What is the difference between a BA va BS undergraduate course? In short, a BS program focuses on a specific technical area and typically has more coursework in math, science, or technology, while a BA is usually based on a broader range of subjects, such as humanities, social sciences, and the arts.
However, the full explanation is rather more nuanced, and the exact definition of these degree types can vary depending on the institution and the specific program.
Most undergraduate degrees offered by US universities fall under either the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science category, so it’s essential to understand the differences between the two BA vs BS degrees.
The Difference Between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science
Generally, a BA is grounded in the humanities or social sciences, while a BS focuses on a specific area within the natural sciences, technology, or mathematics.
Other key differences between BA and BS are that a bachelor of arts usually offers a broader, more flexible curriculum designed to develop students’ soft skills, while the latter is more rigid and focused on quantitative skill building.
BA programs revolve around theoretical or abstract humanities topics like political science, philosophy, and English literature. In contrast, BS programs have a narrow focus centered on developing technical or scientific knowledge in fields such as accounting, nursing, biology, or technology.
Before we dive into the differences between a Bachelor of Arts vs Science, let’s take a closer look at each degree.
What Is a BA?
A Bachelor of Arts, or BA, is based on general learning in the liberal arts tradition. This seeks to give students a well-rounded education that covers a range of subjects and builds knowledge in various fields, focusing on the humanities or social sciences.
Furthermore, BA degrees are geared toward developing soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership.
As a rule, students choose a major to focus on in their program of study. Additionally, most BA programs allow students to choose a number of general electives, which can be in subject areas completely different from their major.
Some schools also offer interdisciplinary BA degrees, such as international studies and gender studies, where coursework focuses on a particular topic that crosses a number of fields.
In addition to allowing students to explore various topics, an advantage of this broad education is that it leaves graduates open to various career opportunities. BA graduates may work in various fields, such as teaching, journalism, research, politics, and the nonprofit sector, or study for a graduate degree.
Most BA degrees last four to five years, though some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in less time.
The most popular BA degrees include:
Bachelor of Psychology
Bachelor of Sociology
Bachelor of Communication
Bachelor of Political Science
Bachelor of Legal Studies
Bachelor of Media Communication or Journalism
What Is a BS?
In contrast to the broad education and emphasis on soft skills of a BA degree, a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree strongly focuses on technical and quantitative skills.
Science degree programs center on a particular field, mostly (though not always) within technology, mathematics, or the natural sciences, such as chemistry and biology. These degree types usually have a relatively fixed curriculum and may include lab work.
These programs are designed to build the skills and knowledge required to work in a certain field, leaving less room for electives. This doesn’t mean that students cannot necessarily explore other topics, but they may need to be more strategic in choosing their courses.
Depending on the BS majors they choose, graduates may work in the technology, healthcare, business, or research sectors.
Like a BA, BS programs typically last around four or five years.
The most popular BS degrees include:
Bachelor of Nursing
Bachelor of Business Administration
Bachelor of Engineering
Bachelor of Criminal Justice
Bachelor of Accounting
Bachelor of Health Sciences
Additionally, some majors are often offered as part of a BA and a BS stream, such as:
Understanding the Difference Between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science
The key differences between a BA vs BS degree come down to the course content. In terms of structure, both types of undergraduate degrees look similar.
Both degrees require roughly the same number of credit hours and typically take around four or five years to complete. Prestigious universities offer both types of degrees, many with quality curriculums and excellent faculty.
In both programs, you can choose a major or a degree specialization to center your studies around. In many schools, the tuition for BA and BS programs is the same, but some BS programs can have higher tuition.
Having said that, there are some other important distinctions between a Bachelor of Arts vs Bachelor of Science degree:
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Bachelor of Science (BS)
Humanities, social sciences, visual arts
Natural sciences, technology, math
Communication, critical thinking, and other soft skills
Technical and quantitative skills, logic, and reasoning
Research and lab work
Varied skills that are largely transferrable
Focused on a specific area, such as nursing, accounting, or technology
BA programs may focus on a particular field or career path, and the structure of BA and BS degrees can vary depending on the college or university. Some schools offer BA and BS tracks within specialized degree programs, such as computer science, ecology, and economics.
Typically, both types of tracks equip graduates with ample knowledge to work in their field of choice but in different positions.
Equally, BGSU’s psychology degree BS track has a greater emphasis on research and scientific methods. In contrast, its BA track involves more language and cultural topics, so it is geared towards slightly different career paths.
On the other hand, some institutions, notably some liberal arts colleges, only offer bachelor of arts degrees, even when students major in science topics.
In any case, setting yourself up for your future career is less about a Bachelor of Science vs Arts and more about the specific degree program you choose. The right program for you may have more to do with the quality of teaching and how well the curriculum matches your career goals and personal preferences than the BA or BS label.
Other Types of Bachelor’s Degrees
Although the BA and the BS are the most common bachelor’s degrees in American colleges and universities, they are not the only undergraduate programs on offer.
Other types of bachelor’s degrees include:
Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS): BAS programs focus on a particular technical field, such as biomedical science or IT networking.
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA): Like a BS in business administration, this degree prepares graduates for a career in the business sector, but with a more holistic emphasis on operations and structures rather than STEM topics.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): These specialized undergraduate degrees focus on fine arts disciplines such as creative writing, photography, dance, theater, or music.
BA vs BS: Which is Better?
Whether a BA or BS is the right option comes from various personal factors. This could be determined by your career goals if you are set on working in a field that requires a specific Bachelor of Science degree.
On the other hand, for other roles, a more broadly-based BA degree may be more valuable. The choice of BS vs BA can also come down to how you prefer to study and how fixed your career goals are.
A critical difference between a BS vs BA is that the latter is much more flexible and allows you to explore various subject areas and career options. Therefore, a BA can be an excellent option if you’re unsure of the career direction you want to pursue.
Ask yourself these questions to help you choose the right program for you:
What are my career goals? What industry do I want to work in?
Does this industry require a specific set of skills or a particular qualification?
What qualifications do industry leaders have?
What topics am I most passionate about? How does this align with the program curriculum?
Do I want to focus on a specific field of study, or would I prefer more flexibility to explore various disciplines?
Does the program offer internship opportunities, mentorship, and career support?
How much is tuition, and what other expenses must I consider?
Overall, having a bachelor’s degree significantly increases your earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022, bachelor’s degree holders had median weekly earnings of $1432, or a median annual wage of $74,464. In contrast, median weekly earnings for workers with a high school diploma were 40% less, at $853.
The earning potential of undergraduate degrees can vary greatly depending on the specialization or major, making it difficult to make a direct comparison between BA and BS graduates.
Having a BS may make you more employable. Some of the most in-demand roles — such as BI analyst, cybersecurity analyst, and renewable energy engineer — require a BS degree or a graduate qualification in technical fields. For many of these master’s degrees, a relevant BS is a requirement for admission.
However, having a bachelor’s degree, including a BA, will make it easier to get a job compared to a lower level of education. BLS figures show that bachelor’s degree holders were more likely to be employed, with an unemployment rate of 2.2%, compared to 3.5% for people without a degree.
Of course, keep in mind that salaries vary widely based on a range of factors, such as industry, experience, location, and the strength of the market.
Historically, a BA was often seen as the leading undergraduate degree, but this has shifted in recent decades, especially with an increased focus on specialized degree programs and applied disciplines.
In my experience, the best degree for you is the one that most closely aligns with your passions and career goals. It’s also important to consider your learning style and personal preferences.
For example, a key difference between a BA and BS is that the former is generally more flexible. This type of broader education, which allows you to explore various fields, may be ideal for you, or you may prefer to focus on your discipline of choice.
Having said that, the distinction between BA vs BS is becoming increasingly nuanced. Therefore, it’s often more important to consider the courses and program structure than whether it falls under the Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts banner.
In general terms, neither a BA or BS is more valuable to employers. Both are valuable qualifications that will make you more employable and increase your earning potential.
Of course, certain positions demand a specialized degree in the field, which may fall under a BA or BS program. For example, to work as a nurse, you’ll most likely need a BS in nursing.
Having said that, many employers are more interested in the subjects you studied and your academic achievements than in the title of your degree.
Is BA or BS Better for Med School?
Typically, you don’t need a specific degree to apply to medical school, so both BA and BS graduates are eligible to study medicine. However, when applying to med school, admissions committees often look for applicants who’ve studied biology, physics, and chemistry.
While you can study these subjects as part of a BA, they’re unlikely to be core topics, so you may struggle to meet this requirement without careful planning. Additionally, once accepted, your study history will make a difference.
The skills and knowledge you’ve developed through your undergraduate degree will help you to thrive at med school. While many BS courses could be helpful in this context, BA topics, such as psychology, languages, and culture could be helpful both in med school and your future medical career.
How Do You Know If You Are a BA or BS?
The difference between a BA vs BS degree is not always very clear, so you may not be sure how your program is categorized. If your degree title is something like “BS in accounting” or “BA in gender studies,” this is a strong indication!
However, this is not always the case. If you’re still unsure, check with the program administration office, and they can tell you if you’re a BA or BS program.
Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.