The Difference Between a BA and a BS Explained

graduation cap on top of books and a diploma

If you are a prospective college student trying to choose your degree, you may have wondered what defines a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree compared to a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. You may have questions such as, How much do they have in common? And, What makes them unique?

Here, we’ll explore the difference between a BA and a BS and how to choose which one is right for you.

In This Blog:

What Is a BA?

Once students graduate from high school, they are eligible to pursue a baccalaureate degree. Bachelor's-level degrees require a minimum of 120 credits (sometimes more, depending on the discipline or subject areas). Schools offer a variety of degree types within the undergraduate level.

The number of elective credits needed in each vary based on the size of the program major. 

  • Programs with smaller program majors will have room for more electives, or even the addition of a minor you might be interested in. 
  • Programs with larger program majors are more specialized like BA in Music or a BS in Electrical Engineering.

In a BA, instead of taking only courses that apply to a specific area of study, students will take a wide array of courses in liberal arts subjects. This allows the opportunity to earn a well-rounded education, giving them the flexibility to cater their education to the subjects they are passionate about.1

BA degrees do not require students to take as many science and math-related coursework in the general education courses, but require more writing and communication courses, as well as more courses like literature, social science courses or religion.

For example, students can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communications in order to potentially work in a wide variety of areas. Depending on their interests, students who study communications can use their degree to become a writer or work in public relations or human resources.

Other focus areas, such as English, music or digital design, can also be explored in a Bachelor of Arts program. These degrees can provide students with opportunities to incorporate what they are passionate about into their career.

GCU offers mostly Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. While both degrees require a minimum of 120 credits (with some requiring more like engineering and nursing), the requirements within the degrees are different. To learn more about the different degrees that GCU has to offer, fill out the form on this page to get in contact with a university counselor.

BA Degree Options

The humanities and other liberal arts subjects offer considerable choice to future college students. No matter what your passion is or what your career goals are, it’s likely that you’ll find an appealing option. Some of the BA degree options include the following:

Now that you have a better understanding of BA degrees, you’re likely still wondering, What is a BS, exactly? Let’s take a look.

What Is a BS?

Like a BA, a BS degree is also a baccalaureate degree. In other words, they are at the same level of formal education.

However, the BS differs in its subject matter when it comes to gen-ed courses. BS degrees require more math, science or computer language classes and fewer communication or social science type courses. A good number of the BS degrees at GCU require more rigorous math, but all degrees, whether they are BA or BS programs, do require at least one semester of math and one semester of English composition.

It is also good to think about whether you are interested in pursuing a specific master's-level degree because specific majors may be necessary or helpful toward that goal. For example, if you want to go to medical school, a BS in Biology: Pre-Med may be a good fit. Thinking about law school? A BA in Government or BS in Justice Studies might be good options.

For example, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is designed to prepare students to become registered nurses (RN) and provide quality care for their patients.

Computer science, engineering and biology are some of the many other focus areas that can be explored in a BS program. Typically, these degrees are more direct in the career path they lead to, although they do also teach transferable skills.

BS Degree Options

Like BA degrees, BS degrees offer a vast range of options. You’ll generally find these types of degrees in STEM fields, such as physical and biological sciences, but you’ll also find BS degrees in business. Some examples of BS degree options include:

Is a BA or BS the Right Degree Option?

Now that you know the answer to the question, What is the difference between a BA and a BS? you may be wondering how to determine which one is right for you. While the choice may be difficult, there really is no wrong selection. Both programs are equal in value but are different in where they can take you.

In choosing between a BA and BS degree, it is important to understand yourself and your career goals. This will determine which type of program will allow you to reach your full potential and thrive in your career. 

Do you enjoy being creative and trying different things? A BA program may be right for you, although bear in mind that creativity can also lend itself well to BS degree programs and related career outcomes. Do you consider yourself to be an analytical thinker and enjoy paying attention to detail? A BS program may be the right choice.

In the end, there are many benefits to earning your bachelor’s degree, whether it be a BA or BS. A baccalaureate degree can potentially provide opportunities to build a strong foundation for a future career and can provide a steppingstone to furthering your education by earning a master’s or doctorate-level degree.

Ultimately, in understanding the difference between these two degrees, you can gain a better understanding of the direction you want to go with your education.

After Your Bachelor’s Degree

After you discover the answer to the question, What is a BA and a BS? you may find yourself using your degree in a number of different ways.

You might already know that you want to jump right into the workforce after graduating with your bachelor’s. At some point, however, you may want to go back to school to earn a graduate degree. Or, you may immediately go on to grad school or a professional school (i.e., law school or medical school) after graduating.

You should know that it’s entirely possible to earn a graduate degree in a major other than your bachelor’s degree. For example, you could earn an MA in English after having earned a BA in History. It’s sometimes possible to switch from a focus in the humanities to a STEM field in graduate school or vice versa, but you may need to take a bridge program to fill in knowledge gaps.

If you plan on going to a professional school, such as law or medical school, there are no universal requirements regarding which type of baccalaureate degree you should earn. However, you’ll need to meet the prerequisite course requirements for whichever professional school you plan on attending. Do your due diligence and research these requirements ahead of time before declaring a major.

Grand Canyon University offers a wide variety of bachelor’s degree programs for students across disciplines in the humanities, biological sciences, physical sciences, technology and beyond. Explore our BA and BS degree options at GCU today and find the program that fits you best. Fill out the form on this page to take the next step.

1 (2022, Nov. 14). What is the difference between a BA and a BS? Retrieved March 13, 2024. 

Approved by the assistant vice president of the Office of Academic Records on April 22, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.