Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Science: What’s the Difference?

Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Science: What’s the Difference?

By Chinh Ngo

Published on January 20, 2021

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of bachelor's degrees awarded by U.S. colleges and universities grew 28% between 2007 and 2017. Almost 2 million students completed their bachelor's program in 2017, earning many different types of degrees in hundreds of fields.

As you prepare to pursue your own undergraduate education, you may have questions about what degree will best support your academic interests and career goals. This article aims to help make that decision a little easier by explaining the major differences between a bachelor of arts (BA) and a bachelor of science (BS), as well as how these differences can influence employment opportunities after graduation.

What Is a Bachelor of Arts?

A BA is a prototypical liberal arts degree, offering students the flexibility to take a variety of classes outside their major. To earn a bachelor's degree, learners need to complete at least 120 semester credits (or 180 quarter credits). This process usually takes 4-5 years, though some colleges offer accelerated online degrees you can earn in less time.

BA programs generally emphasize soft skills like interpersonal communication, creative thinking, cultural awareness, and empathy.

Common BA majors include anthropology, history, sociology, religious studies, and journalism. Universities also offer interdisciplinary degrees in areas like international studies. Some schools let you design your own curriculum, leading to a BA in liberal studies.

Regardless of the major, BA programs generally emphasize soft skills like interpersonal communication, creative thinking, cultural awareness, and empathy. Students also learn to critically evaluate information for authority, context, and bias. Because these skills are highly transferable, BA graduates often find success in many different professional settings.

What Is a Bachelor of Science?

While a BS typically takes the same amount of time to earn as a BA, this pathway delivers a more specialized education. BS programs help students gain in-depth knowledge and skills related to their major, preparing them for graduate training or entry-level jobs in that specific field. As a result, learners usually have less freedom to pursue academic interests outside their major.

BS students usually take fewer open electives, completing more required classes and technical electives.

BS programs center more on technical and scientific topics, with options like chemistry, mathematics, electrical engineering, and business administration. Like their peers in BA programs, BS students may enroll in interdisciplinary programs in areas like biotechnology and management information systems. The BS is the most common degree for healthcare professionals, including nurses, nutritionists, and kinesiologists.

BS students usually take fewer open electives, completing more required classes and technical electives. The curriculum typically requires students to complete a substantial amount of laboratory classes and other practical training.

Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Science

It can be easy to generalize these degree types and say that a bachelor of arts emphasizes the arts and humanities, whereas a bachelor of science prioritizes science and math. However, the differences between these two degree types are often less clear, especially as more universities integrate interdisciplinary elements into their undergraduate programs.

To further complicate matters, many colleges grant both degrees for the same academic discipline. For example, economics majors can enroll in a BA or BS program. BA students may take theoretical and foreign-language courses, and they can also pursue a complementary minor or second major. Alternatively, BS students may conduct an in-depth examination of the science of economics through classes like quantitative macroeconomic methods and econometric models.

BA or BS: Which Degree Is Better?

There is no objectively better option between a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science. Both degrees require about the same number of credits and take roughly the same amount of time to earn. Your distinct interests and goals should help determine which degree you pick.

Returning to the economics example above, BA students may be better prepared to pursue a wider variety of jobs immediately after graduation since they've learned a new language and gained a diverse array of auxiliary skills. BS students, with their ability to gather, analyze, and even predict data, may be better suited for technical positions. Alternatively, they may apply to graduate programs to prepare for work as professors and researchers.

BA and BS Careers

This section further examines the employment opportunities available to professionals with BA and BS degrees in the same major. You should use these general examples as a starting point for your own research, remembering that factors like geographic location and industry can also affect your career path.

Based on subjective criteria, some employers or hiring managers may prefer a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science. Keep an eye out for this when looking at career descriptions during your job hunt.

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Which Degree Do Employers and Grad Schools Prefer?

In general, employers tend to care less about whether an applicant holds a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science and more about the reputation of their university and the relevance of their major.

Additionally, an individual's academic discipline has a significant influence on both their chances of employment and their earning potential. NCES data shows that professionals with a bachelor's in engineering or computer science earn a median annual salary that's nearly twice that of individuals with degrees in fields like elementary education or social work.

Similarly, graduate schools prefer candidates with the academic training needed to succeed in their particular program. Therefore, students with BA degrees tend to enroll in master of arts programs, while BS learners typically pursue a master of science.

Additional Bachelor's Degree Options

Although the BA and BS dominate undergraduate academics, there are other degree options to consider. This section provides brief descriptions of the bachelor of fine arts (BFA), bachelor of applied science (BAS), and bachelor of business administration (BBA).

The BFA is specific to fine arts disciplines like musical theater, printmaking, creative writing, and photography. BFA students gain substantial practical training in their craft by completing workshops and independent studio time.

Like a BFA, the BAS focuses on the development of skills in a specific field, though these tend to be technical areas like IT networking and commercial property management. To enroll in a BAS program, students may need a relevant associate of applied science degree.

In lieu of a STEM-heavy bachelor of science in business administration, students can earn a BBA to gain a more holistic understanding of the structure and operation of private enterprises and public organizations. BBA students take classes like entrepreneurship and managerial decision-making.

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