You'll have lots of decisions to make when you begin college, and one of them is the degree you want to earn when you graduate. BA and BS degrees are the two most popular degrees for undergrad students to get. But what is the difference between BA and BS degrees? How will they affect which classes you need to take? And is one more degree impressive than the other? Read this guide for answers to all your BA vs BS degree questions.
What Is a BS Degree? What Is a BA Degree?
A BS degree stands for Bachelor of Science, and a BA degree stands for Bachelor of Arts. As their names suggest, both are bachelor degrees which are awarded to undergraduate students after (typically) four years of college studies.
Besides BA and BS, there are other types of bachelor degrees, such as BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration). The type of bachelor degree you earn can give employers and grad schools an idea of the types of classes you took and the skills you learned. However, there's no standard requirement for what a BS or BA degree must include, and each school makes its own choices for the type of degrees it awards. One school may offer both BA and BS degrees in psychology while another only offers BA degrees. Without looking at the specific classes a student took, it's difficult to make accurate assumptions of what they learned based just on the type of bachelor degree they earned. There are some general differences in BS vs BA degrees, though, which we discuss in this article.
What Are the Major Differences for BA vs BS Degrees?
If you're comparing BA vs BS degrees, it's important to know how these two degrees differ from each other. Below are the three main differences for BS vs BA degrees.
#1: Subjects They Cover
Although there is some overlap, BS degrees tend to focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math), while BA degrees focus on humanities, social sciences, or business. Most schools offer more BA degrees than BS degrees because BA degrees cover a wider range of topics. We explain different majors you can get for each degree more in the next section.
#2: Breadth of Knowledge
In general, students earning a BA degree receive a broad education across a range of liberal arts subjects. They are often required to take courses in multiple fields, such as the arts, literature, social sciences, writing, and foreign language. In contrast, students earning a BS degree take more courses focused specifically on their major and fewer in other subject areas. This gives BS students a more focused knowledge of the topic they're majoring in.
For example, a student getting a BA in Earth Science will generally take fewer classes specifically on geology and related subjects and more classes in liberal arts subjects. Their senior project will likely be a paper. In contrast, a student at the same school earning a BS in Earth Science will likely take more classes specifically on their major, including lab classes and higher-level math classes. They'll often need to complete a hands-on research project before graduating.
There are generalizations, of course, and a lot of what you learn will be driven by your own interests and what you choose to take classes in. It's also important to know that one of these options isn't inherently better than the other; both create well-educated students who are qualified for a variety of careers.
#3: Main Skills Taught
A lot of what you learn will determine what you're majoring in but, in general, BA degrees emphasize a solid background in liberal arts, including skills in the following areas:
- Foreign language
- Social sciences
BS students take more STEM classes, and their degree often emphasizes the following skills:
- High-level math
- Hands-on lab classes
- Research experience
Common BS Majors and BA Majors
What are your options for both BS and BA majors? Below are lists of common BS majors, common BA majors, and majors that schools often offer as both BA and BS options. These are not complete lists (this guide lists nearly 300 college majors), but they give you a general idea of what your options are. Some subjects, such as science, have certain majors listed under Common BS majors and other majors listed under BA or BS majors. Many schools follow these patterns, but remember that each school chooses how to categorize each of its own majors. Some may offer different degrees for certain majors than you see in this list.
Common Bachelor of Science Majors
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Computer Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Information Technology
- Computer Programming
- Data Management
- Information Sciences
- Applied Mathematics
- Actuarial Science
- Nursing (Degree often referred to as "BSN" (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)
Common Bachelor of Arts Majors
- Art History
- Creative Writing
- Foreign Languages
- Graphic Design
- Social Science
- Ethnic & Minority Studies
- Political Science
Majors That Often Have Both BA and BS Options
- Agriculture/Natural Resources
- Plant Biology
- Earth Science
- Environmental Science
- Social Science
Bachelor of Arts vs Science: Is One Degree Better Than the Other?
In short, no. There's no type of bachelor degree that's seen as "better" or harder to earn by all employers and grad schools. Both BA and BS degrees require hard work and skills across multiple areas. People looking over your transcript or resume will generally be much more interested in what you majored in and the specific classes you took rather than the bachelor degree you earned. For example, someone could have earned a BA degree in Philosophy but chosen to take a lot of upper-level math and computing classes. They could be perfectly qualified for a STEM position that typically goes to people with BS degrees. Their qualifications wouldn't be obvious just by looking at their degree type, which is why people with a vested interest in attracting employees/grad students who are a good fit will take the extra time to look beyond the degree you earned.
However, there may be a degree that is better for you which is what we discuss in the next section.
How to Know Which Degree Is Best for You
If you're struggling to decide between a BS vs BA degree, there are three main questions to ask yourself to ensure you're earning a degree that'll help you have an enjoyable and productive time in college as well as prepare you for your future career.
#1: What Do You Want to Major In?
The most important consideration is deciding what 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 a humanities, social science, business, etc. getting a BA 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). If your school only offers one degree type for the major you want, then problem solved! If you have a choice of which degree to earn, then you'll want to ask yourself the following two questions to make the best choice.
#2: What Do You Want to Learn?
If you want a broader education where you study multiple subjects, particularly those related to liberal arts, a BA may be the better degree for you. If you want more technical skills, including higher-level math classes, science labs, and more of your classes to focus on your major, then a BS might be better.
Say you know you want to major in biology, and your school offers both a BS and BA degree option. If your primary goal is to have as much biology knowledge as you can and complete hands on research, consider a BS. This is also often the better choice if you want to continue your STEM learning after your undergrad, whether in a PhD program, med school, etc. On the other hand, if you want to major in biology but also want to learn about other topics, such as foreign language, social science, etc. and aren't as interested in the more technical options, then a BA could be the better choice. Common career options for BA Biology majors are teaching, working at a zoo/museum/national park, and becoming a scientific writer.
#3: What Career Do You Want?
As we mentioned above, the type of degree you get doesn't have a huge impact on the careers you're qualified for. Employers are generally much more interested in the specific courses you took, internships/work experiences, and your own personal interests and skill areas. 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. However, other employers may better appreciate the different skills BA students often have, such as more time spent on developing communication skills, more classes devoted to history, and foreign language skills.
Again, your career doesn't become set in stone once you choose a particular degree, and you can always make changes so your schooling reflects your own individual strengths and interests. But choosing the correct degree can make things easier from the start.
Summary: BA vs BS Degree
So, what is a better degree, BA or BS? If you're comparing Bachelor of Arts vs Science degrees, it's important to know what you want out of your college education. Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees are typically offered for majors in the humanities, social sciences, and business, and they can also be an option for some science majors. BA students receive a broad liberal arts education and gain skills in communications, a foreign language, social sciences, and humanities subjects. Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees are used for STEM subjects. They typically have fewer general requirements so that BS students can spend more time gaining in-depth knowledge on their major. They also often have requirements for upper-level math classes, lab classes, and research experience.
For BA vs BS degrees, no degree is inherently better than the other. If you're struggling to decide, think about what you want to study in college, the skills you want to gain, and the career you hope to pursue. Changes are, one degree option will better align with your interests and goals.
Considering double majoring? We tell you what a double major is and go over the pros and cons of having two majors in college.
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.