Students entering a four-year college expect to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, but they might not know which type bachelor’s degree to select. Colleges typically offer both bachelor of arts and bachelor of sciences degrees for many of their majors, and you should expect different experiences based on which you choose to pursue. With the right research and an understanding of each degree, you can combine your interest in a major with the selection of courses that best fits your needs.
Both a B.A. and B.S. degree require the completion of a four- or five-year undergraduate curriculum, depending on the college and major. Both are considered equivalent bachelor’s degrees for academic purposes, and both require a number of courses in your chosen field to qualify you for the degree. Whether you choose a B.A. or B.S., your primary focus will be courses in your major. Though the B.A. is often thought of as a liberal arts degree, some universities offer B.S. programs in liberal arts, B.A. programs in technical or scientific fields, and other such variations, so your chosen path may not necessarily determine which degree you should pursue.
The B.S. degree generally involves a focused curriculum based on preparing the student for the technical and practical career aspects of their chosen field. The B.A. degree, on the other hand, provides flexibility by allowing for electives and courses outside of the major. The B.A. also often requires core courses, such as foreign language or English classes, to ensure an expansive education regardless of your focus. If you want a more wide-ranging college experience, consider the B.A.; if you are looking for concentrated training in a technical career path, the B.S. can be more attractive.
B.A. and B.S. degrees will assist students along whatever career path they choose, but the skills attained can differ slightly. A student with a B.A. gains communications and language skills, which can translate to careers such as education, editing or administration. A B.S. degree holder will have receives specialized vocational training that can lead directly to work in engineering or other math and science-based professions. With either degree, you can choose to pursue higher education in a master’s or doctoral program.
The specific requirements and opportunities for B.S. and B.A. programs vary widely among colleges and departments. Penn State University, for example, lists general prerequisites for all B.A. majors in its undergraduate advising handbook but notes that each B.S. degree features specialized requirements. Before choosing which degree to seek, check the college websites to find any unique differences among specific degrees.
Chuck Lander holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from American University. In addition to working at university writing centers and teaching writing skills in high school classrooms, he has written for blogs and publications such as the American University Writing Center and "Practicing Planner" since 2008.