What is a Bachelor of Arts Degree?
A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate college degree that can open doors for your career, deepen your knowledge in an area of study, such as psychology, business, and many other fields, or be a stepping stone to furthering your education in a graduate school program. You’ve probably already noticed that you need a four-year BA, Bachelor of Arts degree, to even apply to many jobs. Earning a bachelor’s degree is one of the most important steps you can take toward increasing your earning potential and job opportunities.
What is a Bachelor of Arts degree? Which degree should I pursue? What kind of options do I have? These are among the most common questions that we hear from prospective students at National University, so you’re not alone. Understanding exactly what a bachelor’s degree program encompasses will help you sort through word-of-mouth advice and the facts about earning a college degree. This article addresses many of the most common questions about earning a BA degree and how to take your life and career to the next level.
Exactly What Is a Bachelor of Arts Degree?
If you’ve heard the terms BA, Bachelor of Arts, or undergraduate degree, they all have similar definitions in the United States. Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or any bachelor’s degree is considered an undergraduate degree. Colleges and universities offer undergraduate programs, such as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, in certain disciplines or majors.
A Bachelor of Arts degree is a four-year college degree that covers standard general education requirements and then allows students to specialize in an area of interest. For example, National University offers a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, which means students in this BA degree program complete core and elective coursework in psychology, in addition to general education requirements for any Bachelor of Arts degree. Terminology such as “majoring in psychology” or “psychology major” can be used interchangeably and basically indicate that you are concentrating in a certain area of study in pursuit of your bachelor’s degree.
BA degrees are designed to prepare you with critical thinking skills, communication skills, and a foundation in the humanities – such as literature, history, language, and religion. While a Bachelor of Arts degree is one of the most common undergraduate degrees in the country, students who are determined to enter a specific career field can pursue many other kinds of undergraduate programs to prepare for graduate school or a career.
Using National University’s bachelor’s programs as an example, there are other kinds of bachelor’s degrees you can pursue besides a Bachelor of Arts:
- Bachelor of Science: prepares students for graduate programs (Master’s and PhD) in science and engineering, or for some STEM careers, such as engineering, lab technicians, and more
- Bachelor of Business Administration: prepares students specifically interested in a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, graduate program
- Bachelor of Public Administration: prepares students specifically interested in a Master of Public Administration, or MPH, graduate program
Beyond an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree is also called a graduate degree. Students who aspire to earn a master’s degree or continue on to a PhD program in the US must first earn a bachelor’s degree to apply for a grad school program.
What’s the Difference between a BA and a BS?
A BA (Bachelor of Arts) or a BS (Bachelor of Science) degree are both four-year university degrees that share general education requirements. In the U.S., these common courses are standardized and may include: English and writing, mathematics, natural science, and social science and history.
A Bachelor of Science program differs from a BA in several ways. The core and upper division coursework of a BS program takes a focused dive into your chosen discipline of science, technology, or engineering. This means that, beyond general education, students who want to earn a BS should understand their program will involve specialized and often rigorous courses in a combination of science, math, technology, and engineering topics.
If you’re wondering “What is a Bachelor of Arts degree?” and whether you should pursue a Bachelor of Science degree instead, ask yourself these questions:
- What are your personal career interests? The kind of career you want and your personal motivations are at the heart of this decision process, ultimately. Take inventory of your goals and aspirations for post-graduation. What field or fields do you want to work in? Do you want to hold a leadership or management position?
- What is your dream job? Which kinds of jobs (or grad programs) will you be looking for after you earn your degree? Do the research. Search for open job listings in the areas you’d like to work, and take inventory of which types of degrees are most often required by employers for the jobs you want. This can be a great
- Do you want to apply to graduate school in a science, engineering, or technology related field? Students with a career goal of earning a doctorate (PhD) in science or engineering may want to choose a Bachelor of Science program.
- Do you want to apply to graduate school in sociology, fine arts, writing, business, or other humanities programs? If you’re interested in graduate programs in the humanities —psychology, history, journalism, social work, or the arts for example — earning a BA in a relevant major will help prepare you for grad school.
Don’t let the labels “arts” and “science” mislead you. Earning your Bachelor of Arts degree is one of the most effective ways to open doors to a wide variety of career options and advancement, from business and marketing to healthcare and technology — and yes, even the fine arts, writing, or journalism. In fact, a BA degree is one of the most flexible degree paths for a job search after graduation.
Does a BA Degree Really Make a Difference?
You might be wondering, what is a Bachelor of Arts degree going to do for my job projects? The truth is in the data: earning your BA broadens the career opportunities available to you, improves your job market resiliency, and significantly increases your earning potential — not just in the long-term, but within that early-career decade after you earn a four-year degree.
- People who have a bachelor’s degree will earn more money during their lifetime. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree in 2017 was $1,173. Compare this to a worker with just a high school diploma, earning $712 per week on average in the United States. If you earn a graduate degree after your bachelor’s, those figures continue to increase. The national unemployment rate also decreases with a higher education level.
- You’ll earn more money even in the early stages of your career. Where you live and work, the field you work in, and how much career experience you have will, of course, have an impact on those average statistics. But these numbers aren’t skewed toward workers who are well advanced in their careers. The National Center for Education Statistics has shown that, in 2015, the earnings of people age 25-24 with a bachelor’s degree were 64% higher than the same age group who had completed only a high school diploma.
- There are more and more job opportunities for people with a bachelor’s degree. Let’s say that earnings aren’t your top priority, but opportunity and professional fulfillment are. In a rapidly changing job market, the demand for educated workers is increasing. BLS projections show that, by the year 2022, jobs that require a bachelor’s degree will increase by 3.1 Million or 12%. About a third of the population in the U.S. holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, as of 2015, which means earning your BA degree will help you remain competitive in the workforce.
What Kinds of Careers Can I Pursue with a Bachelor of Arts Degree?Picture your dream job and chances are that a bachelor’s degree is the first step in achieving your goals. A number of compelling, high-demand careers require a bachelor’s degree for you to even be considered as an applicant. It’s important to remember that employers are looking for candidates who have a four-year degree, and often they want employees who have a degree in a relevant discipline. A position in development and fundraising for a large non-profit organization, for example, may list a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, or management as a specific requirement.
Examples of careers where employers require or strongly prefer a Bachelor of Arts degree include:
- Marketing and sales management: manage teams and strategic marketing plans for a company or organization
- Human resources management: administer human resources and manage the complexities of benefits and compensation at places of employment
- Business leadership: aspire to senior leadership and executive level positions within companies
- Non-profit management and fundraising: understand the dynamics of managing not-for-profit organizations and the legalities of fundraising
- Public relations: take on the challenges of managing brands, promotion, and publicity for companies or organizations
- News journalism: use your talents as permanent staff of news outlets, including newspapers and TV networks
- Financial management: oversee the finances, spending, and purchasing of companies and manage accounting teams
- Information technology: manage IT teams and strategic planning for growth in IT
- Teaching: start with a bachelor’s degree and earn credentials to become a K-12 teacher or school administrator
- Medical technology: provide essential technology services in hospitals, clinics, and labs
- Healthcare management: coordinate services and manage the business side of healthcare facilities
- Web design and web development: design and manage websites and apps that serve customers and achieve revenue goals
- Aeronautics and aviation: train to become a pilot, air traffic controller, instructor, or airline manager
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree?
While bachelor’s degrees are often called a “four-year” degree, this is a shortcut term to identify it as more advanced than a two-year associate's degree. Four years is traditionally how long it takes a full-time student to complete all the credits needed for a BA or BS degree.
Oftentimes, students take longer than four years to finish a BA degree. The reasons vary: some students also work one or more jobs, may be balancing family life or other obligations or may be active duty military. There are a combination of factors to consider, particularly if you’re looking at degree programs to fit into your busy life.
To determine how long it will take you to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, consider your program requirements, what you’ve already achieved, and then make a plan to achieve your degree.
- Step 1: Know the bachelor’s degree requirements for your program. Look at the number of quarter units or credits required to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree. Using National University’s Bachelor of Arts in Management as an example, you’ll need to take 180 quarter units to complete your degree. If you have attended community college or have taken some credit courses already, take into account the quarter units or credits you have already earned or that you’re transferring from previous institutions.
- Step 2: Discuss with an admissions advisor if and how those previously earned credits apply toward the requirements for the BA degree program. Advisors are experts in this area and can review your transcripts to tell you exactly what it will take to graduate, no strings attached.
- Step 3: Make a plan to finish your bachelor’s degree. Once you understand which courses you still need to take to fulfill requirements for your degree program, make a plan for completing those courses. At National University, students take one course per month, making it easier for students to plan when they’ll be able to complete their BA degree.
Is a BA the Degree I Need? What If I Want to Pursue a Higher Degree?
The options available for earning your bachelor’s degree can feel overwhelming. Understanding how degree programs work in higher education will help you examine your career options and choose your right-fit program. While colleges in the United States vary significantly by program offerings, tuition and financial aid, and admission requirements, college degree programs follow this structure in general:
Associate’s degree: Often referred to as an AA, AS, or a two-year degree, associate’s degrees are typically offered by community colleges and vocational colleges. If you hold an associate’s degree or have earned the equivalent credits, you may be interested in transferring into a bachelor’s degree program. This minimum transfer credit amount varies by institution for admission into a Bachelor of Arts degree program.
Bachelor’s degree: As we’ve previously gone over, a bachelor’s degree is often referred to as an undergraduate or four-year degree. Depending on your field of study and post-graduation goals, you will be pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Bachelor of Science, or other bachelor’s degree.
Master’s degree: Beyond a bachelor’s degree, master’s and doctoral degrees are called graduate degrees. These degrees offer advanced academic study in a particular career field. Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) degrees are common, for example, as are Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), and more. You need to obtain a bachelor’s degree before you can pursue a master’s degree.
Doctoral degree: Continuing academic mastery in a specific discipline, some students pursue a doctorate or PhD. Doctoral programs involve several years of mentored research under the guidance of one or more faculty advisors, and doctoral students often publish their findings in academic journals. You need to have a bachelor’s and in some cases, a master’s degree to pursue doctoral studies, although the need for a master’s will vary widely depending on the specific doctoral program.
Certificate programs: Certificates in a particular discipline can help boost job qualifications, meet licensure requirements, and provide training in a career field — particularly if you’re changing careers or looking for a new job.
Whether your goal is to pursue a job that requires a bachelor’s degree, to apply for grad school, or to maximize your lifetime earning potential, most careers will likely start with choosing a bachelor’s degree program. So choose from your options carefully and take it one step at a time.
Can I Earn My Bachelor’s Degree Online?
Earning your BA degree online is a great way to fit a bachelor’s degree into your busy life. Students today have so many options to take courses online, without residency requirements or the expense and time commitment of travel to a campus.
National University offers more than 65 bachelor’s degree programs that are 100% online, delivered through interactive online learning environments, and offered in the same one-course-per-month curriculum as their on-campus offerings. Choose from dozens of online Bachelor of Arts degree programs at National University, including:
- Teaching and Education: Prepare for a career as an elementary school teacher with a BA plus single subject teaching credentials offered for California and Nevada students.
- Language: Explore the world of literature, language, and linguistics with a BA in English. Gain proficiency in speaking, writing and reading in Spanish with a BA in Spanish.
- History: Explore the past and gain a foundation in humanities with a BA in History.
- Business, Management, and Marketing: Gain a competitive edge with management skills, preparation in marketing and public relations, or understand advanced concepts of strategic communications. Earn a BA in Integrated Marketing Communications, in Management, or in Strategic Communications.
- Social Sciences & Psychology: Earn a BA in Digital Journalism, Film Arts, Global Studies, History, Political Science, Sociology, and more.
- Criminal Justice and Law: Get ready for law school or a legal career with a BA in Pre Law Studies.
- General Studies: Build on the studies you’ve already completed with a rounded BA degree in General Studies.
- Technology: Study interactive media, design, motion graphics, and gaming with a BA in Digital Media Design.
You can visit the National University website to explore which programs may be right for you.
What’s My Next Step?
There’s no need to go this alone. Explore your bachelor’s degree options, and then talk to an admissions advisor who is committed to helping you. Advisors have the qualifications and experience to work with you to make the decision that’s best for you. You can contact a National University advisor in several ways: