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Psychology BA vs BS: Which is Right for You?

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What’s Covered:


Are you interested in understanding what makes people tick? And how they think, feel, and make decisions? You may want to consider studying psychology. But, should you pursue a BA or a BS? Continue reading to find out the main differences and which degree is best for you. 


Different Fields of Psychology 


Psychology is the study of human behavior and the human mind. As an undergraduate major, psychology can be an excellent focus for a liberal arts education. It’s a broad field of study with several different subfields:


  • Cognitive psychology studies how humans think, make decisions, speak, and other mental processes. 


  • Developmental psychology is the study of how humans grow, mature, and age during the course of their lives.


  • Social psychology considers how individuals respond to others in group settings and their influence in social situations. 


  • Sports psychology is all about working with athletes for top performance. 


  • Forensic psychology brings together law and criminal justice with psychology. These specialists may work with law enforcement or in court settings. 


Additional fields include abnormal psychology, experimental psychology, and counseling, among other subspecialties. Keep in mind, you can pursue each of these fields with either a BA or a BS.


Similarities Between the BA and BS


Working toward a BA or a BS in psychology begins with introductory courses that provide a broad overview of the subject. Schools have set requirements for the major and the first few semesters are spent taking core courses and prerequisite classes. These intro courses are likely the same, whether you’re pursuing a BS or a BA.


Students will learn common foundational theories, research methods and studies, and some of the many subfields of psychology. A bachelor’s degree in psychology will prepare students for a variety of careers, such as education, human resources, mental healthcare, or sales. Both degrees will prepare you equally for a research career in psychology if you plan to pursue graduate school. 


The American Psychological Association has created specific guidelines for undergraduate degrees in psychology. It includes the coursework and experiences that this professional organization feels are important for all students who pursue a psychology degree at any level. As a student, it means that you will gain the knowledge and skills you need for continuing your studies with a graduate degree or starting a career. 


Overall, those who choose to work in psychology and related fields have a strong job outlook as the need for psychologists, counselors, and mental health professionals continues to rise. A 3% growth in the industry is expected over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Differences Between the BA and BS


In general, students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree are going to have more courses in humanities and liberal arts while a bachelor of science will have students focus on the quantitative side of research and apply that to the field of psychology. Choosing between a BA or a BS in psychology comes down to both subject and career interests. 


Pursuing a bachelor of arts in psychology includes courses in social studies, such as sociology, political science, or economics. History, literature, and other writing-intensive courses will also be included for BA students. Some psychology programs require studying a foreign language. A four-year plan may include specific areas such as cognitive psychology, social psychology, or behavioral psychology. This course of study will prepare students for careers in law, education, journalism, or social work, for example. A BA in psychology provides a well-rounded education that includes critical thinking, analysis, and communication skills. It makes this BA a versatile degree and a great starting point for many career paths. 


A bachelor of science in psychology includes more general science and math requirements. Courses such as neuroscience, chemistry, statistics, and clinical psychology allow students to conduct research. A BS in psychology is the first step for those considering graduate studies in psychology. For example, students who are interested in pursuing a career in clinical psychology, counseling, or research will go on to graduate school. Most psychology research positions require at least a master’s degree or a doctoral degree, also known as a Psy.D. This is not a medical degree, but a Ph.D. in psychology. 


Below is a breakdown of the degree requirements for a BA and a BS from SUNY Stony Brook


SUNY Stony Brook BA

SUNY Stony Brook BS

Core courses: Introductory Psychology, Statistics, and Research and Writing in Psychology

Core courses: Introductory Psychology, Statistics, and Research and Writing in Psychology

Choose three survey courses: (Biopsychology, Clinical and Abnormal Psychology, Cognition and Perception, Developmental Psychology, and Social Psychology)

Choose three survey courses: (Biopsychology, Clinical and Abnormal Psychology, Cognition and Perception, Developmental Psychology, and Social Psychology)

Five additional upper level courses

Advanced statistics course

Lab course

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Best Schools for Psychology Majors


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




Acceptance Rate 

Yale University

New Haven, CT


Rice University

Houston, TX


Princeton University

Princeton, NJ


Stanford University

Stanford, CA


Harvard University

Cambridge, MA


Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA


Williams College

Williamstown, MA


Wellesley College

Wellesley, MA


University of Chicago

Chicago, IL


Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN



You can use CollegeVine’s Chancing Engine to find out your chances of being accepted to over 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. Consider all aspects of the college experience to discover the best fit school for you to study psychology. 


Top Psychology Career Paths


A great undergraduate education will prepare students for careers both within and outside of their major. 




Median salary: $82,180

Projected growth: 3% overall, but specific positions will see higher growth. 


Psychologists work in a variety of settings from schools, to hospitals, to business and industry. They are in demand, especially therapists, counselors, and related mental health care providers. 


Training and Development Specialist – Human Resources


Median salary: $62,700

Projected growth: estimated at 9%, higher than average


Training, onboarding new employees, employee relations, and professional development are some of the positions that are well-suited to a background in psychology. Some students will specialize in industrial/organizational psychology. These careers offer a median salary of $92,000. 


Market Research Analysts


Median salary:  $65,800

Projected growth: 18% – much faster than average rates


Analysts conduct studies to project success of new products or services in the marketplace or to assess current strategies. Market analysis is used widely in any business that provides a product for sale. 


Public Relations Specialists


Median salary: $62,800

Projected growth: 7% – faster than average rate of growth


Growing and maintaining a positive public image for their employer is the role of a public relations specialist. Businesses, organizations, and individuals use public relations specialists as spokespeople, answering questions for the media, customers, and consumers. They may be employed by advertising agencies as well as the organization they represent. 


Healthcare administration


Median salary:  $104,280

Projected growth: 32% – much faster than average


Administrators direct the business of healthcare organizations such as hospitals and long-term care facilities. Most administrators have a master’s degree in healthcare administration and a bachelor’s degree in psychology provides an excellent foundation for advanced study. 


Corrections and Law


Median salary:  $55,690

Projected growth: 4% average growth


Correctional treatment specialists and probation officers work with offenders and incarcerated persons through rehabilitation. 


As you can see, there are many well-paying jobs for psychology majors both within the field of psychology and outside. Both a BA and a BS in psychology provides a solid education in critical thinking and analysis, communication, and greater understanding of others. These skills are applicable in many careers and desired by employers regardless of the job. 

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.