Do you want to work in astronomy, the study of the stars, planets and galaxies? Before you can undertake a master’s degree in astronomy, you need to first earn your bachelor’s degree. There are multiple types of bachelor’s degrees, with the most common being a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. With graduate school in mind, you might wonder if one of these types of bachelor’s degrees is a better choice than the other. The answer generally depends on the school or program, but if in doubt, students in this science major may prefer a Bachelor of Science degree.
Differences and Similarities Between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science Degrees
There are, in general, some differences between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree programs, even within the same discipline. A curriculum based in the liberal arts tends to fall under the B.A. umbrella, while one that more strongly emphasizes math and science coursework is more commonly considered a B.S., according to U.S. News & World Report.
Still, this is a general guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. Some schools still offer Bachelor of Arts degrees even in science and math subjects because the B.A. is the traditional bachelor’s degree that was offered before B.S. degrees became common, according to U.S. News & World Report. Bachelor of Arts degrees in science majors include considerable science and math coursework. They also offer students the opportunity to develop a breadth of academic knowledge, as is typical in a liberal arts program. In contrast, Bachelor of Science programs tend to be more specialized.
Much of the coursework across B.A. and B.S. astronomy degree structures is the same. Students may be expected to take General Astronomy I and II, as well as coursework in modern observational techniques in astronomy and electives in the field. They also have to take courses in physics and mathematics. However, the science and math course requirements are more extensive for students pursuing a B.S. than a B.A. A student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts, rather than a Bachelor of Science, may have more elective courses and more freedom to use those credits to study subjects outside of their major.
The difference between a B.A. and a B.S. isn’t one of quality but rather one of degree focus and scope. However, in some instances, having one type of degree over the other is better for achieving your goals.
Choosing Between a B.A. and a B.S. for Graduate Study in Astronomy
As long as you have completed sufficient coursework in the topics of astronomy, physics and calculus, your bachelor’s degree should, theoretically, prepare you for graduate school. This is true regardless of whether your degree is a B.A. or a B.S. In fact, some graduate schools will accept candidates with only a physics minor rather than a major in astronomy or physics. What generally matters more than the type of bachelor’s degree awarded or the exact major listed on your degree is the coursework you took and the other parts of your application – like your research experience, grades and letters of recommendation – that make your overall application strong.
Still, astronomy and its related disciplines, like physics, are among the physical and natural sciences. It might make sense for schools to prefer a B.S. when majoring in astronomy or physics. That said, there are Bachelor of Arts degrees in astronomy and astrophysics – as well as physics, math and other majors in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. These degree programs may still be able to prepare you for further study in astronomy, but it depends on the school.
Among schools that offer both B.A. and B.S. degrees in astronomy, the B.S. may be the recommended program for graduate study. If a school only offers one option and it happens to be a B.A., the curriculum may still be appropriate for graduate study.
What happens if you choose the “wrong” bachelor’s degree? Prospective graduate students should look at the requirements for admission, including any prerequisite courses in physics, calculus or astronomy. In the worst-case scenario, an astronomy major who chose a B.A. program instead of a B.S. program may need to bridge the gap between the science and math coursework they already have under their belts and the expectations of the graduate degree program.
Different graduate schools have different admissions requirements. While some schools may strictly require a B.S. degree – or simply a greater number of science and math courses – other graduate programs have less rigid requirements.