What Is The Difference Between A BA and BS Degree?

The degree you choose can have an impact on your future. Your course of study will determine not only your future career but also your future earnings potential. When selecting a degree, you should look not only at the subject matter but also at the type of degree you will acquire. When it comes to a typical four-year degree, this means learning about the difference between a BA and a BS.

What is a BA?

A BA is a commonly-used term for a Bachelor of Arts. This is applicable even to subjects that have nothing to do with the arts as you might imagine them, ranging from degrees in History to Computer Science.

What is a BS?

A BS is a Bachelor of Science. These degrees tend to be closely related to the science, and may be attached to degrees in Math, Health-Related Professions, and the so-called "Hard Sciences, as well as many specific engineering degrees.

What is the Difference Between a BA and BS?

Typically speaking, the difference in a BA and a BS is going to come down to the kind of coursework you undertake. There are many subjects (like Psychology and Engineering) that offer both types of degree. A BS tends to focus more on math and science, while a BA tends to focus more on the humanities. Students are usually expected to make a decision about what type of degree they will pursue relatively early on.

For the most part, you can assume that all BA paths will have more requirements in the liberal arts than most BS degrees. This will usually include more courses in the languages, fine arts, and social science. BS degrees, on the other hand, will often require students to pursue higher-level math courses and higher level sciences to finish their degrees.

In some cases, the type of degree you get will be chosen by your subject type. Few schools offer a BA in Chemistry, for example, while it's nearly impossible to find a BS in English. The subject matter choice is usually a defining part of the degree process.

How Can I Figure Out What Degree I Will Get?

Typically speaking, you'll know what kind of degree you will receive in your major as soon as you declare. If you are attending a school that allows for both a BA and BS in a subject, though, things can get trickier. This is where your college advisor will play a major role.

With that said, you can figure a few things out by looking at who will give you the degree. If your program is in a College of Science or College of Health Related Professions, there's a decent chance that the degree you end up with will be a BS. Likewise, a College of Liberal Arts or College of Humanities degree will likely be a BA. If you're not sure what kind of degree you will receive, it never hurts to ask.

Which Should I Choose?

The big question about the difference in a BA and BS usually has less to do with the letters on the page and more to do with one's future. It's hard to decide between the two for some, especially as this isn't a choice most people talk about. Fortunately, there are a few key factors you can look at to make your decision.

Your first choice should always be considering what's the norm in your field. If most people in your field have a BS, you'll want to go after the BS. There is usually a good reason, generally, one that's coursework related, and you don't want to go against the grain when you graduate. If there's not a norm to which you can adhere, this means that the degree, in general, is more valuable than that which you learned.

If there's no norm, look at the graduate program requirements. If you want to move on to a higher degree, you should see both whether the degree requires a BA or a BS, as well as what most applicants possess. This is a good way to consider your future career prospects, as most high-paying jobs now require you to have a post-Bachelors degree.

Finally, consider your own strengths. If you're more interested in research and writing, there's a good chance you'll be better suited for a BA. If you're more interested in real-world applications and coming up with groundbreaking theories, a BS might be more suitable. In either case, your own strengths will help you succeed.

What Do Employers Think?

Beyond wondering what's best for your future, you also have to consider what's best for your field. Some employers have very specific ideas about your degree. Other's don't. You'll have to do research to find out what's best.

The good news is that most employers look at whether you have a relevant degree, not whether you have BA or BS. If you're looking at an appropriate field, the odds are against the degree type mattering. Outside of a few technical fields, a Bachelors degree will speak for itself.

With that said, you'll want to look at career progression to figure out what your employers might think. If most people in your field go for a Masters of Science, for example, you'll want to get on the path early with a BS. Always look at those who are successful in your field as exemplars.

Which Degree is Better?

At the end of the day, neither a BA nor BS has any inherent advantage over the other. Choosing between the two is a matter of choosing between two divergent academic paths, nothing more. If your school offers both paths, it's a good idea to see what they will lead to in the future.

Don't be fooled by the thought that the harder course of study is always better. A BA, for example, might be a better choice for those who want to work outside of research labs than a BS. Likewise, a BS with fewer requirements might still be the best path to a Ph.D. The benefits come not with the letters, but with what you choose to do with the degree afterward.