Most bachelor’s degree programs lead to one of four designations: bachelor of science (BS), bachelor of arts (BA), bachelor of fine arts (BFA), or bachelor of applied science (BAS). These distinctions describe the prevailing orientation of the program’s primary subject matter.
Programs focused on mathematics, science, and technical topics lead to BS or BAS degrees, while those that concentrate on humanities or arts subjects culminate in BA or BFA credentials. Other, more specific, differentiating factors also apply, which are covered in detail in the sections below.
Labor market statistics demonstrate the value of earning a bachelor’s degree. Data published in May 2020 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that workforce participants with a bachelor’s earn an average of 40.6% more than those with an associate degree and 49.8% more than those with some college education but no degree.
Check out our “Frequently Asked Questions” section below:
- What is a Bachelor of Science degree, or BS?
- What is a Bachelor of Arts degree, or BA?
- What is a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, or BFA?
- What is a Bachelor of Applied Science degree, or BAS?
- Which bachelor’s degree is best for me if I don’t have a major in mind?
- What if a college offers both a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree in the same subject?
What is a Bachelor of Science degree, or BS?
Majors leading to bachelor of science degrees generally feature curricula oriented toward science, mathematics, and technical topics. They can also indicate a strong focus on the quantitative side of subjects that deal with both scientific or mathematical and humanities-focused content.
For instance, some schools offer majors such as economics and business administration as both BS and BA programs. Using economics as an example, BS programs place stronger emphasis on technical, mathematical, and numerical analysis. By contrast, BA programs delve deeper into economic theory and its general applications.
Like most bachelor’s degrees, BS programs generally consist of 120 credits (40 courses) and take about four years to complete. Many still cover other liberal arts and humanities subjects, but with a secondary or supplementary focus.
Examples of majors that usually lead to BS degrees primarily include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Associated career paths include industries like computer science and technology, engineering, medicine, and healthcare, along with research or field roles related to scientifically focused academic disciplines.
What is a Bachelor of Arts degree, or BA?
Programs that culminate in bachelor of arts designations feature curricula heavily oriented toward the humanities and nontechnical liberal arts subjects. Social science, literature, and language majors offer common examples. As is standard for bachelor’s degrees, BAs usually take the equivalent of four academic years to complete, assuming a full-time pace.
Some subjects, such as political science and psychology, can lead to either a BS or a BA. In these cases, BA programs usually focus more on the subject’s qualitative aspects. For example, BA programs in psychology usually delve deeper into the subject’s theoretical principles and developmental history, while BS programs focus more on research and clinical proficiencies.
Bachelor of arts degrees open doors to career paths in communication, media, education, journalism, international relations, and a wide variety of cultural fields. Most still require learners to complete some STEM-focused coursework, but these components usually make up a relatively small amount of the total credit requirements.
What is a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, or BFA?
Bachelor of fine arts programs cover majors in the performing arts, dramatic arts, and visual arts. Core BFA courses typically place a strong emphasis on applied training and development, prompting students to complete creative work and receive feedback from instructors and peers. Examples of such majors include photography, filmmaking, acting, creative writing, studio arts, and music.
Some subjects that lead to BFA degrees are also offered as BA programs. The differentiating factor is that BFA programs prompt learners to develop applied technical and creative skills. For example, students in BFA film studies programs actually make movies and receive critiques, while those in BA programs learn about film history and film theory.
BFA programs, like other bachelor’s degrees, usually demand four academic years to complete. Notably, BFA students may incur additional costs, given that they often need to pay for the necessary equipment and supplies themselves.
What is a Bachelor of Applied Science degree, or BAS?
Like their BS counterparts, bachelor of applied science degrees also take four academic years to complete and focus on technical or STEM subjects. The key difference is that BAS degrees develop specific career-focused skills.
As such, BAS-holders may have a more difficult time qualifying for general master of science programs in the same subject area, since their undergraduate training took a more niche and targeted focus. Some study areas offer master of applied science (MAS) degrees, but BAS degrees can also be terminal, meaning the field does not directly offer any postgraduate academic credential.
Some subjects support both BS and BAS credentials. For example, some business programs lead to a BS, while others confer a BAS. In the latter case, the learner engages with subject matter in a targeted, hands-on way, building specific, applied proficiencies in particular aspects of business administration, such as organizational management or logistics.
BAS degrees apply to many fields of study, including agriculture, engineering, information technology, business, the life sciences, and the physical sciences. They usually lead to very specific careers paths, such as project management, supply chain management, or data science.
Frequently Asked Questions
What other bachelor’s degree types are available?
While the four types of bachelor’s degrees covered above comprise the majority of baccalaureate programs, schools also offer other specific designations. Examples include credentials like bachelor of engineering (BE), bachelor of business administration (BBA), and bachelor of criminal justice (BCJ). Some institutions also feature programs leading to bachelor of applied arts (BAA) degrees, which are much like BAS programs, only oriented towards the arts and humanities.
In general, subject-specific designations reflect an atypically intensive focus on the associated academic field. The proportion of total credits dedicated to the major may be higher, and learners may have less latitude in their choice of electives or supplementary subjects.
Which bachelor’s degree is best for me if I don’t have a major in mind?
A Bachelor of Arts may provide the most flexibility for those who have not chosen a major. Learners who prefer a broader education experience can also major in General Studies or explore custom degree paths by working with their school.
What if a college offers both a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree in the same subject?
The difference between a BA and BS program is subtle, but generally a BA program focuses more on tactical and general application of the subject while a BS program focuses more on the research and technical aspects of a subject. For example, the curriculum for a BA in psychology may have more classes on specific psychology fields and psychology theory, preparing a graduate to work as a psychologist. A BS in psychology may have more classes on mathematics and statistics, preparing a graduate to work in psychological research.