What Is a Bachelor of Arts and What Can You Do With It?

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Discover what a Bachelor of Arts degree is and what is involved in completing this type of degree. Learn more about majors, coursework, and where a BA can take you in your career.

[Featured Image] A person in a black cap and gown holds a diploma after receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree.

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) is one of the most common undergraduate degrees in the United States. Earning your BA typically takes about four to five years of full-time study, and you'll often study topics in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The broad subject matter you may be exposed to in a BA program can provide a good foundation for many career paths.

Having a Bachelor of Arts degree can open opportunities that high school education alone generally cannot.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for bachelor's degree holders is consistently lower than for those with an associate degree or high school diploma [1].  

What does 'Bachelor of Arts' mean?

A Bachelor of Arts is a college or university degree available in various subjects. Each program covers standard general education requirements on liberal arts and humanities topics and then allows you to major in a particular specialization of your choice. 

The term ‘arts’ can be misleading because, in reality, you can earn a BA degree in a wide range of subjects beyond what you might consider art. A BA can prepare you for a career in business, marketing, or health care management, for example.

BA vs. BS degree: What's the difference?  

Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees are typically not all that different. In most cases, your choice of major (the primary subject focus of your degree) will determine whether you earn a BA or a BS. Generally speaking, BS degrees typically have more coursework in science, math, and technology, while BA degrees tend to focus more heavily on the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

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How do you earn a Bachelor of Arts degree?

Earning your Bachelor of Arts degree typically involves four years of study. You can extend it by choosing to study part-time. For the first two years, you generally focus on completing coursework in a range of subjects, including social sciences, humanities, languages, mathematics, sciences, and fine arts, designed to give you a broad foundation of knowledge. 

For the final years of study, you'll primarily focus on coursework in your major. Different colleges will have different lists of majors, so this also is something to consider when choosing a university.

If you have an interest in two areas, it may be possible to major in both, known as a double major, or add a minor, which is a specialization but requires less coursework than your major.

Admission requirements for a Bachelor of Arts

Admission requirements for a BA vary depending on the course and the college. In general, you must have a specified GPA and submit a statement of purpose or personal statement, along with transcripts of records of grades, a resume, and scores from standardized tests (SAT or ACT). You may need to pass a language proficiency test in English if you're coming from abroad to study in the United States.  

What subjects can I study for a Bachelor of Arts?

The subjects available for study as part of a Bachelor of Arts are vast. After completing the general requirements, you can major in a field of interest. Common BA majors include:

  • Anthropology

  • Biology

  • Communication

  • Criminal justice

  • Economics

  • Education

  • English

  • Geography

  • History

  • Journalism

  • Media

  • Philosophy

  • Political science

  • Psychology

  • Religious studies

  • Studio art

  • Theater and drama

The list is almost endless, and there will be variations of similar courses across different universities, with slight differences in titles and core classes.

What transferable skills will a Bachelor of Arts give me?

Completing a BA is designed to help you develop transferable skills that you'll be able to take into the workplace after graduating. The broad areas of study allow you to develop these highly regarded human skills, which are essential to most professional roles. Transferable skills you'll often learn as part of a BA include:

  • Communication: A degree involves working with others, communicating ideas, delivering presentations, and writing papers. These are essential communication skills that you can take to the workplace.

  • Leadership and project management: At times during a degree, you lead teams through projects and learn to delegate tasks, consider all parties, and make decisions.

  • Teamwork and collaboration: Through your degree, you work with different people and learn to communicate with various individuals at different levels. You may collaborate on projects with people from a variety of backgrounds and learn to listen to other points of view, opinions, and ideas.

  • Problem-solving: A degree enhances problem-solving abilities when testing hypotheses and designing solutions.

  • Time management: Through a degree, you learn to work independently, manage your own time and think for yourself. You may also have to juggle study and work, learning valuable time management skills.

  • Resilience: Through a degree, you learn to make mistakes, correct your work, and recognize that not everything goes as you want it to the first time. You learn resilience to carry on and make the desired changes.

  • Self-confidence: Having a degree can make you feel more confident about your subject knowledge and your ability to work with different people and approach new situations. 

What can I do with a Bachelor of Arts?

A Bachelor of Arts can create opportunities for jobs in all fields, from arts to business to science to law. College graduates are more likely to gain employment than non-graduates, but they are also paid significantly more [1]. On average, the starting salary for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree was $55,260 in 2020, which increased over previous years, despite the pandemic [2]. 

Job opportunities will often depend on your major, but having a degree, in general, demonstrates the desired level of education and development of transferable skills that many employers are looking for.

Graduates are more likely to take on management positions and apply for graduate positions and internships aimed at fast-tracking candidates to more senior roles. For example, Walmart is currently fast-tracking graduates into high-paying management roles [3].

Some majors may lead to higher paychecks. Tech jobs are among the highest-paid roles. For the class of 2020, the average salary for a post-graduate majoring in computer science is $85,766 [2].  

What options are there for further study?

After completing a Bachelor of Arts, many graduates deepen their subject knowledge with a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in their chosen field or a related area. This can open up opportunities for more advanced roles that require a master’s degree.

Other options for further study include a Master of Business Administration (MBA) for jobs in business or a terminal degree for a career in medicine, law, education, arts, or architecture.

Next steps

Learn how to get started in a career, progress within your current job, or change career fields by earning your bachelor's degree online from a top university. Already have some college credits? You may be able to leverage your previous college or military credits to earn your degree faster with the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the University of North Texas.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “High School Graduates with No College Had Unemployment Rate of 4.5 Percent in February 2022, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/high-school-graduates-with-no-college-had-unemployment-rate-of-4-5-percent-in-february-2022.htm."  Accessed May 31, 2022.

2. National Association of College and Employers. "Salaries for college graduates climb, even in the face of the pandemic, https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/press/salaries-for-college-graduates-climb-even-in-the-face-of-the-pandemic/." Accessed May 23, 2022. 

3. Business Insider. “Walmart Is Fast-Tracking College Grads to Store Manager Roles That Pay $210,000 a Year,  https://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-careers-college-graduates-management-roles-salary-retail-labor-shortage-2022-5?r=US&IR=T.” Accessed May 31, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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