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When entering school as an undergraduate, incoming freshman need to decide what degree to pursue, whether a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) degree.
BA and BS degrees share similarities. Both are four-year college degrees requiring 120 credits for graduation. Depending on the school, many BA and BS degrees share required courses as well. Beyond that, colleges and universities each identify their own overall requirements and designations for the BA and BS degrees they offer.
What Is the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Bachelor of Science Degree?
BA and BS degrees approach topics differently. The BA focuses on a broader, liberal arts curriculum, while the BS tends to specialize in a particular field of study, which includes the sciences. The degree designation also depends on the college, since some offer only BA degrees and some provide only BS designations. Other institutions offer fields of study in both degrees, with overlapping courses.
In general, the BA track emphasizes arts, humanities, and the liberal arts. Coursework includes writing, history, literature, English, and sociology. A student pursuing a BA program typically gains skills in critical thinking and creativity.
BS programs provide a specialty track focused on honing management, technical, analytical, or presentation abilities. Coursework typically includes business, computer science, or information technology. The BS degree also commonly includes scientific studies, with majors or concentrations such as biology, physics, or earth sciences. The BA requires more elective credits, while the BS curriculum features specialized courses that replace electives.
Some colleges offer the BS and BA degrees in the same area of study, such as in economics, political science, business administration, or education. However, the curriculum differs depending on the degree designation. For example, those working toward a BS in economics take classes in science, mathematics, and analytics. These students learn about quantitative analysis, statistical measurements, and data analytics. Students studying for a BA in economics typically have a language, humanities, or literature requirement to meet in addition to their core economics coursework.
Should You Get a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science Degree?
A student's goals and objectives can help determine which degree to pursue. For example, students with a specific interest and career destination in mind but who also want to explore other classes, may want to pursue a BA. The BA curriculum leaves room for electives and a minor concentration while still providing the student with a well-rounded, diverse education.
Students interested in a specialization or a career in the sciences may benefit more from pursuing a BS degree. The specialized nature of a BS degree allows students to take focused classes to prepare them for their ideal jobs. Students looking for a more rigorous, dedicated course of study gain a great deal from a BS degree.
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Popular Majors Offered in Both Degree Types
Many schools offer BS and BA degrees in the same concentrations. While requirements for a BA or BS degree include many of the same courses, BS degrees usually require more specialized classes, with fewer liberal arts or humanities electives. The BS usually requires more technical classes, such as statistics or data analysis.
Schools vary when it comes to their BS and BA offerings. While some colleges offer only a BS or BA degree in certain studies, others offer both options. Each school lists its own requirements for these degrees. Sometimes, required courses for a BA degree at one school are similar to those for a BS degree at another. For example, a school may offer both a BA and a BS in psychology, but the BA emphasis might require fewer math and statistics courses than the BS track.
Business and Business Administration
Both the BA and BS in business and business administration prepare students for an MBA and more advanced education. The BA track focuses on the soft skills of business, such as negotiation, business writing, and speech and presentation skills. In some cases, students may minor in another subject, such as political science or sociology. The course of study includes electives such as communication, English, and history. The BS path teaches technical skills, with a focus on math, science, and statistics.
The BA and BS in accounting curriculum offer similar classes, including financial accounting, managerial accounting, and auditing. The BA emphasis adds liberal arts or humanities electives, such as social sciences or foreign languages. Many BA accounting students continue their education in graduate school. The BS degree requires advanced courses in statistics, math, business practices, and economics.
A finance education focuses on the operation of money, stocks, and markets. The BA and BS tracks in finance require classes in business, finance, and accounting. The BS curriculum also typically includes advanced math, risk management, statistics, and academic writing. The BA focus offers classes in finance and economic theory, psychology, history, and even languages.
With its emphasis on the branding and promotion of products and services, college or university marketing instruction includes sales, advertising, distribution, and brand management offered as both BA and BS degrees. BA requirements include communications, management theory, and psychology. The BS focuses on marketing's technical side, such as statistics, research, and strategic planning.
Political Science and Government
This field offers insight into government operations, with the BS and BA degrees approaching the topic differently. Students earning their BS degree receive training in analytic and technical skills, along with critical reasoning and writing. The BA emphasizes communication abilities and the humanities, with a focus on political theory and history.
Elementary Education and Teaching
Both teaching degrees require educational theory knowledge, classroom management, and hands-on student teaching. The BA curriculum requires liberal arts courses, with less focus on science, technology, engineering, and math classes. BS students in this field study more math, computer science, and physical science than their BA counterparts.
Popular Bachelor of Arts Degrees
BA degrees provide a humanities foundation. As a result, the BA curriculum includes history, language, and English, along with specific majors or fields of study. BA degrees provide graduates with high-demand skills such as critical thinking, creativity, cultural awareness, and communication. The BA degree also provides flexibility for students to explore different course options or to gain information in a related field, in addition to the main major or concentration.
English Language and Literature
English majors study literature and its focus on human nature and experiences. Classes include language studies, linguistic and literary history, research, and oral and written communication. Students receiving a degree in English do more than write and read. They might end up in graduate school to study for advanced careers, such as law or education.
Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies
Liberal arts students build a foundation of learning for more in-depth coursework later on in their collegiate careers. Many liberal arts majors continue their education in graduate school. Basic classes include English, math, and history. Students also study areas such as literature, writing, or philosophy. Students pursuing this degree learn skills like collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
A BA in history builds research skills while improving critical thinking abilities. Students pursuing a history major may take classes in ancient history, historical theories, and methods of research, as well as coursework focusing on global backgrounds and diversity issues.
While an art degree might conjure visions of painters and sculptures, the curriculum involves so much more. The BA designation emphasizes classes including art principles and various media, as well as history, global learning, and human culture. The degree also includes studio electives, such as drawing, painting, and desktop publishing.
Speech, Communication, and Rhetoric
The BA degree in speech, communication, and rhetoric focuses on how people transmit ideas to one another. This field of study fits into the BA designation, as the curriculum focuses on discourse and understanding of rhetoric from a historical, cultural, and social perspective. Courses also include theory, argumentative writing, and language and dialogue.
Popular Bachelor of Science Degrees
BS degree programs typically offer a more specialized curriculum, providing advanced courses in specific concentrations or majors. The BS offers a straightforward, specialized course plan with few elective requirements, benefitting students who know their exact career paths.
Biology and Biological Sciences
The BS designation denotes coursework involved in a scientific field of study. This degree prepares students for careers in science, pre-med, veterinary medicine, or environmental studies. The curriculum consists of science courses, including biology, chemistry, physiology, and lab electives. Additional requirements include advanced mathematics and computer sciences. On the science side, students take genetics, cellular biology, and immunology classes.
Students studying computer science obtain jobs such as data scientist, software developer, systems analyst, or web developer. This falls under the BS designation, as classes focus on a specialization in computer science, computer theory, hardware architecture, data management, and algorithms. Requirements include advanced math courses, such as calculus and advanced algebra.
A BS in psychology focuses on the science aspect of this field, hence the BS designation. Coursework stresses psychological concepts and theories, such as cognition, behavior, perception, and social influences. Students also learn research measurement, design and methodology, statistics, experimental processes, and writing.
The BS in mathematics specializes in the more technical side of math. Coursework emphasizes mathematical modeling, advanced algebra, differential equations, logic, and calculus. The program also includes non-math classes, including critical thinking, philosophy, and history. Students with this degree pursue master's and doctoral degrees in mathematics and applied mathematics.
With the goal of training students how to apply math, science, and engineering principles to solve engineering problems, this degree focuses on science, mechanical elements, and physics learning, earning it the BS designation. This foundation, along with mathematics and hands-on lab time, teaches students about mechanical and thermal systems, including design, development, and manufacturing.
Other Bachelor's Degrees
College and universities also offer more focused bachelor's degrees, in addition to the BA and BS. These degree tracks differ from the more common BA and BS degrees because they offer more specialized coursework. More than two-thirds of the required courses for these specialized degrees focus on the concentration within the field of study.
One example, the bachelor of fine arts degree, immerses students in an intense, fine-arts curriculum, with an emphasis on fashion, art, music, or theater. Students receiving this degree train for immediate jobs as actors or stage producers, fashion designers, or museum or art gallery curators. Meanwhile, the bachelor of administrative studies (BAS) provides a very in-depth focus on business theories and practices applicable to many industries. The BAS typically offers more specific and directed skills applicable to a particular business subset, such as manufacturing or entrepreneurship.
Students may also choose to pursue a specialized bachelor of science in nursing. Graduates with this degree gain the necessary skills to take the national examination for licensure, qualifying them to become registered nurses. Others pursue an advanced degree as a nurse practitioner or train for a doctoral degree in nursing.
Depending on each student's interests and career goals, plenty of schools and programs offer several types of specialized bachelor's degree options to explore.
Why Does a Bachelor's Degree Have Two Options?
Early U.S. institutions offered only one type of degree: a bachelor of arts. This changed in the mid-19th century for two reasons. First, the Land-Grant College Act of 1862 (known as the Morrill Act) provided land grants to states to finance colleges and universities specializing in agriculture and "the mechanic arts." These were known as "agricultural and mining" or "agricultural and mechanical" (A&M) colleges. Some states built new colleges, while others donated money to existing state colleges and encouraged more scientific studies.
The second reason colleges and universities expanded their degree offerings was the Industrial Revolution. Employers needed employees with engineering and mechanical backgrounds, as well as those with experience in organizational systems and statistical studies.
These 19th-century trends led to the creation of a bachelor of science degree. The BS degree's intense focus ultimately expanded to encompass other concentrations, including business, economics, and psychology.
People graduating from college with either a BA or BS can continue their education through master's degree and doctoral programs. These upper-level degrees require more intense coursework in a specific field of study. A master's degree typically requires 36 to 54 credits for completion. Doctoral degrees can require as few as 58 credits or as many as 120 credits.
Similar to the bachelor's degree designations, master's degree designations consist of the master of science (MS) and the master of arts (MA). The MA emphasizes disciplines including social sciences, humanities, arts, communication, and performance, with a focus on theory and critical thinking. MS degrees are awarded in the physical sciences, with a stronger research, technical, and analytic component.
Certain concentrations or majors, such as economics, can fall under both MS and MA degrees. The MS in economics features classes in qualitative economics, data analysis, and econometrics. The economics MA requires coursework in government and economic growth, international trade, game theory, and macroeconomic analysis.
The master's level degrees also focus on specialization. An MBA requires studies in various business topics and prepares students for advanced business and management roles. Many MBAs include a specific concentration or field of interest, such as accounting or finance. Other MBA programs require students to have at least three years of professional experience.
A master of social work prepares students for social work careers. Schools typically offer this degree as either a clinical degree (in which students work directly with clients), or as a macro-practice focus, which prepares students for political advocacy or community organization jobs.
The doctorate degree represents the highest possible education in a particular field. Similar to bachelor's degrees, doctoral degrees offer two versions: research-oriented or applied degrees. Admission to a doctoral program generally requires a master's degree. Although, some colleges and universities may accept professional experience in place of credits for admission into their doctorate programs.
Research degrees, such as a Ph.D., prepare individuals for careers in academia and focus on theoretical analysis, similar to a BA. Offered within a specific major or concentration, the Ph.D. and similar degrees teach students how to apply learning and critical thinking to various fields of study. The first part of a Ph.D. degree focuses on completing core course requirements in the student's major. Upon completion of the classes, students shift to independent research, field courses, and advanced studies.
Applied doctoral degrees, sometimes known as clinical doctorates, offer a more hands-on curriculum within their fields of study (similar to the specialized focus of a BS degree). Such degrees include a doctor of business administration, a doctor of education, a doctor of nursing practice, or a doctor of veterinary medicine. Programmatic outcomes of these applied degrees focus on the day-to-day application of knowledge. While students may also pursue research as part of this degree, programs typically emphasize learning required skills in a real-world setting
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