What is a BA degree? You've probably heard of this degree, but what does it stand for, and how does a BA degree differ from other types of college degrees you can get? In this guide, we explain the BA degree meaning, what subjects and skills BA students learn in college, popular BA degrees to get, how this degree type differs from other degrees like BS and BFA, and how you can decide if a BA degree is the best choice for you.
What Does a BA Degree Stand For?
What is the BA degree meaning? A BA degree stands for "Bachelor of Arts." It's one of the most common degrees for university students to get. There's no national standard for what a Bachelor of Arts degree must include, but they generally have more of a focus on humanities and liberal arts subjects than other degrees. Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees tend to include more math and science classes, Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degrees have more hands-on arts classes, and there can be other majors as well, such as Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree for business majors.
There's no major that is automatically more impressive to employers or grad schools or seen as "harder" to get. People reviewing your transcript will be more interested in what subject you majored in, rather than what specific degree you got, especially as the requirements for different degree types will vary from school to school. Additionally, each college categorizes its degrees in its own way, so what might be a BS, BFA, or BBA degree at one school could be classified as a BA degree at another school. However, there are some characteristics specific to BA degrees, which we'll discuss in this article.
What Skills Do Bachelor of Arts Majors Learn? How Is a BA Degree Different From a BS Degree?
Students who earn a Bachelor of Arts degree will have a solid background in liberal arts, as well as in-depth knowledge of their degree subject matter. BA degrees typically emphasize skills in the following areas:
- Writing and communication
- Social sciences
- Foreign language
In contrast, BS majors tend to take more courses focused specifically on the subject they're majoring in. They typically have more depth in a smaller number of subject areas, while BA majors have more breadth in a wider number of subjects. Of course, these are generalizations, and if you want to get a BA degree and get expert knowledge in a specific area, that's perfectly possible, and many BA students do this.
What Are Common BA Majors?
In general, all majors in the social sciences, such as history, political science, anthropology, etc. will be BA majors. All English/literature majors, as well as foreign language majors, will also be BA majors, as will business majors, such as accounting and economics.
Some arts-related majors are considered BA majors, but they can also be classed as BFA majors, especially if the major requires students to produce a lot of their own artwork.
STEM majors (science, technology, math, and engineering), are often BS majors, but they can sometimes be BA majors. Some schools only offer BA majors, even for math and science focused degrees. Other schools offer both a BA or BS option for certain STEM majors. The BS option typically requires more math and science classes, lab work, and research than the BA option, which may require a written thesis instead and will have a broader liberal arts focus.
Each university decides what title to give its majors. Some schools, often smaller liberal arts schools, only award BA degrees, even for science or math-focused majors.
What Are Common Courses That BA Majors Must Take?
Students who graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree are expected to have a solid grounding in liberal arts. Besides classes specific to your major, almost all BA programs require a writing/communications class, and BA students also likely will take classes in literature, history, social sciences, foreign language, and/or humanities.
Practically every college student needs to take some kind of math class, although BA math requirements are typically less intensive than BS requirements. BA students also typically need to take at least one science class, though they won't need to complete science labs that many BS students do. Below are two examples of the requirements all students earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at a specific school must complete. (In addition to these BA requirements, they'll also have to take classes specific to their major.)
The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana requires all BA students to take classes in the following subjects:
- Composition (1 class)
- Advanced composition (1 class)
- Foreign language (4 classes)
- Humanities and arts (2 classes)
- Social and behavioral sciences (2 classes)
- Natural sciences and technology (2 classes)
- Quantitative reasoning (2 classes)
- Cultural studies (3 classes)
Vanderbilt University has these requirements for BA students:
- Writing (3-4 classes)
- Humanities and creative arts (3 classes)
- International cultures (3 classes)
- History and culture of the US (1 class)
- Mathematics and natural sciences (3 classes)
- Social and behavioral sciences (2 classes)
- Perspectives (1 class)
As you can see, most major requirements for BA students are quite broad. You'll need to take classes in different liberal arts subject areas, as well as math and science, but you can often choose the specific classes you want to take to match your interests.
Is a BA Degree Right for You? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself
For most students starting college, their primary academic concern is what to major in. However, the degree you earn will also impact the classes you take and can help you be more prepared for certain jobs. Should you get a BA degree? Ask yourself these three questions to find out.
#1: What Do You Want to Major In?
The first question to ask yourself is what subject you want to major in. As we mentioned above, the actual field you get your degree in is much more important to employers/grad schools/etc. than whether you got a BS or BA degree. If you want to major in humanities, social science, or a similar subject, getting a BA is a pretty straightforward choice and will likely be your only option. If you want to major in a STEM field, then you may have a choice between a BA degree or BS degree (or you might only have the BS option). For some arts-related majors, you may also have the option to choose between a BA degree and a BFA degree. If a major you're interested in offers multiple degree options, compare the course requirements for each degree type. One will likely fit your interests best.
#2: What Do You Want to Learn?
If you want a broader education where you study multiple subjects, particularly those in the liberal arts, a BA may be the better degree for you. If you want more of your classes to focus on your major so you can have more in-depth knowledge of it, then a BS might be better. For example, if you want to major in psychology and your school offers both a BA and BS option for the major, think about what knowledge you want to come away with by the time you graduate. If your primary goal is to have as much psychology knowledge as you can and do hands-on lab work or research, consider a BS. If you want to learn about other topics as well, such as a foreign language, humanities, etc. and aren't as interested in the hard science aspect, then a BA could be the better choice.
#3: What Career Do You Want?
It's possible to get many jobs with a BA degree, but that doesn't mean it's always the best option. If you want a job where you need a lot of technical or laboratory skills, a BS degree is often the better choice because BS degrees emphasize both of those skill areas. Having a BS degree might make it easier to prove to employees that you have the skills you need to thrive in a STEM career. To continue with the example from above, many psychology majors who earn BA degrees go into counseling, while those with BS degrees often go into research. However, this certainly isn't set in stone. What's really important is the classes you take and the knowledge you have, and it's perfectly possible to get a BA degree and still be prepared for a STEM career.
Summary: BA Degree Meaning
A BA degree stands for a Bachelor of Arts degree, and it's probably the most common major for college students to get. While there are no set requirements for what a BA degree must include, they typically emphasize a broad liberal arts education more than other degrees, such as BS and BFA degrees. They're a great option to get if you want a solid background in the humanities, social sciences, and possibly a foreign language. The type of degree you get isn't as important to employers or grad schools as what you majored in, but, if you're struggling to decide if a BA degree is right for you, think about what you want to major in, what you want to study in college, and the type of career you want to be best prepared for when you graduate.
Can choosing a less common major make it easier to get into competitive colleges? Read our guide to learn how your choice of intended major affects your college application.
What are the best college majors? We've come up with a list of the very best majors by looking at their salary potential and employment growth. See if your major made the cut!
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.