The Difference Between a BA and a BS

Bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS) degrees continue to be the most popular options for students pursuing four-year programs in the U.S. Many students, however, are confused about what differentiates one degree from the other. If you’re beginning your research into college programs and wondering whether a BA or BS degree is right for you, we can help walk you through the process. In this guide, we will go over the similarities and differences between a bachelor of arts and bachelor of science, and we’ll provide example courses from real school programs to help you decide.

BA Degree BS Degree
Compared to a BS degree, a bachelor of the arts degree requires fewer credits that are directly linked to a particular major. Instead, students are encouraged to earn credits in a broad variety of liberal arts subjects, including the humanities, English, the social sciences, and foreign languages.
 
Since they offer diverse courses and electives, BA degrees are among the most flexible program options for students looking to customize their education to match their individual goals and interests. Fields like English, art, music, modern languages, and communication most commonly offer bachelor of arts degrees.
A bachelor of science degree tends to be more focused on a specific scientific or technical subject, and requires more credits that are directly linked to that major. Students spend less time studying liberal arts subjects and concentrate instead on building expertise in both the technical and practical aspects of their field.
 
BS degrees usually offer fewer opportunities to explore topics outside of a student’s major area of study. Bachelor of science degrees are typically offered in areas such as computer science, mathematics, biochemistry, nursing, and physics.

What is the Difference Between a BA and a BS?

Simply put, the primary difference between bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees is the coursework: the liberal arts foundation of a BA degree versus the more scientific, practice-oriented approach of a BS. Often, the field of study you choose to pursue will determine the type of degree you are awarded. In some cases, however, it is possible to choose between a BA degree and BS degree within the same academic subject. In such cases, carefully evaluate the curriculum requirements and decide which course of study better suits your academic goals or interests. Fields such as psychology, economics, or even more science-based fields like computer science, are offered as both BA and BS programs at select universities. Below are just a few examples of such programs.

Example:

Students at Cornell University can choose to pursue either a BS or BA in computer science. The BS is offered through the school’s College of Engineering and the BA is offered through its College of Arts and Sciences. Even though the core requirements for both degrees are identical, the BA supports a liberal arts approach to computer science, while the BS focuses on engineering. Outside of core coursework, Cornell’s BA program in this discipline includes physical/biological science courses, a foreign language requirement, and core math and computer science prerequisites. By contrast, the BS degree integrates a number of required courses in physics, chemistry, and engineering and top of its core calculus and programming prerequisites.

UC San Diego is another example of a school that offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in the same subject, namely its human development program. While the BA is aimed at helping students gain general expertise in writing and communication as related to human development, the BS focuses on sharpening analytical skills in the field. Both programs incorporate statistics, formal skill-building, and biological and social science courses. However, the BS degree requires additional credits in calculus or computer programming, targeted sections in biology, and an additional required research study experience.

Which is better, a BA or a BS?

Both BA and BS degrees carry equal academic weight and each have aspects that help them stand out to potential employers. Often, the nature of the desired program — whether it’s more of a scientific or liberal arts discipline — will lend itself to either a BA or a BS. If faced with the choice between two degree options in the same academic subject, students should consider their own academic strengths and career interests, study the curriculum requirements for each, and reflect on which types of classes they have enjoyed taking in the past.

If faced with the choice between two degree options in the same academic subject, students should consider their own academic strengths and career interests…

According to UC San Diego, “Typically, bachelor of arts degrees in any discipline allow students to sharpen their communication and writing skills. By comparison, a bachelor of science degree typically fosters analytical skills and a detailed understanding of subject matter.” If you’re still on the fence about which program suits your needs, consider visiting the GVSU’s Academic Advising Center, which provides a list of questions you can ask yourself to help you decide between a BA degree and BS degree.

BA vs. BS Degrees: An Overview
  BA BS
Common Areas of Study Art, communications, music, English, education Biochemistry, environmental science, information technology, computer science
Skills Honed Communication, writing, language, critical thinking, leadership Analytical reasoning, technical know-how, mathematics, problem-solving, work habits
Common Requirements Foreign language, English, humanities, liberal arts Science-based courses, science labs, information technology, mathematics

Other Common Types of Bachelor’s Degrees

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

    BFA degrees are tailored to students interested in the visual and performing arts, and may include specific majors in fields like painting, photography, graphic design, theater, and dance.

  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)

    While incorporating some components of a liberal arts curriculum, BBA degrees teach students the basics of management, finance, accounting, and economics in order to launch careers in business.

  • Bachelor of Applied Sciences (BAS)

    A BAS builds on associate-level vocational training to provide students with the trade- or field-specific skills needed to gain employment in the workforce after graduation. Common majors include technology and business.