You may have heard that a Bachelor of Science, or B.S. degree, is more difficult to earn than the Bachelor of Arts, or B.A. Depending on your major and what school you attend, the B.S. degree may be more or less challenging to complete than the B.A. Both degrees take about four years to complete and require anywhere from 120 to 180 course credit hours.
The B.S. degree requires a larger percentage of courses to be taken within the major, as much as 75 percent of all course credit hours. If your major is in one of the STEM fields, particularly engineering or biochemistry, this means earning the B.S. is more difficult for you than earning the B.A. because college math and science courses are known for their rigor. Likewise, if you are in the social sciences, arts, or humanities, but your major’s department is known for being academically demanding, a B.S. will be more demanding than a B.A. In some cases, this pressure from within the major leads students to take more than four years to complete the degree.
The B.S. degree typically requires that a greater number of courses taken within the major are at the 300 to 400 advanced level. Taking more advanced courses means you will have more sophisticated professional knowledge when you finish your degree, but it also means that you will cope with the heavier workload advanced courses typically require. The difficulty of the B.S. depends on your particular academic situation. If you are taking advanced courses in engineering, mathematics or science, you will definitely be under more stress than students who are taking advanced courses in a business or liberal arts department that has a poor reputation.
General Education Requirements
The B.A. degree requires more general education than the B.S. degree. If your college or university has a very strong academic reputation and strong general education requirements, the B.A. could mean more work for you than the B.S. This is especially so if you are very good in your major subject but weak in other subjects.
Reputation of Degree
For people entering social work, education, law, psychology and other fields focused on human interaction, the broad education of the B.A. is looked upon more favorably than the B.S. This is also the case for pre-med students, who will have plenty of time in their long education to focus strictly on science. However, for students entering STEM fields immediately after graduation, the B.S. is a better option. This is particularly the case for engineers. Some top engineering programs, such as the program at the University of Illinois, do not offer a B.A. At Harvard University, both a B.A. and a B.S. in engineering are offered, but only the B.S. program is recognized by the Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).
- CalPoly: BA/BS, Difference Between Degrees
- UT Dallas: Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts in Physics
- The New York Times: Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)
- The New York Times: The Default Major- Skating Through B-School
- Boston College: Bachelor of Arts? Or Science? It's All a Matter of Degrees
- Engineering at Illinois: Departments
- Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: Undergraduate Program in Engineering Sciences
- Porspective Doctor: 10 Things Every Pre-Med Should Absolutely Know
Laura Holland Fletcher has graduate level training in ESL, linguistics and the teaching of writing. She taught ESL and college writing for more than 10 years in both the US and Asia. She also writes for local and national magazines that cover legal, educational and social justice issues.