Online psychology degree: Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science?

August 19, 2019 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
When it comes to online undergraduate psychology degrees, prospective students have two main options: a BA or BS. But what's the difference?

Do you want to make a positive impact on society? Work closely with individuals in your community to improve their daily lives? One way to do this is through the field of psychology. Professionals are involved in research, clinical roles and related industries like public policy, social work, medicine and public administration.

Overall, psychology presents opportunities in these areas and many more related to behavioral science. However, prospective psychology professionals can pursue multiple paths into this field. Two of the most direct include a Bachelor of Arts in psychology or a Bachelor of Science in psychology.

But how are the BA and BS different? Why should you choose a BA in psychology over a BS, or vice versa? Let's explore those important questions.


What's the difference between a BA and a BS degree?

Before we compare and contrast the psychology BA and BS tracks, it's crucial to understand the differences between a Bachelor of Arts program and a Bachelor of Science.

First, the similarities:

  • BA and BS degrees in the same field grant similar levels of qualifications.
  • Both a BA and BS are typically completed in four years.
  • Both are undergraduate degrees that are potentially valuable to employers and students.


So why go with one over the other?

That's where the differences come into play. A BA curriculum is tailored to be more holistic and wide-reaching. As the word "arts" may imply, BA students often take arts and humanities classes in addition to their major. Common learning outcomes of a BA include critical thinking, communication and writing skills.

A Bachelor of Science curriculum is often more focused on the major, with many classes in that area and fewer in the arts and humanities. As a result, students may take a greater number of classes related to the technical and practical skills of their desired industries, as opposed to general courses.

In simple terms, BA students often take more classes outside their majors in pursuit of a comprehensive education, while BS students may enroll in more classes in their majors to build a specialized subject matter expertise. 

A psychologist works with a patient.

Where the psychology BA and BS are similar

With the general differences between a BA and BS degree in mind, let's take a closer look at the online BA in psychology degree program and the online BS in psychology at Arizona State University. Students who enroll in these two online programs will have access to a curriculum that combines theoretical psychology with more practical coursework. 

Both programs span 120 credit hours and roughly 40 total classes. Required courses include Introduction to Psychology, Introduction to Statistics and Research Methods, but the specific curriculum starts to diverge shortly after. The online student’s daily experience will be similar as well. Students in both the BS and BA tracks will attend multimedia lectures, but the flexible, online nature of the programs means they can complete these requirements at a time and location of their choosing.

In addition, many psychology courses prompt online students to complete group and individual projects, pass a number of tests and some have writing requirements. With ASU Online, the average class size for both the BA and BS ranges from 60 to 250 students, providing plenty of opportunities for networking and collaboration.


Overlap in psychology career outcomes

Another area where the BS and BA psychology degrees share similarities is career outcomes. Graduates of the programs typically pursue jobs in:

  • Clinical psychology.
  • Medicine.
  • Public administration.
  • Public policy.
  • Research psychology.
  • Social service.
  • Social work.


It's important to note that most clinical psychology roles require a graduate degree and state licensure to practice. The undergraduate BS and BA psychology programs can prepare students to go on to a master's degree, but don't satisfy the requirements for a practicing psychologist on their own. As a result, many undergraduate psychology students intend to apply to master's programs upon graduation.

Where the ASU Online psychology BA and BS are unique

The online BA and BS psychology degrees offered through ASU Online aren't completely alike. BA degrees often touch on the arts and humanities. This is also true for the BA in psychology from ASU Online. For example, BA students have the option to complete an elective in their second terms, while BS students are required to take a life science lecture and lab and a physical science lecture and lab around this time.

BS students' curriculum also includes more advanced math and statistics courses compared to BA students, such as Precalculus for BS as opposed to Finite Mathematics for BA. This is in service to the upper division coursework in the online BS in psychology program, which includes a stronger mathematical background than the BA. The BS program also has an additional math requirement for students beyond the introductory statistics class included in both tracks.

These changes tie back into the overarching themes of BA and BS degrees. BA in psychology students will learn the same fundamentals as BS students, but have a greater emphasis on skills like writing, critical thinking and research methods. On the other hand, BS students will have access to the same subjects, but their required courses lean more toward cultural, socio-historical and transnational issues in psychology with an emphasis on the practical side of the field.

Generally speaking, BS students will complete a course load geared toward math and science, while BA students will lean toward arts and humanities on top of their psychology classes.

How to choose between a BA or BS in psychology

So which degree path is right for you? The online Bachelor of Arts in psychology or the online Bachelor of Science in psychology? A key factor in the answer is graduate school. 

Any practicing psychologist will likely need to complete a master's program to attain licensure. Which undergraduate degree you choose could have an effect on your acceptance into graduate school. For example, the APA noted that nearly all psychology master's programs require applicants to have introductory psychology, statistics and research methods on their undergraduate transcripts.

At this point, both the BA and BS would prepare you well for graduate school. But there are more classes that could impact your master's program of choice. The BS program includes more advanced classes in mathematics and statistics, in addition to the physical science and life science lecture and labs. Students who are looking at master's programs with a greater emphasis on these areas could opt for the BS program.

On the other hand, students who are interested in master's programs with a more general focus on psychology or the arts and humanities may lean toward the BA. Students who are also interested in industries such as marketing, education or business may opt for a BA, as the broader general education requirements may touch on these areas in greater detail than a BS.

Neither the BA nor BS in psychology will rule students out of a graduate-level program in the industry. However, some admissions committees may prefer applicants have psychology backgrounds that more closely align with their program’s curriculum. Given that careers in psychology often require master's degrees, prospective students researching undergraduate programs may also be researching graduate programs at the same time, and you should keep your post-undergraduate aspirations in mind as you decide between paths.

Psychology is a wide-reaching industry, with involvement in fields such as mental health, counseling, child development, medicine, law, economics and more. Regardless of whether they choose the online Bachelor of Arts in psychology or the online Bachelor of Science in psychology program, students may want to make sure their educations can prepare them for careers in these areas.


A group of psychology students sit together for a discussion.
A psychologist speaks at a conference.


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