BA vs. BS Degree: Differences and Similarities

A BA degree is a Bachelor of Arts degree, which is a liberal arts degree. By contrast, a BS is a Bachelor of Science degree that emphasizes scientific aspects of the field.

The main differences between BS and BA degrees are that BA degrees emphasize arts and humanities with a broader field of study and more elective courses. In comparison, a BS degree focuses on STEM subjects, including a strong foundation of math, with fewer electives and more courses within the major. Students gain a wider range of interpersonal and communication skills in a Bachelor of Arts program compared to the technical, specific and focused skills gained in a Bachelor of Science program.

Career opportunities for graduates with a Bachelor of Arts are found in social sciences, business, education, communication and human resources. Good job fits for graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree are engineering, computer science, research, IT and clinical healthcare.

BA and BS degrees are similar too. Both require a minimum of 120 credits for graduation and take an average of 8 semesters at 15 credits per semester. Coursework for both includes gen ed classes, prerequisites and major or core classes. However, BA degrees typically allow for more general education and elective credits, while BS programs often require more 300 and 400 level courses.

Both degree programs allow students to gain skills in analysis, critical thinking, time management and problem solving. The skills earned in a Bachelor of Science program include technical, scientific and lab skills. By contrast, skills gained earning a Bachelor of Arts are more interpersonal and include better communication skills.

While employers usually consider applicants with either a BA or BS, some jobs are tailored to one degree type or the other depending on the specific skills required to do the job.

Starting salaries for graduates with a Bachelor of Science are slightly higher than for graduates with a Bachelor of Arts. This is due to the high demand for STEM skills in many professions. However, over time, salaries for BA vs BS graduates even out. Both degree types provide a good foundation for graduate school.

What is a BA Degree?

A BA degree is a Bachelor of Arts degree; BA stands for Bachelor of Arts. It is an undergraduate 4-year degree from a college or university granted for the completion of a degree program with an emphasis on the arts or humanities, though BA degrees in some sciences are offered.

Requirements to earn a bachelor of arts degree are similar from school to school.

Most BA degrees require a minimum of 120 credits or credit hours. Completing 120 hours is the equivalent of about 40 courses or 8 semesters. Most students complete a bachelor’s degree in 4 to 6 years.  

The credits are accumulated in general education requirements and major requirements including prerequisites, introductory and advanced core classes and electives.

A minimum GPA is required by many schools to earn a BA degree. While the grade point average varies by school, it is often around 2.0, which is the equivalent of a C grade average.

Some schools also require a senior thesis, capstone project or similar necessity for graduation.

Common BA degree majors are English, humanities, psychology, sociology, communication, religion, philosophy, history, political science, education and economics.

What is a BS Degree?

A BS degree is a bachelor of science degree. In other words, BS stands for Bachelor of Science. It is an undergraduate degree with an emphasis on STEM fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They include a focus on scientific principles, practical lab skills and a foundation in math.

Requirements for earning a BS degree vary by school.

Most BS degrees require at least 120 credit hours, or the equivalent of about 40 classes over 8 semesters.

Coursework includes meeting requirements in general education, core classes within the major plus a few elective classes.

Most Bachelors of science degree programs require students to maintain a GPA of around 2.0 or higher, or a C grade or higher, to remain eligible for graduation.

Many colleges and universities now require students to complete a senior or capstone project.

Common BS degrees are engineering, computer science, information technology, mathematics, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, nursing and other health sciences.

What are the Differences Between a BA and BS Degree?

The major differences between a BA and BS degrees impact what students study in school, the skills they gain, and their opportunities for careers and future education.

In general, BA degrees are broader in scope and offer course flexibility. Bachelor of Science degrees focus on scientific skills and require more math and other technical classes. As a result, it may take a semester to a year longer to complete a BS degree compared to a BA degree.

Here are areas where Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees are different:

  • Courses
  • Skills Gained
  • Job and Career Opportunities
  • Salary
  • Future Education Direction

Course Differences

A Bachelors of Arts degree, or BA, focuses on social sciences, languages, general education and humanities. By contrast, a Bachelors of Science degree, or BS, emphasizes courses in hard sciences, technology, engineering, math and other subjects considered STEM fields.

As a result, there are course differences between a BA and BS degree. BA programs include a more diverse range of subjects and more electives than a BS degree program allows. Specific course subjects emphasized are writing, history and social sciences. A Bachelor of Arts degree also typically includes a foreign language requirement of up to 4 semesters.

By comparison, a Bachelor of Science focuses more narrowly on the core curriculum of the major and cognate courses. Most BS degree programs require more classes in mathematics than Bachelor of Arts degrees demand, and there is less emphasis on humanities and foreign language.

In terms of difficulty, the coursework that must be completed to obtain a BS degree is considered slightly more difficult than obtaining a BA degree. Bachelor of Science studies usually require more credits in the major, so there are fewer elective credits.

Differences in Skills Gained

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees provide students with a range of skills. Some are unique to each type of degree while there is also an overlap – some skills are gained by students in each course of study.

Skills commonly gained in BA degree programs start with critical thinking and problem solving skills. They are learned through analysis, evaluation and forming logical conclusions. Additionally, Bachelor of Arts students gain skills in communication, both verbal and written, research skills including gathering and analyzing information, time management skills and organizational skills.

Skills students acquire in BS degree majors start with foundational math and science skills gained in multiple mathematics courses and classes such as biology, chemistry and physics. Technical and laboratory skills are also gained in Bachelors of Science degree programs plus skills in analytical thinking, solving problems, collaboration, communication and adaptability.

Skills commonly learned in both BA and BS programs include critical analysis, adaptability and lifelong or continuous learning.

Job and Career Opportunity Differences

BA degrees prepare students for jobs in fields such as social service occupations, teaching, business, communication, and human resources. Careers suitable for graduates with a BA degree are those that include a high demand for critical thinking and problem solving, written and verbal communication, all of which are skills typically gained while earning a Bachelor of Arts.

Career paths for students with a Bachelor of Science degree include engineering, computer science, chemistry, research, information technology, healthcare. These professions include a high demand for the science background and technical skills gained while earning most BS degrees.

Salary Differences

In general, salaries for those with a BS degree are about the same or slightly higher than for graduates with a BA degree. When pay expectations are higher for Bachelor of Science graduates, it is mainly because graduates in STEM majors have specific and practical scientific skills that are in high demand.

However, other factors beyond whether the graduate has a BS or BA degree affect salary. These include the relevant experience of the employee, their job performance, and local demand for certain skills.

Future Education Differences

Students with an undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree are more likely to pursue graduate studies in STEM fields while those with a Bachelor of Arts degree more commonly pursue further education in social sciences, education, arts and other fields that are consistent with their undergraduate studies.

However, this distinction is not rigid, and graduates may decide to change the direction of their education. Additionally, schools consider GPA, skills, work experience and standardized test scores in addition to whether the student earned a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science.

What Are The Overall Pros And Cons When Comparing BA and BS Degrees?

A Bachelor of Arts degree offers a broad education with less emphasis on technical skills. In comparison, a Bachelor of Science degree provides a strong foundation in STEM subjects but produces less flexibility in fields of study and job opportunities.

Here is a complete list of pros and cons of a BA vs a BS degree.

Pros of Bachelor of Arts Degree:

  • Well-rounded educational foundation for a wider range of graduate school and career opportunities including law, communication, media, education, human resources, languages and social sciences.
  • Flexible class choices with more electives and possibly more general education courses.
  • Broad educational base that fosters good communication skills, information analysis and critical thinking.

Cons of Bachelor of Arts Degree:

  • Less specialization might be detrimental when potential employers are looking for specific technical skills.
  • Lower starting salaries for graduates with a BA vs graduates with a BS degree.
  • Additional certification, training or graduate school might be needed to pursue some careers.
  • More competition for jobs since there are more graduates with Bachelor of Arts than Bachelor of Science degrees.

Pros of Bachelor of Science Degree:

  • Stronger foundation in STEM subjects including mathematics and science.
  • Quantitative and technical skills acquired such as data analysis and problem-solving needed in scientific fields.
  • Laboratory experience.
  • High demand and excellent job prospects for students with a STEM background.
  • Higher starting salaries and long-term earning potential due to higher demand.

Cons of Bachelor of Science Degree:

  • Narrower education emphasis produces less flexibility in career choice.
  • Potentially less development of written and verbal communication skills.
  • Difficulty of coursework may produce a lower GPA which could affect graduate school acceptance or employment options.

What Are the Similarities Between a BA and BS Degree?

There are similarities between a BA and BS degree related to coursework, skills gained and prospects for graduate school and career opportunities.

  • Program length: Both are 4-year degrees that require a minimum of 120 credits for graduation. The average time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree ranges from 4-6 years for each.
  • Coursework: Both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree programs require a minimum number of general education credits. The number ranges from 40-60 credits depending on the college or university and the specific program. Additionally, both degree types include prerequisite courses, major courses and electives, though the number of each varies depending on the degree.
  • Basic skills: Important and transferable skills in written and verbal communication, critical thinking, research, information analysis and problem solving can be gained in both degree programs.
  • Customized education: Through electives, internships, earning a minor, and special projects such as a thesis or capstone project, each student can tailor their education to their own needs.
  • Credential: A bachelor’s degree of either type is considered a significant academic achievement and a prerequisite for graduate school and many careers.
  • Graduate school: While a BA or BS might be slightly preferred than the other for some grad school programs, both degree types can be a strong foundation for success in further education such as pursuing a master’s degree or PhD.

What Majors Offer Both BA and BS Degrees?

Many majors are available as either a BA or BS degree, though the specific options vary by school.

Common majors offered in BA and BS versions are biology, business, chemistry, computational mathematics, computer science, economics, engineering, human development, interdisciplinary studies, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, statistics, zoology.

A Bachelor of Arts in these majors is more likely to focus on theory, writing, public and social policy, and interdisciplinary study. A Bachelor of Science degree is more likely to focus on research, statistics and analytics, quantitative methods, and technical aspects of the field of study.

What is the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Psychology?

Key differences between a BA and BS in psychology involve the focus of the major, the coursework involved and graduate school and career options after receiving a psychology degree.

A Bachelor of Arts in Psychology is a liberal arts degree with a broader range of study than a BS degree. A psychology BA includes more social science classes, electives, humanities and communication. The emphasis is on real-world applications. A BA in psychology is a good foundation for a graduate program in counseling or social work and for a career in counseling and non-psychological fields such as marketing, writing, human resources education.

A Bachelor of Science in psychology emphasizes the scientific side of psychology. Some schools use the term psychological science for the BS program. BS programs include more research plus additional classes in math, science, statistics, and analytics. A psychology BS is good preparation for a graduate degree in clinical research, statistical analysis, medicine or psychiatry that require the use of scientific methodology and analysis. Career options include psychology-focused fields in research, education and neuroscience. Some schools, like Kent State University’s BA vs BS programs, require a higher minimum GPA for remaining in the BS program – 2.5 GPA vs 2.0 GPA for the BA program.

Is It Better to Have a BA or BS Degree for Medical School?

Some medical schools give a slight preference to candidates with a BS degree vs a BA degree due to the scientific knowledge and lab skills gained in a Bachelor of Science program vs a Bachelor of Arts program.

However, MCAT, undergraduate program and GPA, letters of recommendation, interview answers and personal statement are of greater emphasis than whether the applicant received a BS or BA undergraduate degree.

What Other Types of Degrees Are There Besides BA and BS Degrees?

Additional undergraduate degrees are bachelor’s degrees in Applied Science (BAS), Applied Arts (BAA), Business Administration (BBA), Social Work (BSW), Engineering (BE or BEng), Fine Arts (BFA), Nursing (BSN), Architecture (BArch), Education (BEd), Laws (LLB), and Public Health (BSPH).

There are many graduate and professional degrees too, types of master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.

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