Through a BA or BS in psychology, students learn (and can demonstrate) a unique skill set focused on critical thinking, scientific problem solving, technical writing, speaking, and research ethics. Although undergraduate programs vary according to the emphasis placed on scientific components, most programs have a core that ensures a robust science experience.
As a psychology major, one of the biggest choices you will make is deciding between a BA or BS in psychology. While these two degrees are similar in several ways, there are a few key differences to understand.
The Value of a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
Before we dive into the differences between a BA or BS in psychology, let’s talk about the importance of psychology and why more students are pursuing psychology and counseling degrees.
The principles of psychology can be found in nearly every field, making a bachelor’s degree in this discipline an ideal foundation for careers in business, healthcare, personnel management, marketing, social work, law, and education, just to name a few.
Bachelor’s degrees provide students with a basis for understanding interpersonal interaction, the major theoretical schools of psychological thought, and the fundamentals of psychological research. These programs emphasize the application of biological, social, and professional principles and concepts as they relate to psychological needs.
Graduates of psychology bachelor’s degree programs can:
- Develop a working knowledge of psychology’s content domains
- Apply psychological content and skills to meet professional goals
- Apply ethical standards to science and professional practice
- Effectively write, speak, and interact with others
- Engage in science-based reasoning to interpret behaviors and solve problems
What Is the Difference Between a Psychology BA and BS?
Undergraduate degrees in psychology—Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) programs—provide students with a fundamental understanding of the field of psychology.
However, there are fundamental differences between a psychology BA vs. BS.
In general, these degrees can be differentiated by the percentage of courses taken in the study of psychology. BA programs tend to feature a smaller number of psychology courses, along with a variety of courses in fields outside of the major. BS degrees, on the other hand, feature a more extensive course list in psychology, along with courses in math and science and a smaller number of courses outside of the major.
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
A Bachelor of Arts in Psychology provides a broad education in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. In addition to courses in the social and behavioral sciences, many institutions also require students in a BA in Psychology program to take a foreign language course.
So, what can you do with a BA in psychology? Psychology BA programs are designed for students interested in:
- Studying human behavior in preparation to work in an applied psychology profession
- Graduate work in an applied psychology field or related fields like social work, or counseling
Courses unique to a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology often include:
- Cognitive psychology
- Child development
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Adulthood and aging
- Social personality
Bachelor of Science in Psychology
A Bachelor of Science in Psychology leans more towards a science-oriented curriculum, making it appropriate for students looking to facilitate future study in psychology or those preparing for careers in medicine or related health fields. For those considering a BA or BS for clinical psychology, a BS is often the preferred choice as it prepares learners for clinical professions.
Wondering what can you do with a BS in psychology? The science-oriented curriculum often includes courses in:
- Clinical and behavioral health
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Quantitative psychology
- Development and social health
Many times, BS programs require students to complete a specific track of science courses, which would include:
- Life sciences
- Computer science
Several institutions also give students the option of choosing a business track consisting of courses that complement their BS in Psychology. A business track is often the ideal option for students seeking careers in human resources, management, healthcare administration, and business, or for students considering graduate study in industrial-organizational psychology, leadership, or consumer behavior.
BA vs. BS in Psychology: Which Is Right for Me?
Both BA and BS degrees are extremely useful and comprehensive. The degree that is right for you will depend on your future education and career goals.
Students should consider a BA in psychology if they:
- Prefer a course load that is focused more on the arts and humanities.
- Are interested in working as a counselor, psychologist, social worker, or therapist
- Want to go into the workforce right after completing their undergraduate degree.
- Are planning on pursuing a graduate degree in a non-psychology field.
Students should consider a BS in psychology if they:
- Prefer a course load that focuses more on the science-oriented curriculum.
- Want to continue their career and studies in the medical field.
- Are interested in behavioral health, neuroscience, psychiatry, and similar areas of study.
- Are planning to earn a graduate degree in psychology.
- Are planning to go to medical school.
What to Expect When You Get a BA or BS in Psychology
Although the content of bachelor’s degree psychology programs will vary somewhat from one program to the next, the American Psychological Association (APA) created a set of comprehensive guidelines (Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major) to achieve continuity and effective learning outcomes for undergraduate programs in psychology.
Specifically, the APA outlined five, inclusive goals every undergraduate program should encompass. These include:
- Goal 1: Knowledge Base in Psychology
- Goal 2: Scientific Inquiry and Critical Thinking
- Goal 3: Ethical and Social Responsibility in a Diverse World
- Goal 4: Professional Development
- Goal 5: Communication
Required courses in all psychology BA and BS degrees often include the following:
- Introduction to Psychology
- Statistical Analysis of Behavioral Data
- Experimental Research Methods
Psychology programs also require students to take several psychology courses to meet program requirements, such as:
- Abnormal psychology
- Developmental psychology
- History and systems of psychology
- Social psychology
- Organizational psychology
- Psychological disorders
- Psychology of women
- Psychology of religion
- Psychological disorders
A typical bachelor’s degree in psychology consists of 120 credit hours and four years of full-time study. A number of institutions now offer programs where you can earn your bachelor’s degree online.
Students interested in pursuing post-graduate employment upon completing their undergraduate degree in psychology may benefit from such electives as:
- Business administration
- Personnel administration
- Social work
Most institutions encourage undergraduate students to participate in psychology research activities while completing the program. Many basic psychology courses include a research component, and many programs offer research opportunities in faculty labs and through outside research assignments.
Explore a Career in Psychology
Students who are interested in a BA or BS in psychology should consider their career goals and opportunities when deciding on a program. Whether you decide to pursue a BA or BS in psychology, there are countless options to further your education and have a rewarding, lifelong career.