As a first-generation college student, you might be asking yourself what the difference is between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. I remember being confused about the intricacies of what each degree meant, in terms of the path it would take me on. I thought a BA included completing the second-language requirement and a BS was based in the sciences. It turned out I had the right hunch, but there’s much more than that.

BAs and BSs are just two types of degrees you can earn while pursuing a four-year undergraduate degree. There is also the Bachelor of Music, the Bachelor of Individualized Studies, the Bachelor of Fine Arts, and even the Bachelor of Applied Science. I won’t get into details with all of the choices, but you should know they exist.

The BA degree is generally regarded as having a well-rounded foundation in the liberal arts. This includes courses in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics, history, and communication, among others. It is a degree that offers you the opportunity to gather a wide breadth of knowledge in many different areas. While it is generally less specific than the Bachelor of Science, it is just as valuable to employers according to this Forbes article. In general, you would be required to complete a given number of credits outside of your major area of study. Check with your chosen college to learn the specific requirements for your major.

Teacher helping high school student in classroom

Also, it’s important to note that, at the University of Minnesota, learning a second language is a requirement of the Bachelor of Arts degree, so start early to avoid prolonging your expected graduation date. Some colleges within the same university may have different second-language requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree. For instance, at the University of Minnesota, the College of Liberal Arts requires “four semesters of a college-level language course of at least four (4) semester credits with a grade of C- or better or S” or you must “pass the Language Proficiency Exam (LPE), which tests listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills at the fourth-semester level.” On the other hand, the College of Continuing and Professional Studies requires “four semesters of a single second language OR two semesters of a single second language and at least eight credits of coursework focused on the cultural, historical, or political aspects of any country/region associated with that language.”

The BS degree is typically thought of as based in the sciences (as the name implies). What you may not realize is a BS can also have a “pronounced applied/professional component” or classes that are “quantitative/investigative” in nature. For instance, my major areas of study were in psychology and applied business through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. Even though you wouldn’t typically think of applied business classes as being based in the sciences, the classes taught me how to apply knowledge to a certain field, which in this case was business. 

As you explore the various degrees offered at different colleges you are considering, I encourage you to talk with your high school counselor, as well as your potential college’s admissions office, in order to find out what is required for each path. The important takeaway here is to do your research on the program that most suits your future career interests and abilities, while paying attention to what the degree requirements are at your chosen institution.