Computer Science BA or BS: Which Is Right for You?

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Thinking about a career in computer science? It’s definitely worth exploring. The field of computer science and information technology continues to grow at a rapid pace. In fact, projected job growth for this field is currently at 11%, well above average. Find out whether you should pursue a BA or BS in computer science and why. We will also share best colleges to study comp sci and potential career paths. 

 

Similarities Between a Computer Science BA and BS

 

Computer science studies include a heavy emphasis on advanced mathematics. Students will be expected to take two to three semesters of calculus, as well as linear algebra, statistics and probability for both BA and BS degrees. 

 

Required core computer science courses for both a BA and BS will include computer science fundamentals, discrete structures, data structures, program design, algorithmic thinking and design, hardware, architecture, and advanced computer languages. Fourth year students will often have a capstone course that requires the creation of a final project as the “cap” to their degree. As you can see, the requirements are largely the same and both degrees will prepare you for entry level comp sci positions. 

 

BA or BS:  What’s the difference?

 

One way to look at the difference between these two degrees in the same major is breadth versus depth of knowledge. 

 

BA: Students who are interested in computer science more broadly may consider pursuing a bachelor of arts degree that would include the core major requirements for CS and a liberal arts degree. A BA will often require four semesters of foreign language education in lieu of additional math and science courses. Overall, this approach provides students with a well-rounded education in STEM courses as well as the humanities and arts. You will likely have more flexibility when choosing your courses. This is helpful if you are planning to double major or minor in a different field. Rest assured, a BA will still prepare for a rigorous research career, and you will be just as competitive when applying to graduate school as someone with a BS. 

 

BS: Consider a BS if you love math and science. Students pursuing a BS will complete additional coursework in CS, advanced mathematics such as theory of computation or logic in computer science. They may also take additional courses in physics such as mechanics, magnetics, and electrical science. You can think of a BS as going in more depth in the study of comp sci, especially on the quantitative side. A downside is that your course schedule is likely to be rigid so it will be more difficult to pursue other areas of study. But if this isn’t important to you, a BS may be the way to go as you will pursue more in depth science and math courses. Also, a BS may prepare you better for a technical career, not to say that you can’t go this route with a BA. 

 

Keep in mind, some liberal arts colleges only offer bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees, so you may not have to choose. At larger universities, students pursuing a bachelor of science degree in CS may earn their degree from the College of Computer Science and Engineering, for example, while those earning a BA will earn their degree from the College of Liberal Arts. This is not an uncommon situation.

 

The difference between a BA and a BS is not likely to matter to employers. Students will apply for the same jobs and be equally prepared, unless the work is highly specialized, perhaps a BS would give you the upper hand. But, it’s really about how you present yourself in your interview and how well you do on the job. 

 

If you want to continue your studies after your BA or BS, you can consider pursuing a masters or PhD in computer science. We advise this if you are interested in research or want to work in academia. Both a BA and a BS will prepare you equally well for graduate studies. 

 

Most positions in the computer science and information technology field only require a bachelor’s degree. But, if a bachelor’s degree is out of the question, there are also great positions for students who pursue a two-year associate’s degree with industry-specific certifications for operating systems, coding, or particular software programming skills. Web developers, computer support specialists, and technicians are a few examples.

 

Below is a chart of the courses you would take at Ohio State University pursuing a BA vs. a BS:

 

Bachelor of Arts

Bachelor of Science

Core Courses: computing, math, and general education

Core Courses: computing, math, and general education

Software design and development, computational foundations, data structures. 

Software design and development, computational foundations, data structures.

Additional 12 hours of coursework in an approved, related field such as linguistics, art, design, or business.

Advanced courses in mathematics and physics

Independent projects 

Independent projects and capstone design electives

 

As you can see, a lot of the core courses are the same. In your later years, a BA would pursue courses outside of comp sci, while a BS would go into more depth in mathematics and physics. 

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Best Schools for Computer Science Majors

 

CollegeVine has created a list of the best schools for computer science majors to help you in your search process. 

 

University

Location

Acceptance Rate 

Stanford University

Stanford, CA

4%

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Pasadena, CA

7%

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Cambridge, MA

7%

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

5%

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA

5%

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA

17%

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

15%

Rice University

Houston, TX

11%

University of Chicago

Chicago, IL

7%

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY

11%

 

You can use CollegeVine’s Chancing Engine to find out your chances of being accepted to more than 600 different schools. All you need to do is input your academic and extracurricular information to see an estimation of your chances. You will also receive tips on what you need to do to increase your chances of being admitted. 

 

 

Our school search tool will provide you with details like class sizes, student to professor ratios, and campus life. Remember, there’s more to selecting a school than just going for a prestigious name. 

 

Some schools will ask for a separate essay for prospective computer science students. It’s good to know this well in advance and to also know what your specific interests are so that you may include this information. Admission applications often vary by school and knowing what steps you need to take will help you stay on track. 

 

Computer Science Career Paths

 

Nearly every business and industry uses computers and information technology in some way and employees with these skills are in high demand. Manufacturers of medical devices, automobiles, appliances, and everything that has a microchip need programmers and developers. Hospitals, healthcare systems, universities, banks, retail, and insurance companies all use highly specialized software applications and require network architects and technicians to maintain security and operations. A bachelor’s degree in computer science will provide significant and well-paying career opportunities in nearly any field of interest. In fact, the average median salary for the entire field is $91,250, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

 

Computer and Information Research Scientist

 

Median Salary:  $126,830

Projected Job Growth:  15% – much higher than average

 

These scientists conduct research and development for new technology and applications. These typically require a master’s degree at entry level. 

 

Computer Network Architects

 

Median Salary:  $116,780

Projected Job Growth:  5% – faster than average growth 

 

CNAs design and build local area networks (LAN), data communication networks, and intranets. Most people working in this field have a bachelor’s degree in CS or information technology with experience in systems administration. 

 

Information Security Analysts

 

Median Salary: $103,590

Projected Job Growth:  31% – significantly faster than average

 

These analysts develop and implement security protocols for computer systems and protected personal information and their skills are in high demand.

 

Software Developer

 

Median Salary: $110,140

Projected Job Growth: 22% – much faster than average

 

Developers create new software applications and may work solo or in teams. They will conduct tests, quality assurances, and work with hardware manufacturers or software publishers. 

 

Computer Programmer

 

Median Salary: $89,190

Projected Job Growth:  -9% (in the U.S.) 

 

Programmers create instructions using computer languages for computers and software applications to function as intended. They are problem-solvers and work to find solutions through development, testing, and refining program code. Be aware projected job growth is declining in large part because programming can be done from anywhere in the world, so companies sometimes hire programmers in countries where wages are lower.

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Short Bio
An alum of the University of Iowa, Laura majored in political science with a related field of psychology. She's worked in the non-profit sector throughout her career. She writes from her home in Iowa surrounded by cornfields and prairies.

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