What is the Difference Between a BA in Psychology and a BS in Psychology?

ba in psychologyThe chief difference between the bachelor of arts and bachelor of science is the focus of the degree. This involves taking different sets of classes toward earning either of the degrees. Arts students, generally, focus their studies across a broader spectrum of topics while science students specialize in a certain area. Neither degree is any “better” than the other, your degree path depends on your passions and career desires. Both degree programs train and educate students to be valuable professionals in a growing field.

If you are interested in mental healthhuman behavior, understanding human psychological traits, and what makes us all the way we are, you may be considering a career in psychology. When choosing to pursue a degree in psychology, it is important to know the differences between degree programs available. While it may not seem like it in their titles,  there is actually a big difference between a BA in psychology and a BS in psychology. Keep reading to learn about the notable differences between these two useful degrees and how to choose the right one for you on your path to studying the human mind.

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What is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of both individual and group thought. Psychological research and theories have created and continue to create the frame work for psychology. The psychologist also studies internal mental processes and the patterns of human behavior that go along with different areas of thought.  Animal psychologists study similarly but are focused on animal behavior. The word psychology itself comes from the Greek. “Logos” means the knowledge of something, and “psyche” means of the mind. Before the beginning of the 20th century, psychology was an unknown science. Of course, people talked about how others behaved and what seemed to be human nature since time immemorial, but it took the early pioneers of the field to make the study of behavior mainstream.

Psychology is a diverse field. Cognitive psychology, the umbrella above all forms of psychology, focuses on the scientific study of mental processes. This includes studying attention, language use, memory perception, problem solving, reasoning, and creativity. Forensic psychology focuses on the thought processes behind crime. Evolutionary psychology studies the development of mental processes and behaviors throughout history. Clinical psychology focuses on seeing patients and treating their mental illnesses and mental disorders through therapy.

As is commonly known, psychologists are not medical doctors and cannot treat patients with drugs or surgery. Many psychologists, however, go to medical school to become psychiatrists. Some of these choose to become neuropsychologists so that they can apply their medical skills toward treating people with head injuries or nervous system disorders.

Good Schools for Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology

ba in psychology

If you have a passion for cognitive psychology and a desire to study human behavior, you may be looking to pursue a degree in the field. There are many university psychology departments around the country that are known for their intensive scientific research and high success rates among their students.

The number 1 school to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology in the U.S. is Purdue University in Indiana. The school offers degrees in both arts and science when it comes to psychology. These degrees require 14 psychology classes and a total of 120 credits to complete. In both cases, Purdue University has an honors program, and students in that program or who transfer into it need to maintain a 3.5 GPA to remain in it, making it one of the most demanding undergraduate programs in the country in any discipline.

Harvard University, which is No. 2, also requires a 3.5 GPS from students who pursue the cognitive psychology track. Studying how people learn is necessarily a highly demanding field, and the GPA requirement is more than reasonable. The university also allows students to choose a secondary focus for their degrees without having to declare a full minor. Instead, they take five courses from a selection available for that secondary focus.

Other colleges and universities, such as Berea College and the University of Georgia, have mathematical requirements for their psychology students. This caters to the bachelor of science students, mostly, because they’re the ones who are doing the research, collating the data, and drawing inferences from the mathematical data.

Best Value Schools ranks these schools by various criteria, including cost of attendance, graduation rate, rigor of coursework, likelihood of acceptance when criteria are met, and a combination of degree options and specializations.

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

By and large, a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology focuses more on liberal arts than science and psychology classes. Students will be able to study the humanities, social sciences and even a foreign language. A Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology is the perfect choice for a student who plans to enter the workforce directly after completing their undergraduate degree. These students may choose to earn a master’s degree in a non-psychology field such as law, business, social work or management. These students will use their limited psychology background to assist them in a non-psychology job.

Aside from the dozen or so psychology courses a student takes while pursuing a bachelor of arts degree, the student must complete core courses and electives. The electives could be that foreign language, classes in art or music, or even literature. Humanities courses, as the name suggests, focus on the human influence on society and, by extension in this instance, the field of psychology. Most schools develop a curriculum that doesn’t present psychology in a vacuum. Savvy instructors know that psychology is an elastic discipline and that “the rules” don’t apply equally to every person. The best instructors teach critical thinking skills as well as “chapter and verse” of psychological theory.

A Typical Bachelor of Arts in Psychology Degree

A Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology will focus on general psychology classes. This will include classes on animal learning, human cognition, sociology and human relationships. For example, students may study the history of behaviorism and classical conditioning, while a Bachelor of Science student would actually design and conduct a simple lab-based experiment. Students will be exposed to the popular fields of social, clinical, cognitive and developmental psychology. In fact, students will learn the basics of all the major psychology branches, including forensic, education, personality, abnormal and cross-culture psychology.

A Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology will focus on general psychology classes. This will include classes on animal learning, human cognition, sociology, and human relationships. For example, students may study the history of behaviorism and classical conditioning. A student earning a bachelor of science would instead design and conduct an experiment that seeks to test a hypothesis about the various psychological theories. Students will receive instruction regarding the fields of social, clinical, cognitive, and developmental psychology. Students will also learn the basics of all the major psychology branches, including forensic, education, personality, abnormal, and cross-culture.

Bachelor of Science in Psychology

ba in psychology

The biggest difference between a BA in psychology and a BS in psychology is that the latter focuses on psychological research, science and statistics. This degree is suited for students who plan on entering medical school or earning a graduate degree in science-based psychology. Thus, a Bachelor of Science degree concentrates on advanced math and science courses. Students pursuing a Bachelor of Science in psychology will take more hands-on lab, research, statistics classes, and even time with research subjects. Classes will connect applied psychology concepts to empirical research and reporting methods.

A Typical Bachelor of Science in Psychology Degree

Students in a bachelor of science program won’t just study theory but will also study and perform research on memory, perception, and cognitive development. When a student is choosing to earn a bachelor of science degree in cognitive psychology, they are choosing to intensely study human behavior based off of mental processes and all factors that contribute these parts of our brains. This includes gaining a knowledge in mental disorders, mental illness, mental health issues, child development issues, and more.

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Students will learn about cutting-edge research techniques and will also study the use of technology to analyze brain function. Further, they’ll perform experiments regarding the brain’s internal processes. A good example would be studying subjects’ brain patterns while performing meditation.

Students studying these various disciplines will have the opportunity to delve into the psychology of mental health, consumer psychology, and physical psychology. Although many students with this kind of degree go on to be practicing therapists, more often, they perform research in clinical settings. A few become neuropsychologists and might even pursue a medical degree in graduate school to become psychiatrists.

The Outlook for Psychologists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019 provides the most recent data. The median salary for a psychologist is $80,370. At the low end of the spectrum, the bottom 10% earn just $45,380. The top 10% earn $132,070. As examples of different psychology practitioners, industrial-organizational psychologists earn $92,880 annually while clinical practitioners earn $78,200.

Psychologists employed by the government earn the most when compared to other entities who hire psychologists. The amount is $96,870. Those who work for schools earn the least at $76,960. The median hourly wage is $38.64. Government psychologists and those in education work full-time. Those who hang out their own shingles may also supplement their income doing consulting work, serving as expert witnesses in court proceedings, and earning money doing research.

As far as job growth is concerned, psychology jobs are going to grow at the national average over the next 10 years, which is 3% annually. There are currently 192,000 jobs for psychologists in the United States, and the 3% growth rate means that in 10 years, the industry will have added roughly 5,700 jobs.

The Bureau recommends, too, that job applicants for the best jobs in the field of psychology have a graduate degree as well as a bachelor’s degree. This is true for applicants who have studied either the arts or science tracks of psychology. The Bureau says that people with a Ph.D. have the best prospects for acquiring the top jobs.


When it comes to people starting out in the field of psychology, a degree is not the only thing they’ll need if they’re going to practice clinical psychology. Clinical psychology is an important field of cognitive psychology and it takes a great deal of work to be able to practice the profession. Professionals will need licenses to practice.

In most states, practicing psychology or using the title “psychologist” requires licensure. In all states and the District of Columbia, psychologists who practice independently must be licensed where they work. Each state has its own laws regarding licensing, but all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and most territories require a license if the person is going to use the title of “psychologist.” In most cases, these practitioners also need a Ph.D. in their chosen field and a couple of years’ experience as supervised interns. In most cases, these psychologists must also participate in continuing education beyond their doctorates. They must also take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

The American Board of Professional Psychologists recognizes 15 subfields under the group heading of “psychology.” The Board awards certifications in these 15 subfields based on the psychologist’s training, education, and experience. A few of the fields include couples counseling, rehabilitation psychology, and neuropsychology.

The Board certifies psychologists in these specialties in the same way as medical boards certify physicians in various disciplines. Psychiatrists might hold two such distinctions, one clinical and one medical. It’s not usually required for a psychologist to specialize to get a job, but many hospitals prefer such specialized staff. To be board-certified, a psychologist must have completed a Ph.D. Some institutions also require that such staff be published in peer-reviewed journals.

The internships that budding psychologists must complete have state-mandated rules about how long they must be, where they must be completed, and what kind of duties the candidates are allowed to perform. These vary by state, so prospective psychologists should contact their state’s board of licensure to find out the various requirements and limitations. Each state has different laws regarding the license itself. The continuing education requirement ensures that practicing psychologists keep their licenses.

Researchers who don’t practice don’t need state licenses, but they do require additional education. The bachelor’s degree is, in reality, merely a first step toward gaining employment. The doctorate is the degree that really counts because it opens up high-paying therapy positions and leading research fellowships both.

Which Degree is Best for Me?

ba in psychology

Both degrees will provide a general overview of the field of psychology. The Bachelor of Arts is an excellent choice for students who want a balance between psychology and another discipline, such as HR, marketing and health care. However, the Bachelor of Science degree offers more flexibility and diversity for students who wish to pursue psychology as their primary academic choice and are more interested in a scientific study. In the end, it is important to select a degree that satisfies your needs, interests and career goals.


Students interested in pursuing careers in psychology should consult with their faculty advisers, and if they’re not enrolled in college yet, then they should speak with their high-school counselors. They should realize what’s required before starting down the path to becoming cognitive psychologists. The field is rewarding and interesting and requires curious students who aren’t afraid to ask either tough or pointed questions. They must also be able to think critically and be open to other points of view. Students should feel inclined to push their own mental processes while studying those in the world around them.

Before deciding which degree is best for you, carefully assess your academic and career interests. Don’t forget that the difference between a BA in Psychology and a BS in Psychology is a matter of personal preference.

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