What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BSc)?

By Logan Bright Modified on June 14, 2024
Tags : Academics

Some degrees, like Psychology or Economics, let you choose between a BA or a BSc. Here's why you might choose one over the other.

What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in the Same Program Area?

If you're planning to pursue a bachelor's degree in the next year or so, you probably have a lot on your mind. A bachelor's degree is a popular option for high school grads, offering exposure to new ideas, and acting as the bedrock for any future education you might explore — like a master's degree or beyond.

A few bachelor programs offer you a choice which requires a little research. Some universities allow you to choose between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree for certain programs. For example, you might want to pursue Pyschology — assuming you have the option, should you take a BA in Psychology or a BSc? What's the difference between a BA and BSc, anyway?

What is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree?

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) is the most common type of undergraduate university degree. A BA typically focuses on "softer" skills, like communication, critical thinking, and value judgments. You might consider a BA's focus "qualitative" rather than "quantitative." (Basically, this means there's more of a focus on subjective experience and interpretation.)

In classes, you'll explore the ways your field affects the lived experiences of people — how human beings feel is never far from consideration in a BA. You can expect to read written accounts, make inferences from data, and discuss your ideas with classmates. Often, BA programs involve a lot of writing.

Critically, a BA isn't always a degree in art! You can take a BA without ever picking up a paintbrush or donning dancing shoes. The "art" in "Bachelor of Arts" is an old-school use of the term, referring more to the humanities and "liberal arts" than what we think of as visual or performing arts.

BA degrees are popular at most universities. Some schools have a strong reputation for the humanities or liberal arts, where you'll likely find many BA options. Some programs will only be offered on the BA side. This list includes areas like history, media culture, and literature.

What is a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree?

A Bachelor of Science (BSc) is less common overall at most universities, though it's still a popular category. A BSc concentrates on "hard" skills, like research and analysis, technical competence, and logic. A BSc is often more interested in "quantitative" data over "qualitative." (In general, you'll be working with numbers, data, and statistics; more "objective" measures that aren't related to peoples' feelings.)

In classes, you'll gather and analyze information to help you understand your subject on a detailed, technical level. While lived experiences might be part of this data, that's not usually the focus. You'll spend time taking measurements, gathering data, and using math and science techniques to draw conclusions. BSc programs typically involve plenty of lab reports and technical documents.

Pursuing a BSc doesn't necessarily make you a scentist, but it can help you develop the technical skills and data-gathering chops to get you there. You may not always be mixing colourful chemicals in beakers, but you'll adopt a scientist's mindset to interrogate your assumptions.

BSc degrees are more common at universities with a strong background in research, though most schools will offer at least a few science degrees. Some programs will only be offered on the BSc side, including things like physics, environmental engineering, or biology.

What programs usually have a BA or BSc option?

Though the specifics of each program vary by university, here's a quick list of some of the most common programs to offer a BA or BSc "stream":

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Psychology

Again, not all schools will offer both "streams" for every program, so you'll need to do careful research to find the right option(s) for you.

How long does a BA or BSc take to complete?

There's usually no major variation in timeline to complete a BA or BSc. Both will take most students about four years for an honours degree, and while a BSc might have more technical requirements, you should still be on pace to finish in four years.

So, for most students, there's no difference in the time it takes to complete a BA vs. a BSc. (If you fall behind, lab reports might be harder to catch up on than book reports, so keep that in mind.)

How do I switch from one stream to another?

Because each university program is made up of individual courses, you may be able to switch "streams" midway through, from a BA to BSc, or BSc to BA. Many of the courses that comprise the programs will be shared between the streams, so you won't necessarily lose out on progress by switching your focus. Bear in mind, in some cases, a BA student might take an "easier" version of a technical course, like statistics, than a BSc student would. This will vary quite a bit by school and program. When in doubt, ask!

To switch streams, you'll need to get in touch with the department that runs your program. There are no hard-and-fast rules about changing streams, so speak with an academic counsellor to get some expert perspective, lay out your goals, and see what might be the best fit for you. You'll never be trapped doing something you don't want to do.

How do I decide on a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree?

First off, you need to be sure that the program you're interested in offers you the option. Only some programs will have both BA and BSc options, and different schools will have different choices. Here are a few ways to help you decide whether a BA or BSc is right for you:

1. Your interests

Spend some time thinking about what you like. No, really. If you don't have a driving passion that animates you, you'll have a harder time getting through lectures and exams than someone who does. Sure, parents typically love doctors, lawyers, and business executives, but if you care more about medieval poetry or rural demography, you might struggle in your classes.

Having a personal interest in the material is the surest way to remain engaged and active in your classes — which will go a long way to helping you succeed and graduate on time. You don't have to have your whole life planned out, but take a few moments to reflect on your natural aptitudes. Are you drawn to interpretive, subjective thinking, or do you prefer more logical, objective perspectives? At heart, are you more of an artist or a scientist?

2. Your career goals

What you want to be "when you grow up" is an important part of choosing any university program. Ideally, your career path will relate to your interests in some way.

If you have ambitions to be a research scientist, tinkering with test tubes, making discoveries, you might be a natural fit for a BSc. On the other hand, if you're more interested in facilitating connections between people, discussing and debating the merits of ideas, you might have a better time in a BA.

When it comes to employment, though, most hiring reps won't mind whether you have a BA or a BSc, so long as you're otherwise qualified. You can volunteer in labs and help out with research no matter what track you're on.

3. The options available at the schools you like

If you already have a few schools picked out, your choice might be easier. Each university will have its own array of programs. More research-intensive schools will often have more BSc options, while arts-focused institutions will have plenty of BAs to choose from.

Bear in mind that BSc degrees may have particular requirements that BAs don't: namely, lab work. Some programs will require a good amount of in-person time that can't be easily replicated at home. If you're mixing beakers of colourful liquids, that will be a lot harder to do from home over Zoom. BAs, on the other hand, are generally pretty easy to complete fully online, taking advantage of discussion groups and video chat. So, if you want to study online, certain programs will be more challenging than others.

Choosing between a BA and a BSc in your program isn't the most impactful decision you'll make during your studies, but it's something to consider closely. In a nutshell: a BA will typically focus on communication and critical thinking, while a BSc usually concentrates on math and stats.

Let your inclinations and objectives guide you to the right choice, but don't feel constrained by it. Employers will expect you to have the skills for the job — which you can develop in class, volunteer roles, part-time work, or self-directed study. Your choice of a BA or BSc in first year won't lock you into any particular path.

So, go for the option that makes most sense to you now, and be sure to communicate openly and often with your instructors and academic support staff, especially if you feel like you're not pursuing material the way you want to. Both a BA and a BSc will get you a great education, so trust your instincts, choose a program that excites you, and have fun.

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