Part 2: Science vs Liberal Arts Degrees: What’s the Difference?

Bianca Ring, Opinions Editor

What distinguishes a discipline between a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts? The seemingly obvious answer is that a Bachelor of Science deals with more topics in science, technology, engineering, and math, whereas a Bachelor of Arts focuses on humanities. One would be correct in assuming an Electrical Engineering major would get a Bachelor of Science, and a Studio Fine Arts major would get a Bachelor of Arts. However, in many circumstances this definition doesn’t hold.

Merriam-Webster refers to astronomy by name in the official definition of a “hard science,” defining it as “a science (such as chemistry, physics, or astronomy) that deals with things that can be observed and measured.” As an Astronomy minor myself, I concur with this classification. The classes I’ve taken in the field of astronomy rely heavily on principles of physics, and memorizing the atomic interactions that occur in space and making calculations is the majority of what those classes entail. However, Astronomy majors at Union receive a Bachelor of Arts when they graduate. 

To find out why this is, I reached out to Professor Rebecca Koopmann from Union’s department of Physics and Astronomy. Professor Koopmann told me that “In short, our astronomy major is directed at those who are not interested in going on to graduate school in astronomy/astrophysics, but who are interested in careers such as teacher of earth science, planetarium director, science museum educator, science writing, and historian of science. To that end, there is more flexibility in the required courses, including more courses from other science departments.” 

In this case, the distinction has more to do with the type of job an individual is interested in within the field of astronomy. A student looking to do research at a graduate level within the field of astronomy would be encouraged to get an undergraduate degree in physics, which has more math requirements and is more relevant to a research track. 

According to Josh Moody from U.S. News, this same logic is applied to many fields. He says psychology majors with a B.A. tend to go into counseling as a career, while psychology students with a B.S. usually go into research. At University of Colorado Boulder, a B.S. in computer science is recommended to students looking to go into the field of engineering, and students interested in other jobs are encouraged to get a B.A. in computer science. For fields that have both a B.A. and a B.S. option, the class requirements tend to be equally focused on concepts of their respective field, but the former often has more electives, and the latter tends to have more math requirements and lab-based courses. 

In addition, Moody reports that according to James W.C. White, interim dean of arts and sciences at CU Boulder, the classification of a degree is unlikely to be the deciding factor of whether or not you get a job. White states that “it’s far more important when you apply for a job to make sure your employer knows what classes you’ve taken and what background you have because that will make a difference.” White maintains that the distinction between a B.S. and a B.A. is much less important than the degree itself. 

Therefore, neither option is “better” overall, and even in instances where one is preferred over the other, your degree type won’t ruin your chances of getting a specific job. Students concerned with science being treated differently from humanities should instead look to my article in last week’s edition of Concordiensis, “Economics major reclassified as STEM: why the distinction matters.” In that article, Professor Lewis Davis explained that the United States government, in an effort to support the progress of technology in the United States, allows international students majoring in fields that are officially categorized as STEM to remain in the United States for two years to find a job after graduating. An international student with a Bachelor of Arts degree in a field classified as STEM, such as Union’s Economics program, would have their visa extended after graduation, while students in a non-STEM field must return to their home countries. In this respect, it does not matter whether a student gets a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science, but the opportunity for international students to find jobs in the United States depends on whether the government recognizes a given field as pertaining to science, technology, engineering, or math. Students in humanities fields are unfairly overlooked in this respect, but not as a result of degree type.