Biology BA vs BS: What's the Difference?
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Dec 15, 2021
Biology BA vs BS: What's the Difference?
Even after you've decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, the choices don't stop there. At many schools, you’ll need to decide between two different degree programs—a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS).
An undergraduate degree, such as a BA or a BS, usually requires four years of full-time study. But not all degree programs are created equal. In this article, we'll be looking at the contrast in a biology BA vs. BS to help you start your college experience on the best track for you.
What is a Biology Bachelor of Science?
A bachelor of science is a degree that focuses almost entirely on the chosen major. Accordingly, when you sign up for a BS in biology, you'll be taking a full course load of required biology degree courses. Aside from any general education requirements, you'll participate almost exclusively in classes on biology and other sciences and have the opportunity to specialize in a particular field.
What is a Biology Bachelor of Arts?
A bachelor of arts degree in the sciences is more varied than a BS—it allows students to explore a broader field of topics while still focusing on their major. As such, a BA in biology combines core science courses with the opportunity for more elective study in other fields, such as languages, history and philosophy.
The goal for students who pursue a biology BA is to cultivate a broad, multi-disciplinary understanding of life science while still gaining exposure to the arts and humanities.
BA vs. BS: Differences and Similarities
The two degrees have much in common in the first couple of years of study, but as you progress in your studies and decide on your specialty, they begin to diverge. Let's look at some of the finer details of these biology degrees.
The first two years of a biology BA and BS will look similar, as students complete core classes on topics like genetics, ecology and biostatistics. Here are some examples of these first-year and second-year courses:
- BIOL 195 - Investigating Biology
- BIOL 210 - Cells and Systems
- BIOL 220 - Ecology and Evolution
The second half of a typical biology undergraduate degree program is where more differences appear. BS students might specialize in either biomedical or biological science. They’ll typically take courses on animal behavior, organic chemistry and evolution, along with essential topics in chemistry and physics. On the other hand, BA students will study language, art and potentially take on another college major. A BS may also require more credits than a BA, depending on what school you attend.
Both degrees generally include the requirement to complete an internship. This work experience could occur in the lab of a leading pharmaceutical company, in local government, or elsewhere depending on your area of interest.
Perhaps the most significant difference between a biology BA and BS is where it can lead you after college.
A BS typically prepares you for more hands-on, physical research work. If you want to attend graduate school to study biology, experiment with materials as a research scientist or biochemist, or advance to a medical, dental, or veterinary program, a BS is likely the right choice.
A BA can lead to more “public-facing” roles in biology. Students who want to work in nursing, physiotherapy, secondary education or as a pharmacist may opt to pursue a BA degree.
It's important to note that neither biology degree excludes you from a specific path altogether. Diligent study, work experience and networking can land you in a variety of biology-based roles, regardless of your degree. Plus, you can always change course part way through your program. Be sure to meet regularly with an academic advisor to keep track of your progress and make any adjustments to your course schedule you may need in order to meet your goal by graduation.
Is a BA Harder than a BS? Is it Better?
Difficulty is subjective, so the answer to this question will ultimately depend on your strengths, passions and learning style.
Some might say a BA degree, with its array of disciplines, is harder. Having to navigate several unrelated subjects at once can be challenging for some students. But some would argue that a BS is tougher, as it involves a more thorough exploration of technical topics like molecular biology and organic chemistry. It all depends on you and what you put into your area of choice.
According to U.S. News, BAs were considered a more prestigious degree in the past and may have been perceived as “better” by employers. But in more recent times, a BA and a BS are equally valuable in their relevant fields. They both instill students with a wealth of professional knowledge—just in different ways.
Biology BA vs. BS: Which One Should You Choose?
When choosing between a BA or BS in biology, you shouldn't think about which path will be more difficult. In general, any degree will require a lot of hard work and determination.
Instead, base your decision on your interests and your goals. If you have a deep appreciation for the physical work of biology, like experimentation and quantitative research, a BS might be the best choice for you. If you want to focus more on theories, reading and writing about biology, and preparing for administrative positions while still basing yourself in the sciences, you should consider opting for a BA.
If you want to learn more about a biology major and have questions like “Is biology hard?”, “Why is studying biology important?” or “What are the differences in physiology vs. biology?”, read our linked blogs.
Regardless of what you decide, you should look for a school like North Central College to help you reach your goals. Their accomplished biology department, high quality laboratory spaces and up-to-date technology will help set you up for success in the exciting world of life sciences. Find out more about North Central today.
Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 11 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
Moody, J. (2021, June 18). The Difference Between a B.A. and B.S. Degree. U.S. News. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/understand-the-difference-between-a-ba-and-bs-degree