and technical coursework? Then you may find the Bachelor of Science a better fit.

If you want to go into management, the Bachelor of Arts may be a better choice. If you are more interested in a well-rounded education with courses in the humanities and social sciences, you should consider a Bachelor of Arts degree.

BDP Staff
September 2021

Related articles:

Top 15 Bachelor’s in Economics Online
30 Best Bachelor’s in Psychology Degrees Online: Small Colleges
30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Human Resources
Top 30 Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Psychology
Ultimate Guide to Science and Engineering Degrees and Careers

This concludes our article on the difference between a BA and a BS.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief