Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree: What It Is and How to Earn One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn more about what majors you can study for a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, what’s involved, and where a BS can lead you in your career.

[Featured Image] Two BS degree graduates in dark caps and gowns hug each other in an outdoor setting.

A Bachelor of Science (BS) degree is a four-year undergraduate degree offered by many universities and colleges in various subjects. A BS degree is often a requirement for some of the most in-demand and competitive jobs, and earning one can open doors to all sorts of careers and further study options. 

What is a BS degree?

A Bachelor of Science is one of the most common degree types offered, along with the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. While you can earn a BS degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) subject, it's also possible to major in non-scientific fields with a BS. 

During the four years it takes to study for a BS degree, you'll undertake a combination of general education and core subjects, followed by coursework for both a chosen major and an optional minor

Common BS majors

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, business has been the most common undergraduate major from 2009 through 2020[1]. These were the top 10 most popular majors for undergraduate students as of 2020:

  • Business 

  • Health

  • Social sciences and history

  • Engineering

  • Biological and biomedical sciences

  • Psychology

  • Communication, journalism, and related programs

  • Visual and performing arts

  • Computer and information sciences

  • Education

You can study the majority of these majors as part of a BS degree, even if the major itself may not fit nicely into a STEM subject box. At some universities, a degree in visual arts or psychology, for example, may be available as either a BA or a BS, each with a slightly different focus.

BS vs. BA: What's the difference? 

Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees are widely available and the most common undergraduate degree types. 

Sometimes the major you want to take will dictate the type of degree you study. For example, art is usually a BA major, and engineering is usually a BS major. However, it isn’t always this clear-cut, and many subjects are available as both BS and BA majors, depending on where you choose to study and whether you want your degree to have a humanities or science grounding. A BA is typically more humanities-based, while a BS is more science-based.

BS degrees typically give you a high level of knowledge in the subject you're majoring in. Coursework may lean more heavily toward science, technology, engineering, math, and lab studies and research, all of which you can tailor to complement your major.

BA degrees, in comparison, tend to be less specialized and include a range of humanities-based subjects, which include philosophy, history, literature, art, social sciences, and foreign languages. A BA generally allows you to cover a broader range of subjects and pick electives that aren’t necessarily related to your major.

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Read more: What Is a Bachelor's Degree?

How to earn a BS degree 

Once you’ve decided that a BS degree is right for you, you'll research schools that offer the program you're interested in. Earning your degree involves meeting the entry requirements, applying, being accepted, and completing your required credits.

Programs vary, so you want to ensure that the ones you're looking at offer your chosen major. As well as choosing a major, you will complete core subjects, which vary according to where you study, and you will have the option to select minors. It’s important to check these subjects, too, to make sure that you can choose topics that complement your major and the career you’re looking to pursue. For example, if you are taking a BS in biology, but you think you might like to work in zoology, it is beneficial to take a minor related to animals. 

You can choose between studying at a college or university in-person, online, or in a hybrid setting. Take the time to consider the pros and cons of each to find out which option suits you best. Whenever possible, visit the campus to see how you feel about it.

BS degree admission requirements

 Application processes will vary from place to place, but typically you will need to prove you meet the educational entry requirements and submit a college essay or statement of purpose and pass the SAT or ACT admission test. Some colleges and universities will also ask for letters of recommendation and a resume.

Degree completion requirements

Once you’ve been accepted into the college of your choice, you will choose your BS major and typically complete 120 credits over four years if you attend full-time. You'll also pick classes that relate directly to your major. The courses in your major will account for one-third to one-half of your total credits.

Read more: What Are College Credits?

Typical timeline for earning a BS degree

A BS degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete, but there are ways to speed up or slow down the process to suit your needs. Some institutions offer accelerated courses that are quicker than the traditional route. These can take anywhere between two and four years. Other online courses allow you to study at your own pace, so you can take longer to complete your BS degree to accommodate work and other commitments. 

Read more: How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's Degree?

Is a BS degree right for you?

To start, consider your major. What you want to major in might mean that your options for a BS degree are limited, or it might mean you have a wealth of choices available to you. If your major is widely available as both a BS and BA degree, think about what you are looking to learn.

A BS degree route is likely to include hands-on experience, such as the opportunity to conduct research in your major. With a BA, you may be able to take a more comprehensive array of subjects with less opportunity to specialize. 

Also, think about the career you are looking to enter. The type of role you are looking at will impact how you approach your degree. For example, if you want to major in environmental science, a BS will provide you with lab and research experience. However, if you're going to focus on writing policy and campaigning, a course like a BA might suit you better.

What can I do with a BS degree? 

Employers generally do not look at whether you've earned a BS or BA degree but instead look at the subject area you studied. As such, both types of degrees typically carry equal weight. Many careers expect a certain level of experience and education, and for STEM careers, a BS is often required.

Next steps

If you have decided a BS degree is for you, it’s time to find the right program of study. Think about whether you want to attend school in person or prefer the flexibility of getting an online bachelor of science degree. If you’re still unsure about what to major in, you can check out this article for more tips.

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Article sources

1. National Center for Education Statistics. "Undergraduate Degree Fields, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cta." Accessed May 19, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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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