As with most economics questions, the answer is, “It depends.” The two kinds of bachelor’s degrees offered in economics represent different aspects of the discipline. A Bachelor of Arts in economics focuses more on the human factors involved in economics, while a Bachelor of Science emphasizes its quantitative methods. If given the option to decide between enrolling in the two programs of study, students should consider what they want to do with their degree.
Generally speaking, B.A. degree programs in economics give students a liberal arts education along with specialized knowledge of economic history, theory and statistical methods. These programs do not usually require students to take a calculus course, although many encourage it, and they tend to emphasize economics as a social science. The B.A. program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, for instance, requires 11 economics courses; five are required core classes, but students can choose the other six depending on their academic interests. These electives have such diverse titles as the Political Economy of Black America, Economic Approaches to Environmental Problems and Sex-Segregated Labor Markets.
B.S. programs in economics include the same core courses as any B.A. in economics: macro- and microeconomics, economic theory and statistics. To this curriculum they add additional quantitative methods. A B.S. degree requires multiple courses in calculus and econometrics. Students tend to have fewer opportunities to take courses dealing with the social aspects of business, such as management, but gain solid footing in its mathematical aspects, such as accounting and finance.
Schools Offering Both Degrees
A few schools offer both a B.A. and B.S. in economics, distinguishing the two degrees with different curriculums and emphases. At the University of Delaware’s business school, for example, students can earn either degree; the B.A. requires students to take 12 credit hours of foreign language courses, while the B.S. requires a microeconomics course that uses calculus. Upper-division electives that students in the two programs choose differ too, since some of them require advanced knowledge of calculus, which not all B.A. students have.
Making the Choice
Career aspirations can help students decide whether to enroll in a B.A. or B.S. degree program. Students who wish to pursue an MBA or law degree might benefit from the B.A. degree’s tendency to include more “soft skills” courses in business, management and social science than the B.S does, as might those who wish to work in social research or management. Those entering a field that requires rigorous quantitative analysis, such as banking or insurance, and those who are interested in pursuing graduate study in economics might be best prepared with a B.S.