Biology BA vs. BS: Which is Right for You?

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To current high school students, the difference between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS) may seem only titularly, however, it can make a world of difference for your future career. Both are great degrees, but which is the best for you? In this post, we explore the pros and cons for each type of undergraduate degree in biology.

 

What is a BA and a BS?

 

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS) are two of the most common types of undergraduate degrees. There are also field-specific undergraduate degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies (BSAS), A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), or a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences (BSLAS). Each of these degrees carries its own cultural capital and is achieved through different coursework. It is important to find out which type of degree you want to work towards.

 

For example, a student with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography may look for work in sociology where they could study human-landscape interaction or compare different art styles across the globe. Alternatively, a student with a Bachelor of Science in Geography may spend time using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), making maps, or collecting data on geyser eruptions. Both degrees offer great, but decidedly different, job prospects.

 

Although geography majors and biology majors do vastly different work, the degree differentiation is an important concept. Other degrees, such as computer science, also have this division.

 

Similarities Between the Biology BA and BS

 

Coursework

 

Both biology degrees require much of the same course work. For the first two years of college, BA and BS students will be side by side as they complete their general education requirements (courses like English, cultural studies, history, etc.). After that, both BA and BS students will take required biology major courses such as:

 

  • Introductory biology
  • Introductory chemistry
  • Physics lectures and labs
  • Organic chemistry
  • Algebra
  • Statistics

 

Requirements

 

BA and BS degrees also typically require the same auxiliary experiences, such as an internship or research. Biology majors commonly continue their education post-grad, but grad schools and other higher education institutions don’t care much between students with BA or BS degrees, as long as there is a reason behind your choice of degree.

 

A BA student who took more foreign language courses to read Latin better or to improve communication with a different population, will excel on a med school application. Alternatively, a BS student who took more neuroscience courses will have a higher chance of acceptance than a BA biology student when applying to a niche neurology program.

 

Regardless of the type of degree conferred, a med school is also going to require volunteer hours, personal essays, entrance exam scores, and letters of recommendation. The type of degree you obtain is just one part of your application, however you can base your application around the type of degree you obtain to strengthen your chances of acceptance. 

 

Degree Length

 

Completing a BA or BS in undergrad will take the same amount of time. Typically, these degrees take around 4 years to complete on a normal track. 

 

Career Options and Salaries

 

The career options for individuals with BA or BS degrees are very similar, as long as your BA program fulfills all the med school requirements (some do not!). Both BA and BS degrees can help students pursue fulfilling careers, such as becoming a nurse, therapist, or scientist. Additionally, since both degrees often lead to med school, salaries are very similar.

 

Differences Between the Biology BA vs. BS

 

Coursework

 

The main difference between a BA and a BS in Biology is the flexibility in undergraduate coursework. 

 

The BA degree often allows more room for outside electives. This can be especially useful if you are trying to double major or minor. BA students usually still go on to med school, but some prefer to go into other fields like teaching or software engineering. 

 

BS students typically take fewer general education requirements and more science and math courses. Additionally, BS students have the option to specialize. You should consider a BS degree if you are sure of what you want to concentrate on during your college career.

 

Many schools only offer either a BA or a BS in Biology. Most Liberal Arts Colleges only offer a BA, whereas a larger institution may offer both, so choose wisely! Below is a comparison of Roosevelt University’s BA and BS programs in biology.

 

Roosevelt University Biology Degree Programs

Course

BA in Biology

BS in Biology

Organismic Biology (with lab)

x

x

Genetic Biology 2 (with lab)

x

x

Cellular Biology (with lab)

x

x

General Chemistry (with lab)

x

x

General Chemistry 2 (with lab)

x

x

Organic Chemistry (with lab)

Recommended 

x

Algebra

x

x

Statistics

x

x

Calculus I

 

x

Calculus II 

 

x

Trigonometry 

 

x

Non-calc based Physics I (with lab) 

 

x

Non-calc based Physics II (with lab)

 

x

Physics I

 

x

Physics II

 

x

TOTAL REQUIRED HOURS

120

121

 

The table above demonstrates that a BA in Biology has much more room for electives or an outside major or minor. Conversely, the BS in Biology has a stronger background in math and science. Regardless, both these tracks easily lead to med school. 

 

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Requirements

 

One of the reasons to pursue a BS in Biology is to complete some med school requirements while you’re still in undergrad. Since BS degrees have a greater focus on math and science than BA degrees, BS students will have fewer courses to take in med school than BA students who could not fulfill as many of these requirements in their undergraduate studies. This can make the time in med school shorter (and cheaper!) for students with BS degrees.

 

Ultimately, a BA student is still a strong competitor against a BS student when applying to med school. While students pursuing a BA lack the medical specialization that comes with a BS degree, this can be countered with the additional electives, majors, or minors BA students can pursue during undergrad.

 

Career Options and Salaries

 

There is significant overlap between the career options and salaries for both degrees, however BA degree holders tend to pursue careers that apply biology to other fields, while BS degree holders typically pursue more research-intensive careers that center around pure biology.

 

Some BA careers include:

 

  • Teaching
  • Healthcare management
  • Government roles

 

Some BS careers include: 

 

  • Pharmaceutical development
  • Microbiology
  • Genetics

 

It’s important to note that even though these differences in career options exist, it is possible for individuals with BA or BS degrees to pursue any of the careers listed above. 

 

How to Find the Right School as Biology Major

 

Knowing the type of biology degree you want is only the first step. But don’t worry, we’re here to help for the rest of your journey! 

 

Take a look at CollegeVine’s school search tool to see which schools offer a BA and/or BS in Biology. You can find the biology department that fits your needs by filtering by major, type of degree, or many other categories! You can also filter by specializations offered if you want to see schools that concentrate in kinesiology, psychology, or neurobiology!

 

If you’re wondering what your admissions odds are like at the schools on your college list, try our free chancing engine! This tool factors in your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to find out your chances of acceptance at hundreds of schools across the country. 

 

 

Biology Major Paths

 

Below are six possible careers for students who pursue either a BA or a BS in Biology. They span a wide range of salaries and professional fields.

 

1. Emergency Management Directors

 

Median Salary: $76,250
Projected Growth (2019-2029): +4%

 

Emergency management directors prepare plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies (like a pandemic) and lead the response during and after these emergencies. They assess hazards and review local emergency operation plans to limit the resulting harm or damage. 

 

2. Audiologist

 

Median Salary: $81,030

Projected Growth (2019-2029): +13%

 

Most audiologists work in healthcare facilities and have a doctoral degree augmented by a license to practice. This is a career path for those who want to specialize in patient care, dispense hearing aids, and use computers to test patients’ hearing abilities.

 

3. Recreational Therapist

 

Median Salary: $47,710

Projected Growth (2019-2029): +8%

 

Recreational Therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, and local park districts. This is a great career path for those who want to be involved in the community.

 

4. Surgical Technologist

 

Median Salary: $49,710

Projected Growth (2019-2029): +7%

 

Surgical technologists assist in surgical operations and work in hospitals. Licensure varies by state, but the responsibilities stay the same: preparing operating rooms, helping surgeons during procedures, counting supplies, and readying patients for surgery.

 

5. Registered Nurses

 

Median Salary: $75,330

Projected Growth (2019-2029): +7%

 

Registered Nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions. They often work in hospitals or physicians’ offices. There are various types of nursing degrees, each with different opportunities.

 

6. Agricultural and Food Scientist

 

Median Salary: $68,830

Projected Growth (2019-2029): +6%

 

Agricultural and Food Scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products. They often work in laboratories and offices. Creating new food products, traveling between facilities to oversee new project implementation, and conducting research on crops are just a few of the career options for Agricultural and Food Scientists.

Ally Merrett
Design Researcher

Short Bio
Ally Merrett is a senior at the University of Illinois double majoring in Urban Planning and Sustainable Design, triple minoring in Sociology, Art & Design, and Informatics, and pursuing a certificate in Technology Entrepreneurship. When he's not studying, he can be found playing music, skateboarding, or eating an egg sandwich. Maybe all at the same time!

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