Charting Your Academic Path: Bachelor of Arts (BA) vs. Bachelor of Science (BS)

24/07/202318 minute read
Charting Your Academic Path:  Bachelor of Arts (BA) vs. Bachelor of Science (BS)

If you’re getting ready to head off to college for the first time, you probably already know that it takes about 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. But did you know that there are two different kinds of bachelor degrees? 

If not, you’re not alone…Truth be told, many teachers, parents, and even high school counselors never tell students there are two kinds of bachelor degrees! 

So if you’re asking yourself: What are the two bachelor degrees?...What’s the difference between them?...And how do I choose the one that’s right for me?…Don’t worry! The team at Crimson Education is here to help. In this blog post we’ll go over all the important differences between both kinds of bachelor degrees, with expert advice for how to choose the bachelor degree that’s best for you. 

In fact, Crimson Advisors have a proven track record helping students just like you navigate their educational journey and get into some of the world’s most selective colleges and universities. So when you’re trying to figure out which bachelor’s degree to choose, which schools to apply to, or what steps to take now to get accepted at leading schools — we’ve got your back!

Overview of Bachelor’s Degrees

You may or may not know that there are many types of degrees you can earn in college — some are undergraduate degrees, and others are postgraduate degrees

Undergraduate students typically enroll in programs that last about 2 years — often at a community or junior college — in order to get to an Associate Degree, or else study at a full 4-year college or university to earn a Bachelor’s Degree.

The Bachelor Degree can pave the way to many careers, and be a foundation for pursuing postgraduate degrees — a master’s degree or PhD/Doctorate. 

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When you’re getting your bachelor’s degree, you’ll also pick a major — the discipline you want to study in the upper-division courses (more advanced courses) during your junior and senior years in college.

Common majors for undergraduate degrees include psychology, political science, computer science, physics, math, biology, literature or even more vocationally oriented ones such as business, nursing, forestry, or environmental science. 

You have options for picking your own major, and some students may struggle trying to pick a major they find exciting and meaningful but that also delivers practical benefits for career advancement.

As an undergraduate, you'll start by completing several lower-division courses that make up a core curriculum that all students — regardless of their major — typically have to complete to graduate.

The core curriculum helps you develop a broad knowledge base in foundational subjects, affords you opportunities to discuss foundational ideas with students who have different backgrounds and academic interests, and can provide you a little extra time, if you need it, for making final decisions about what you want to major in.

You may have a chance to pick some elective classes too, and these may relate to your major, or you may decide to explore new topics.

Each term you’ll attend classes, take notes during lectures, and participate actively in smaller discussion groups, while also completing assignments, taking exams, and maybe you’ll work on projects or conduct experiments. It's a mix of learning from professors, from discussions with classmates, and sometimes from doing hands-on activities, and also requires demonstrating what you’ve learned, with an exam, presentation, or project. 

As you complete your bachelor’s degree requirements, you’ll study many famous thinkers, books, and enduring topics in history and philosophy in your core curriculum, enjoy the challenges and rewards of in-depth study in your major, and you’ll also  develop important soft skills — such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork — skills which many people use again and again in school and careers.

When you finally get your bachelor’s degree it’s the certificate that shows you’ve completed one of the most important milestones in your college journey. It’s a milestone to be proud of because it means you’ve worked hard to gain skills and knowledge to use in your career or in graduate school. 

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After earning a bachelor’s degree your next steps could include looking for an exciting entry-level job, getting a professional degree such as an MBA or a law degree, or going on to do intensive academic study and research in a field related to your undergraduate major. If you do enroll in a postgraduate program, your next milestone would most likely be getting a master’s degree or Ph.D./Doctorate.

So, even though you still need to figure out which degree is best for you — a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) — keep in mind that ANY bachelor degree should improve your life trajectory by helping you:

  • build lasting friendships and professional networks
  • gain essential knowledge and become a well-rounded person
  • develop valuable soft skills 
  • increase your career options

And, not only should a bachelor degree help you find good jobs, it should increase your earning potential too — probably for as long as you work!

According to federal survey data, people with a bachelor degree earn $61,600 a year on average in the US — that means people with a bachelor’s degree earn 55% more than people with only a high school diploma! These benefits along with tuition costs and other factors — many intangible and hard to quantify — are worth keeping in mind if you do try to estimate the ROI for the investments you’ll make to get a bachelor’s degree.

That said, deciding whether to get a BA or a BS is an important decision, because the degree path you choose can impact your academic journey later on, as well as your career success.

Now let’s review the key features of each degreethe BA and the BS — and then go on to explore the key differences you need to consider for making an informed decision.

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Bachelor of Arts (BA)

It might surprise you to learn that the Bachelor of Arts degree has its origins in the Middle Ages. At medieval universities all students learned foundational concepts related to grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and the Bachelor of Arts degree was a stepping stone to more advanced studies in scientific disciplines of the time that could eventually lead to a doctorate in medicine, law, or theology.

Today, getting a BA degree also involves a broad education in liberal arts subjects and is aligned with majors in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts. In today’s society, the Bachelor of Arts is also foundational and flexible — the knowledge requirements tend to be broad and non-technical with an emphasis on applying complementary skills in language, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Choosing a bachelor of arts degree typically allows a student to choose curriculum pathways from among a wide range of subjects and majors, such as:

  • Literature
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Communications
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology
  • Political Science
  • Visual Arts
  • Music
  • Theater
  • Dance
  • Psychology
  • Linguistics
  • Foreign languages

So, if you enjoy subjects like these, if you’re interested in a well-rounded education, and if you want a more flexible and less technical academic pathway, a BA degree might be a good fit for you.

And because a BA typically aligns with jobs and careers that rely on a broad foundation of transferable soft skills, getting a bachelor of arts degree can put you on a more flexible academic and career path, but probably won’t open doors to many technical and scientific occupations.

As a liberal arts major with a bachelor of arts degree, for example, you could be well equipped for entry-level jobs in journalism, publishing, or marketing. People who major in literature, philosophy, or political science are often well qualified for working as paralegals, as legislative assistants, or in a variety of entry-level administrative roles — in a business office, in public agencies, or in nonprofit organizations.

In many states, after completing a bachelor’s degree and other specific licensing steps — such as getting a multi-subject or single-subject teaching credential — you can typically pursue teaching jobs in K-12 schools.

Depending on your major, the Bachelor of Arts Degree can also be a good choice for pursuing postgraduate studies in liberal arts fields such as:

  • Law
  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Fine Arts
  • Journalism
  • Public Administration
  • Educational Leadership
  • Public Policy
  • Social Welfare
  • International Affairs

A liberal arts postgraduate degree can open doors to a wide range of job opportunities across many of the fields just listed and may help you qualify for roles in postsecondary teaching and research.

Now let’s take a look at important features of that other bachelor’s degree, the Bachelor of Science!...

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Bachelor of Science (BS)

A BS degree tends to have a more narrow focus on scientific and technical subjects, and may be a better choice if you’re interested in STEM subjects.

During the Middle Ages, as scientific knowledge and inquiry began to grow, so did the need for more specialized education in scientific and technical fields. This led to the emergence of new disciplines like mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.

The Bachelor of Science degree was eventually established for students who had completed rigorous study in these disciplines. Over time, as scientific discovery advanced more quickly, courses and majors in these fields became more and more specialized.

So it’s good to keep in mind that a Bachelor of Science Degree usually aligns with more technical learning and with courses in fields related to science, math, and engineering. This can mean more emphasis on prerequisite knowledge too, because many STEM disciplines require a prescribed pathway of sequential learning, meaning you’ll typically have some classes where you need to apply concepts learned in prior math and science courses.

Some popular majors that usually lead to a Bachelor of Science Degree include:

  • Engineering
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Computer Science
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Environmental Science
  • Statistics

If you have a strong interest in some of these subjects and enjoy problem-solving, mathematical models, quantitative analysis, and conducting scientific experiments, a BS degree might be the better choice for you.

And, keep in mind that even if you do choose a BS degree, you’re still likely to have some exposure to liberal arts topics in your core curriculum and lower-division classes, but you’ll need to be ready to apply and learn about mathematical, technical, and scientific concepts in your upper-division classes.

For example…

  • If you major in computer science, your courses are likely to incorporate concepts from engineering and math…
  • If you are interested in environmental science, be ready to apply prior learning from other subjects, such as statistics, biology, chemistry, or engineering…
  • If you major in physics or engineering, you’ll typically need to use a lot of math, including both foundational and more advanced math concepts…

So this focus on STEM subjects, concepts, majors, and careers is a very important feature of a BS degree that makes it different from a BA degree!

A BS degree is usually an appropriate choice if you’re going to major in a STEM subject and if you have — or can quickly acquire — the prerequisite math and science knowledge you’ll need to succeed in the upper-division courses for your chosen major.

Comparing BA and BS Degrees
Skill developmentMore flexible and based on transferable soft skills, such as language, writing, and speculative, creative, and critical thinkingMore technical knowledge and sequential learning for specific academic majors and career goals
Curriculum- Includes both core curriculum, electives, and upper-division courses for a chosen major - Allows for more choice, exploration, and cross-curricular flexibility- Includes both core curriculum, electives, and upper-division courses for a chosen major - More structured and prescribed based on your major and the knowledge requirements for technical careers
MajorsLiberal arts focused — humanities, social sciences, and fine artsSTEM Focused — mathematics, natural and physical sciences, computer science, engineering
Career PathwaysMore flexible based on foundational soft skills and leading to a wide range of liberal arts fields: administration and management, law, publishing and writing, marketing, K-12 education, communications, graphic design, public policy, social work, psychology, postsecondary teaching and research in liberal arts disciplinesEmphasis on prerequisite technical knowledge and training for STEM-oriented careers: civil engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science and software engineering, aviation and aeronautics, mechanical engineering, biotechnology, biology, epidemiology, chemistry, financial management, STEM education, postsecondary teaching and research in STEM fields
Personal Interests and Strengths- Enjoy writing, language, cultural studies, or fine arts - Interested in pursuing a well-rounded education with courses in the humanities, arts, and social sciences - Aptitudes aligned with developing effective critical thinking, verbal reasoning, communication, and collaboration skills- Have a strong interest in pursuing technical expertise, knowledge, and specialization - Have a background in STEM-related coursework and knowledge - Aptitudes for applying advanced math concepts, as needed, and strong analytical thinking skills

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between BA and BS

Hopefully, you’re no longer feeling surprised or confused when it comes to understanding the ways a BA degree differs from a BS degree!

Choosing between a BA degree and a BS degree depends on several factors, but it also requires being clear on your own passions and interests when it comes to the subjects that interest you, what motivates you to learn, your aptitudes, your academic and career aspirations, and the kind of undergraduate college experience you want.

At Crimson we think it’s important to help students see everything that’s at stake when it comes to college decision making, and we’re committed to helping you make the right decisions for your educational future. So let’s break it down right now and look at the factors to keep in mind when deciding between a BA and BS degree!

1. Field of Study: Think about the subject or field you're most passionate about. If you have a strong inclination towards subjects like literature, history, sociology, languages, or other humanities and social science topics, a BA degree might be a better fit. On the other hand, if you're interested in subjects like mathematics, engineering, computer science, biology, chemistry, or physics, a BS degree might be more appropriate.

2. Strengths and Preferences: Consider your strengths and preferences. Do you enjoy creative thinking, critical analysis, and exploring ideas from various perspectives? If so, a BA degree might be the way to go. Or are you more inclined towards analytical thinking, problem-solving, and scientific methods — skills you can put to work to excel in a BS degree program? Assessing your natural abilities and what type of learning environment you thrive in can help guide your decision.

3. Career Goals: Research the career paths you're interested in. Some professions may favor one degree over the other or require some well defined technical skills and knowledge. For example, if you're interested in becoming an engineer or a scientist, a BS degree may be more beneficial. However, if you're considering fields like journalism, communications, or social work, a BA degree might be more relevant.

4. Curriculum and Course Offerings: Look into the specific curriculum and course offerings of the BA and BS programs you're considering. Compare the course requirements and see whether the BA degree or BS degree curriculum is a better fit for your academic and career aspirations. If you have graduate school aspirations, do some research before trying to decide which degree and curriculum will give you the prerequisite knowledge you need to succeed in the graduate schools and postgraduate degree programs that you’ve set your sights on.

5. Flexibility vs. Specialization: Consider the level of flexibility you desire in your studies. A BA degree often offers more flexibility, allowing you to explore different subjects and potentially combine multiple areas of interest. On the other hand, a BS degree tends to provide more specialized and focused training in a specific field, which can be beneficial if it aligns with a well defined job pathway you’re pursuing or offers you a relevant foundation for a more general, future-oriented career path in STEM fields.

What Makes Crimson Different

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered lots of ground when it comes to the key features, differences, and benefits of getting a Bachelor of Arts Degree vs. a Bachelor of Science Degree. You’re now leagues ahead of many of your peers when it comes to knowing which bachelor’s degree is the right choice for you.

What’s important now is matching what you’ve learned about the two kinds of bachelor degrees with what you already know — or what you need to explore further — about your own strengths and interests, and about the careers you want to pursue.

Putting all these pieces together can be a challenge, but it will help you forge a more rewarding educational and career journey! And remember, if you get stuck deciding which degree is right for you, Crimson can connect you with a highly trained Academic Advisor who is ready to help…A Crimson Advisor can give you personalized advice tailored to your unique circumstances and aspirations.

In fact, with an experienced Crimson team member on your side, it’s easy to be confident you’re making the right decisions now and taking all the right steps for getting into a top school. 

Are you ready to learn what steps you can take now to get the most out of your educational journey? It’s easy to book your free consultation with a Crimson Academic Advisor. We’ll help you unlock your academic potential and tell you how you can improve your odds for college success, perhaps helping you get to places you never dreamed possible!