BA vs. BS in Psychology: What’s the Difference?

By Joy Cromwelle
Published on November 24, 2023
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When you decide to study human thought and behavior in college, you may find yourself debating the merits of a BA vs. BS in Psychology.

BA vs BS in Psychology

Either type of college degree could lead to a rewarding career, but there are some differences between the two approaches to psychology studies.

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Considering your strengths and your future plans can help you determine whether a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology would be best for you.

What’s the Difference Between a BA vs. BS in Psychology?

Psychologist counseling a group of people

With either a BA or a BS, you can grow your understanding of how people think and behave. A Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in psychology often focuses on the humanities-related aspects of the field.

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A Bachelor of Science (BS) psychology program may place greater emphasis on the scientific foundations of psychology.

What Is a BA in Psychology?

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology is a liberal arts psychology program. Students study the field of psychology through the lens of the humanities—such as learning about cultural influences, counseling techniques, and human relationships. There is likely to be a strong emphasis on critical thinking and written analysis.

Students in a BA program often have opportunities to customize their learning experiences. Space in the curriculum for multiple electives allows you to round out your studies with liberal arts courses that complement your interests. If you want to work in public policy, social services, business, or education, you might consider this degree.

What Is a BS in Psychology?

student taking bs in psychology

A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology is an undergraduate science program that focuses on the scientific foundations of psychological study.

Scientific research is of key importance, and there may be classes in both quantitative and qualitative methods. Also, students often take advanced mathematics, lab science, and statistics classes. Unlike in a BA program, there is often not much room for flexibility in a BS program. Students may be required to take each of the prescribed courses.

If you want to go into the medical field of psychiatry or pursue a research career, a BS will typically offer the best preparation.

Differences Between a Psychology BA vs. BS Degree

Psychologist listening to a woman

So, is psychology a BA or BS? The answer is either one! Schools may offer a BA in Psychology, a BS in Psychology, or both options.

The two approaches usually include many overlapping courses, but they do have some different requirements. It’s strategic to learn the differences before you pick a program.

Curriculum

Many of the courses are the same between the two Bachelor of Psychology programs. In fact, you may not need to settle on one type or the other until after you’ve already taken several psychology classes.

The difference between a BA and BS in Psychology doesn’t lie in the foundational classes but in the more specialized ones. Here are some examples.

BA in Psychology BS in Psychology
  • Counseling skills
  • Cultural competency
  • Foundations of social work
  • Advanced psychology statistics
  • Neuroscience
  • Research in psychology

BS students may take more science gen eds, and BA students might pick up several liberal arts electives.

Career Opportunities

Psychologist talking to a child

You can pursue a rewarding career with either type of psychology bachelor’s degree. Neither degree, though, will qualify you to work as a practicing psychologist. That role requires a graduate degree.

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As you think about your preferred program, you can consider the job opportunities that are particularly well-suited to people with each type of bachelor’s degree.

BA in Psychology BS in Psychology
  • Human resources specialist
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Social services manager
  • Addiction specialist
  • Psychiatric technician
  • Social sciences research assistant

There’s often career overlap between these two degrees, so you may not be locked into a particular career path.

Continuing Education

Psychologist continuing her education online

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you may want to do additional schooling. Many jobs in this field, including working as a licensed psychologist, require graduate studies.

Potential degree paths for each degree are listed here.

BA in Psychology BS in Psychology
  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Counseling Psychology
  • Master of Social Work
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD) — Psychiatric Specialty
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Clinical Psychology
  • Master of Science (MS) in Experimental Psychology

If you plan to pursue a research-heavy graduate degree, then a BS in Psychology is likely to provide the most robust preparation.

BS vs. BA in Psychology Degree: Pros and Cons

Psychologist talking to a patient in her office

Each type of bachelor in psychology degree offers benefits for students. Of course, each can have drawbacks as well. It’s beneficial to weigh the pros and cons as you make your decision.

BS in Psychology

If you enjoy science and data, then a BS program could be your ideal approach to psychology studies.

PROS CONS
  • May include the opportunity to specialize in business psychology
  • Serves as a good first step toward an academic or scientific career
  • Can help you develop strong research skills
  • Allows less freedom to select a variety of electives
  • May not transfer as readily to a variety of entry-level jobs
  • Requires more math and science courses

Because grad school is often the natural next step for a BS graduate, some colleges offer BS to MS programs, in which you can complete both degrees within about 5 years.

BA in Psychology

The variety of classes you can take in a BA program is an asset for many students, but this degree isn’t the right fit for everyone.

PROS CONS
  • Can be a versatile degree that’s suitable for work outside of the psychology field
  • Helps you develop writing and introductory counseling skills
  • Offers the opportunity for electives outside of the psychology department
  • Doesn’t offer as many opportunities to participate in research projects
  • Is not the best foundation for a medical career, such as becoming a psychiatrist
  • May not offer rigorous preparation for research-focused grad programs

If you’re hoping to go into the workforce right away, a BA could be a strategic degree path. Alternatively, you might be ready to enroll in graduate counseling classes.

How to Know If a BA or BS in Psychology Is Right for Me

psychologist assessing a boy

Since both types of psychology degrees are worthwhile, your personal preferences will play a big role in determining which type of degree you’ll pursue. You might keep the following considerations in mind as you evaluate your options:

  • Career plans. People with BA degrees go into a variety of fields, including social work and health services, often right after graduation. Those with BS degrees often pursue teaching, research, or medical jobs.
  • Future studies. Either degree could prepare you to become a psychologist, but if you want a science- or research-focused grad program, a BS can offer better preparation.
  • Interests. For those who hold diverse interests and want to explore how other fields connect to psychology, a BA could provide the most opportunities for program customization.
  • Research. If you’re passionate about doing research, then a BS may be right for you.

If your school offers both degree options, you can talk to faculty members to get their thoughts on which program you should choose.

Is a Psychology Degree Worth It?

psychologist with his patient

Yes, a psychology degree is worth it for many students. A bachelor’s in psychology can help you get started in many different careers because you will better understand why people do the things they do. You could rely on your psychology training for a career in business, education, health services, social services, or another field.

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A psychology degree can also help prepare you for graduate school. You could pursue training to become a licensed psychologist, a family therapist, or a mental health counselor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for psychologists are expected to grow by 6% over the next ten years, which is faster than average.

BA or BS in Psychology – Which Is Right for You?

psychologist counseling a patient

Perhaps you are interested in the broad foundation that you can get in a BA in Psychology program. Alternatively, you might be drawn to the idea of a science-focused BS in Psychology degree.

Whichever you prefer, you will find many colleges that offer your chosen degree program. Your education will help prepare you for a job or graduate studies. It’s beneficial to earn your psychology degree from a regionally accredited college so that you can trust the credibility of your program. There are even regionally accredited online psychology degrees available.

You can start exploring accredited schools today to find the psychology program that’s right for you.

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WRITTEN BY
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.