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The Difference Between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science

While a BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree usually focuses on general studies, along with subjects like the arts, communication and sociology, a BS (Bachelor of Science) degree delves into topics such as business, technology and healthcare.
A college student and her advisor exploring BA vs BS degree programs on a desktop computer.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Earning an undergraduate degree is an important decision to make, one that can change the path of your career — even your life. So, as you research programs you may want to pursue, it’s good to understand some of the basics, like why or how a Bachelor of Arts (BA) differs from a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree.

The difference between BA and BS degrees ultimately comes down to the program of study. Typically, each undergraduate program falls under one of these two categories.

If you’re passionate about more abstract or theoretical topics that require critical thinking, like English literature or political science, you'd likely enroll in a Bachelor of Arts program.

If you prefer a narrower focus in your study, as well as gaining technical or scientific knowledge to succeed in fields like data analytics or health information management, then you'll probably earn your Bachelor of Science.

What is a BA Degree?

A Bachelor of Arts degree — also known as a BA degree — encompasses a wide variety of topics with an emphasis on general education. This is ideal for students who don’t want to confine themselves to one topic of study and would prefer to have a more well-rounded education.

While many students who start a Bachelor of Arts degree may choose the program based on their career aspirations, a BA also gives you more wiggle room if you don’t have something specific in mind. For example, a history major can find roles in journalism or politics. A creative writing student can see success in marketing. And a psychology graduate may want to dive into research positions.

Lawrence Mazza with the text Lawrence MazzaSome BA students may go on to teach after graduation, although requirements to become a teacher may vary by state. After earning a BA in Creative Writing and English at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), Lawrence Michael Mazza II '22 put his degree to use as a teacher.

"I started teaching middle-school English ... all thanks to my degree from SNHU," he said. "I started applying for jobs in both teaching and editing, and I heard back within a week of starting that."

In recent years, the knowledge gained from BA degrees has been a hot commodity: "Technical proficiency may get workers in the door, but soft skills foster the flexibility and agility to keep them in the building as technology and work evolve. Workers well-equipped with soft skills have greater career durability and longevity," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP in an article for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

An infographic piece with the text The World Economic Forum reports that some of the most desired skills include: attention to detail, leadership, self-awarenessAlthough different industries look for different skills, The World Economic Forum (WEF) says that attention to detail, self-awareness and leadership are some of the most desired soft skills — and they're all naturally strengthened throughout the BA curriculum (WEF PDF Source).

Coursework throughout a BA program is typically broad and often provides you with more general electives that allow you to explore additional subject areas and disciplines.

Most Popular BA Degrees

Some popular programs of study that usually fall under a Bachelor of Arts designation include:

While there are certainly outliers, many degrees that focus on the liberal arts, humanities or social sciences may be considered Bachelor of Arts.

Get Technical with a BS Degree

If BAs focus on soft skills, then Bachelor of Science — or BS — degrees dig deep into the hard skills. LinkedIn reports that some of the most in-demand hard skills in 2023 were:

An infographic piece with the text LinkedIn reports top hard skills in 2023 include: cloud computing, data analysis, operations, software developmentStudents in relevant degree programs are trained in these skills that are highly sought-after by employers.

The curriculum for a Bachelor of Science degree may be more rigid: Because employers have an expectation of what you’ll know as you enter a job, your program could require more specific courses — meaning less space for free electives. You could still have the opportunity to complement your degree with poetry or anthropology courses; you’ll just need to be more strategic about your course choices each term.

Most Popular BS Degrees

Students enrolled in BS programs often have a particular career path in mind, as their degrees set them up to have specific skill sets.

Some popular Bachelor of Science degrees include:

If you're interested in pursuing a career in business, technology and healthcare, there's a good chance the degree you earn will be considered a Bachelor of Science.

Is a BA or BS Better?

There’s no right or wrong bachelor’s degree. What’s most important is deciding on a major that aligns with you personally and professionally – something you’ll enjoy studying and that can also bring you fulfillment in your career.

Whichever path you choose will be the right one for you. Because with either a BA or a BS, you’ll earn a credential that has the potential to change your world.

Beyond equipping you with new knowledge, skills and confidence, a BA or a BS degree has the potential to help you increase your earning potential. In 2022, the median weekly earnings were $1,432 with a bachelor's degree and $935 without a degree, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.*

Bachelor's degree holders also faced a lower unemployment rate that year, BLS said. Those with a bachelor's degree saw 2.2% unemployment rates, according to BLS, while those without a degree were 3.5%.*

Beyond the Bachelor's

Finishing your bachelor's degree may help you unlock new career opportunities or give you the credential needed to advance in your current role and toward your personal and professional goals.

Some schools, such as SNHU, can offer you professional support. Whether you're working on your resume or preparing for a job interview, you can take advantage of expert career advisors and an expansive alumni network as a student and well-beyond graduation.

If you decide to take your education a step further, you might consider the benefits of advancing with a master's degree.

The median weekly earnings were $1,661 in 2022 for people with a master's degree, BLS reported, which is almost 16% more than the median bachelor's degree earnings.*

The potential financial benefits and increased job security are just two perks of advancing from a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science to a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS). The additional credential can also help you focus on a subject that interests you and show employers you put in the time and effort to gain expertise.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU bachelor's degree that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Deidre Ashe '18G is a copywriter in higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.