What is a BS degree? You've probably heard of this degree, especially if you're researching colleges and the majors they offer. However, what does "BS" stand for, and how does a BS degree differ from other types of college degrees you can get? In this guide, we explain the BS degree meaning, subjects and skills BS students learn in college, popular BS degrees to get, how this degree type differs from other degrees like BA and BFA, and how you can decide if a BS degree is the best option for you.
What Does a BS Degree Stand For?
What is the BS degree meaning? A BS degree stands for Bachelor of Science, and it's one of the most common degrees for university students to get. There's no national standard for what a Bachelor of Science degree must include, but students who earn BS degrees typically take multiple classes in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as quite a few classes directly related to their major. In contrast, BA (Bachelor of Arts) degrees have a broader focus on humanities and liberal arts, 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 undergrad degree type 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 whether you got a BS, BA, etc. This is especially true because the requirements for different degree types vary from school to school. Each college categorizes its degrees in its own way, so what might be a BS at one school could be a BA at another school. However, although there's no hard line dividing the two degree types, there are some general characteristics specific to BS degrees, and we'll discuss them in this article.
What Skills Do Bachelor of Science Majors Learn? How Is a BS Degree Different From a BA Degree?
Students who earn a BS degree will have high level knowledge of the subject they're majoring in. Most universities have general degree requirements all students must meet, typically including at least one course in writing, math, social science, and humanities. BS students specifically will often take multiple high-level math classes, engineering/science/computing classes (depending on their major), lab classes where they're running experiments, and a research experience where they're conducting their own research project or assisting a professor or grad student on their project. The majority of the classes BS students take will be directly related to their major, so they'll have in-depth knowledge of the subject by the time they graduate.
In contrast, BA majors typically take fewer classes directly related to their major and more in a broad area of liberal arts subjects, often including a foreign language. BS majors have a narrower focus.
For example, a student getting a BA in Biology will generally take fewer classes specifically on biology and more classes in liberal arts subjects, such as history, social science, and writing. Their senior project will likely be a paper rather than a hands-on research project. A student at the same school getting a BS in Biology will take more classes on biology topics, more higher-level math classes, complete science labs in subjects like chemistry and biology, and they'll often need to get research experience before graduating.
What Are Common BS Majors?
Bachelor of Science majors are typically those in STEM fields. So majors like biology, statistics, computer science, and engineering would all likely be BS majors at many schools.
However, some schools, particularly small liberal arts schools, only offer BA degrees, even for more STEM-focused degrees. This doesn't necessarily mean students learn less science or math at those schools; it's just how the school chooses to categorize their degrees (they may also require more liberal arts classes as degree requirements).
For schools that offer both BA and BS degrees, math and engineering majors are almost always categorized as BS degrees, while many sciences offer both BA and BS options, as we mentioned in the previous section.
Majors in subjects such as English, literature, social science, foreign languages, etc. are nearly always classed as BA majors.
What Are Common Courses That BS Majors Must Take?
Students who earn a BS degree will have in-depth knowledge of the subject they're majoring in. Most universities have general degree requirements all students must meet, typically including at least one course in writing, math, social science, and humanities. BS students specifically will often multiple classes in the following areas:
- Math (including higher-level math such a calculus and statistics)
- Science (often biology, chemistry, and physics) or Engineering
- Computer skills
- Hands-on labs
- Research experience
Compared to other degree types, students who get BS degrees have fewer general requirements and take more classes directly related to their major.
Is a BS Degree Right for You? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself
For most students starting college, their main academic concern is subject what to major in. However, the specific degree you earn will also impact the classes you take and can prepare you better for certain careers. Should you get a Bachelor of Science degree? Ask yourself these three questions to find out.
#1: What Do You Want to Major In?
Your first question to ask yourself is 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 math or engineering field, most schools only offer BS degrees for those subjects, so that'll be your only option. However, many schools offer both BA and BS options for science options. 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?
What skills do you want to have by the time you graduate? Do you want to have hands-on lab experience, a strong background in math, and an in-depth knowledge of the subject you're majoring in? A BS might be the best degree for you. If you want your studies to have a broader focus and are less concerned about gaining research experience, a BA might be a better fit.
Say you know you want to major in zoology, and your school offers both a BS and BA degree option. If your primary goal is to have as much zoology knowledge as you can and complete hands on research, consider a BS. If you want to learn about other topics as well, such as foreign language, social science, etc. and aren't as interested in taking a lot of math or research classes, then a BA could be the better choice.
#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. However, a BS can help prepare you better for certain careers. In general, people getting a BS plan on pursuing careers that involve technical skills, research, and/or lab experience. 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. If you want to get a PhD in a STEM field, a BS can also be the better option because you can show you already have research experience.
To continue the example from above, a zoology major who wants to join a lab/get a PhD/conduct research will likely be best served getting a BS degree. Someone who wants a zoology career less focused on research, such as a position at a museum, zoo, national park, etc. might decide a BA fits their career plans better. However, none of this is set in stone. What's really important is the classes you take and the knowledge you gain in college. It's perfectly possible to get a BA degree and still be prepared for a STEM career or get a BS degree and have a solid grounding in liberal arts.
Summary: BS Degree Meaning
A BS degree stands for Bachelor of Science, and it's one of the most common degrees for undergraduate students to get. While there are no set requirements for what a BS degree must include, most students who get this degree have taken multiple classes in math and science, as well as science labs and research experience. BS degrees tend to have fewer general education requirements so that students can take more classes directly focused on their major. The type of degree you get isn't as important to employers or grad schools as what you majored in, but BS careers tend to be best for those who want careers in technical fields, research, or laboratories.
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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.