Bachelor of Arts (BA) Vs. Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology [2024 Updated]

Last Updated: June 10, 2024

If you want to pursue a career in psychology, getting a bachelor’s degree is the most common starting point. But, as you have undoubtedly discovered, there are different types of psychology undergraduate degrees, specifically a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS).

So, the question is, which type of bachelor’s degree should you get?

Though these degrees have some similarities, some very important differences can influence your decision about which degree to pursue. In this guide, we will explore some of the most important differences between a BA and BS in psychology so you can make an informed decision about your educational future.

BA vs. BS in Psychology

BA Vs. BS in Psychology

The critical difference between a BA and BS in psychology is the overall focus of the program. A BA usually focuses more on liberal arts courses, while a BS tends to explore more math and science-related courses.

There are differences in the potential careers you might pursue after graduating with one of these degrees, too. On the one hand, a BA in psychology prepares you for positions in which you apply your understanding of human behavior to help people with specific problems, like an addiction. On the other hand, a BS in this field readies you for skills related more to research, like serving as a psychology research assistant.

Let’s explore these primary differences in more detail.

Differences in Coursework/Subjects

There are two primary areas in which the coursework for a BA and a BS in psychology differ: the general education requirements and the psychology course requirements.

Since a BA in psychology is concerned more with liberal arts, the general education subjects you study will be in that field. So, for example, you might be required to take courses in the social sciences, like sociology, anthropology, and economics. But why?

Each of these subjects is a different type of study of human behavior. Sociology, for example, is the study of how groups of people behave and interact (as opposed to the focus of psychology on individual behavior). Anthropology is a good area of study for a BA psychology program because it’s a comprehensive study of humanity – language, culture, religion, and so forth – all of which highly influence how individuals behave.

Regarding the psychology subject matter you might study in a BA program, courses like social psychology, developmental psychology, and multicultural psychology are popular. Again, these courses tend to examine how the human experience influences behavior.

For example, in developmental psychology courses, you will study the role of nature vs. nurture in human development. In multicultural psychology, you will learn how one’s cultural identification shapes everything from one’s worldview to one’s attitudes and belief systems.

Contrast that with a typical BS in psychology, which usually requires fewer liberal arts-related courses in favor of classes like physical and biological science, statistics, and psychological research.

For example, the general education requirements for a psychology BS might include more lab science components like biology and chemistry. Having a thorough understanding of these processes is critical for many types of psychological inquiry, not the least of which is psychopharmacological research.

Likewise, the general education coursework for a BS will likely include a greater number of math or statistics courses. Having additional training in these areas is helpful for psychological research. For example, taking advanced math classes gives you the problem-solving and analytical skills necessary for collecting and evaluating large amounts of data from psychological experiments.

The psychology courses you take in a BS program will continue this theme of focusing on the scientific applications of psychology. BS degrees usually include multiple courses in psychological statistics, experimental psychology, and research ethics, to name a few.

For example, a course in experimental psychology would build on the knowledge and skills you acquired in courses like biology and chemistry by applying scientific tools and techniques to study human behavior. Likewise, courses in experimental psychology delve into the ethics of conducting research, like gaining informed consent by experimental participants, the importance of confidentiality, and the need to debrief experimental subjects to ensure they don’t have lingering questions or anxieties about their role in the experiment.

Furthermore, BS psychology degrees usually include courses like physiological psychology, sensation and perception, and cognitive psychology. Again, these courses build on your broader understanding of biology, anatomy, and physiology to explore how the physical systems and functions of the body affect human behavior.

It should be noted that BA psychology degrees don’t focus exclusively on liberal arts-related studies, nor do BS psychology degrees focus exclusively on science and math-related studies. You will take science and math-related classes in a BA program, just like you will take liberal arts courses in a BS program. The biggest difference is in the number of those courses you will take.

Differences in Career Opportunities

As noted earlier, a BA in psychology might qualify you for entry-level positions in a social service or mental health setting. For example, some addiction counseling positions don’t require a graduate degree, and instead require you to have a bachelor’s degree and additional addiction treatment-specific training.

As another example, you might use a BA in psychology to pursue a career as a probation and parole officer. Though this position is not therapeutic in nature, you will certainly be involved in many counseling-related tasks: skill-building, psychoeducational activities, cognitive-behavioral training, and so forth.

In clinical settings, you might find that a BA in psychology is sufficient for assistant positions, like a psychiatric technician in a hospital or a rehabilitation technician at an inpatient mental health center. Again, though these positions aren’t involved in therapy, you will perform duties that help advance the treatment and recovery of the client, which are critical components in improving the client’s overall mental health.

In contrast, a BS in psychology might be better suited for careers in the scientific application of your psychology knowledge and skills. A good example of this is working in a psychology lab. Though lead researchers nearly always have a doctorate, research assistant positions, especially junior positions, usually only require a bachelor’s degree.

As a junior research assistant, you might assist the lead researcher with experimental designs, data analysis, and report writing. You might also be responsible for debriefing experimental subjects, setting up experimental equipment, and assisting with grant writing and funding requests.

A BS in psychology is a good start for a career in market research, too. Rather than assisting with psychological experiments, market research assistants analyze consumer data that’s used by businesses and organizations to make crucial decisions about their products, services, pricing, and so forth.

Though it might not seem like psychology and marketing have much to do with one another, nothing could be further from the truth. With a BS in psychology, you will have the basic understanding of human behavior, motivation, and decision-making that is crucial for assisting companies in crafting well-received marketing messages.

Yet another science-based career to consider with a BS in psychology is computer programming. Though a career in computer programming would require additional technical training, your background in human behavior can be informative for tasks related to human-computer interaction, user-experience design, and user-interface design.

Is Psychology BS Harder than BA?

The answer to this question is that it depends. If you struggle in courses like chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology, math, or statistics, a BS in psychology might be more difficult for you to manage.

As discussed earlier, a BA program is not without coursework in these fields. However, you will likely have fewer science and math-related courses in a BA program, which might make it an easier degree to complete. Conversely, some BA psychology degrees require more reading and writing than BS programs. If you aren’t particularly strong in these areas, a BS might be your best bet.

Which is Better? BA or BS in Psychology?

The better degree is the one that prepares you the best for the next step in your education or career. Generally speaking, if you are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in something like clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or another field that applies your psychological knowledge in a therapeutic setting, a BA is a great option.

On the other hand, if your interests are in psychological research, a BS degree is a good first step. Many graduate programs in experimental psychology require a BS; those that don’t still require extensive scientific training at the undergraduate level that you might not get in a BA program.

What are the Similarities in BA and BS in Psychology?

Despite the differences outlined above, these degrees have quite a few things in common, the most obvious being the subject matter. Though the coursework might vary between a BA and BS, ultimately, you are still studying the same general material.

Another similarity is that these degrees typically take about four years to complete. This timeframe assumes you study full-time; as a part-time student, a BA or BS in this field can take five or six years (or more). Similarly, these degrees usually require around 120 credits to graduate, about half of which are specifically in psychology.

Completing one of these degrees also prepares you well for advanced studies in psychology and related fields. It’s common for graduates with a BA or BS to pursue a master’s degree, though the type of master’s degree might vary depending on whether you complete a BA or BS program.

For example, if you complete a BA in psychology, you might pursue a graduate degree in psychology, social work, education, or law. With a BS, though, you might focus your graduate education on a specific niche of psychology, like research psychology or developmental psychology.

Ultimately, though, these programs are similar enough that you can likely forge the same educational or career path with either degree. Both degrees mix psychological studies with science, math, and the liberal arts and do so to a level that is often sufficient for getting into a Master of Arts or a Master of Science psychology program.

Furthermore, entry-level positions that require a psychology degree often don’t stipulate if you need a BA or BS. What matters is the coursework you completed and how well you performed in those courses.

Can You be a Therapist With a BA in Psychology?

In short, no, you cannot be a therapist with a BA in psychology (or a BS in psychology, for that matter). Licensed therapists must have at least a graduate degree in psychology, counseling, social work, or a related area that includes significant clinical training and field experience that is not available as part of a BA program in psychology.

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