The basic difference between the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and the Bachelor of Science (BS or, sometimes, BSc) is that the first is a degree in the humanities or social sciences, and the second is a degree in the natural sciences. The BA also tends to be more lecture-oriented and to have less direct or obvious career paths than the BS, although neither is necessarily a professional degree.
Both BAs and BSs are what are called bachelor’s degrees or simply college degrees. These are the lowest level of the academic pyramid, below master’s degrees (MA or MS) and doctoral degrees (PhD). Depending on the country, these usually require either three or four years of full-time study specializing in a particular discipline known as a “major.” Some schools also require students to obtain one or more “minors,” or areas of study in which they take a smaller number of required courses. The type of bachelor’s program awarded depends upon the area of study of the major.
The Bachelor of Arts is traditionally awarded to undergraduate students in the fields referred to as the “liberal arts.” The first group of majors which usually lead to a BA degree are the humanities, which include English literature, communications, history, and philosophy. Traditionally, theology was considered the leading subject in the humanities.
The second subset of Arts degrees are the fields currently known as the social sciences – a name which refers to attempts to apply the scientific method to the study of human societies. These include economics, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, political science and gender studies.
In addition to the above degrees, which are almost always recognized as Bachelor of Arts programs, some major fields are identified differently by different schools. For instance, students might earn a BA in geography, mathematics or psychology at one school for the sort of studies which would lead to a BS at another school. Within the limitations of the accreditation bodies to which they are accountable, universities can generally decide for themselves how to recognize academic achievement in different programs.
Arts degree graduates, unlike those in the sciences, typically have less direct career paths leading from their degrees. This is not necessarily to suggest – as one cynical adage has it – that “BA” is short for “barista.” However, many successful BA holders do go on to get an additional degree or certification before entering the work force. Those who do not simply pursue a master’s degree in the same field, for example, may study law (to become a lawyer) or education (to become a teacher).
The list of programs leading to the Bachelor of Science includes majors in the physical and life sciences. Students receive BS degrees after studying subjects like biology, biochemistry, chemistry, geology (or “earth sciences”), physics, astronomy, meteorology (atmospheric science), botany, environmental science, and zoology. Computer science students are also normally awarded the BSc degree.
While both arts and science students typically absorb most of their learning in the form of lectures delivered to large classes by university professors, science classes – especially in the core subjects of biology, chemistry, and physics – usually supplement lecture instruction with a substantial amount of lab work or field work. Full-time students in these fields can expect to spend several hours per week in the lab in addition to time spent in the classroom.
Science students also typically enjoy more direct routes to full-time career work after their degrees are completed. Those who do not choose to pursue graduate studies and become research scientists in their own right can still often find a variety of work in private or public research labs, the bioscience and pharmaceutical industries, or – for computer science graduates – with software programming companies.
In addition to BA and BS degrees, many universities now grant degrees in a range of other professional programs with alternative designations, like a bachelor of social work (BSW), bachelor of commerce (B.Comm.), or bachelor of education (B.Ed.).