A common question that students often ask me is whether it is better to get a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree if given the choice. I think that like most things I’ve written about, there’s really no one, good answer that fits everyone, and it really depends on what you are trying to get out of your college experience.
Let’s start by looking at the main differences between the two degree types. In general, B.S. degrees are offered only for technical or scientific subjects, including hard sciences, mathematics, and computer science. The B.S. degree often has stricter requirements as students are expected to spend more time mastering the technical and practical facets of the field. This often means less time available for opportunities to explore topics outside of the their major. Conversely, B.A. programs are usually offered in the soft sciences, arts, and languages to name a few. The degree often provides students with a more well-rounded education by requiring fewer credits directly linked to the chosen major and instead giving students more time to explore a variety of liberal arts subjects.
To help you better understand how this works, let’s look at University of California – Berkeley as an example. Students at Berkeley have hundreds of majors from which to choose, ranging from the usual ones like economics and neuroscience to the unusual like Celtic studies and Canadian studies. As one might expect, students majoring in rhetoric, Buddhist studies, or French will receive a B.A., while students majoring in chemical engineering will receive a B.S. degree. However, when we look at some degrees, like chemistry, students have the option of graduating with either a B.A. or B.S. degree in in the major. The core requirements for both degrees are the same. The main difference between the two is that B.S. graduates will have taken more chemistry electives than their B.A. counterparts. For those students really looking to get into medical school, a B.S. degree might be the better option since it will demonstrate more interest in the subject. On the other hand, if you, like one of my Berkeley-alumnus friends, only decided to major in chemistry because you heard that Berkeley has a world-renowned chemistry program, but know that you do not intend to do anything related to chemistry after graduation, then choosing the B.A. degree and double majoring in another subject might be the better option.
Now that we have a general understanding of the topic, let’s complicate it a bit. Princeton University, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, only offers B.S. degrees in engineering. All other majors, or concentrations as Princeton prefers to call them, even in subjects like mathematics, physics, or chemistry, only offer a B.A. degree. Meanwhile, Georgetown University, which is consistently ranked as having the best international relations program in the country, offers students the opportunity to major in international politics and to graduate with a B.S. degree in the field. As a result, my friend from Princeton recently graduated from with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics while I will be graduating from Georgetown with a Bachelor of Science in the Science of Foreign Service (BSFS). Those graduating from Berkeley with a physics major will find themselves in a similar situation as my Princeton friend, as they too can only receive a Bachelor of Arts in Physics.
As you can probably tell, no two situations are the same and neither degree is “better” than the other. You really should not get too hung up on the difference between the word “art” and “science”. If you’re having trouble choosing which degree is best for you, I strongly suggest consulting your academic dean or a trusted faculty member; these people are here to help you succeed, so make the most of the resources you have available.