Computer Science BA vs. BS – The Difference Explained

March 30, 2024

computer science ba vs bs difference

Computer Science BA vs. BS – The computer science major has grown enormously in popularity over the past five or ten years. In fact, reports say that undergraduate enrollment in the major grew 34% between 2017 and 2022, and it continues to expand rapidly. Even before that, at Stanford University alone, the computer science major increased by 350% between 2008 and 2016, and in 2023, 16% of the graduating seniors were computer science majors. Why so popular? There are many benefits to majoring in computer science, considering that it sets students up for lucrative careers in a high-demand field. If you’re thinking about majoring in computer science, you should consider whether to do a BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BS (Bachelor of Science) program.

While both BA and BS programs can be very beneficial to students, they each come with pros and cons depending on student goals. Continue reading to learn about BS vs BA majors, as well as a few more helpful hints about applying to computer science programs.

What do BA and BS Computer Science programs have in common?

We will discuss the differences in a moment, but first, here are some similarities.

First of all, both types of programs emphasize math. Though it may seem from the title that a “Bachelor of Arts” program would place a less heavy emphasis on math skills, this is not the case. All computer science programs tend to entail multiple semesters of calculus, statistics, and related courses. Second, both BA and BS programs tend to involve a capstone project, in which students apply their studies to a particular question or interest in the computer science field before graduating. Lastly, both majors prepare students for careers in computer science, from software development to web development, to engineering.

What’s unique to a BS program?

For those who love math and science, a BS in Computer Science is considered to be the more “scientific” track, in which students focus intensively on the engineering and advanced mathematics aspects of the field. Those pursuing a BS program will complete additional computer science coursework that delves into a specific area, such as analyzing data structures and algorithms or working with computational theory. In other words, the BS degree in Computer Science tends to be the more specialized and in-depth option for students who are sure they want a career in the tech field.


  • This degree is great for students who know exactly what area(s) they would like to pursue within computer science.
  • The curricula of Computer Science BS programs tend to be defined and filled to the brim with required courses, making it ideal for students who enjoy the sense of organization that comes with knowing what courses they will need to take each semester.

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  • Because BS programs are so full of intensive computer science courses, they leave less flexibility for outside electives, which means less opportunity for interdisciplinary study.
  • Since so many of the courses are math-heavy, a BS may not be the best option for those who are not sure if they love math and science, or who feel weaker in these subjects.

What’s unique to a BA program?

BA programs in Computer Science, on the other hand, support a broader understanding of relevant computer science topics in relation to other disciplines. While BA students are still required to take a certain number of computer science courses, these courses are balanced by those in the social sciences and humanities for a more liberal-arts-oriented experience. This option allows computer science students to combine their scientific studies with other interests.


  • BA programs can allow students to learn computer science in relation to other subject areas, which is a great opportunity for students who enjoy thinking creatively and learning in interdisciplinary contexts.
  • Extra courses in humanities and social sciences can help in practical ways when it comes to a career in computer science. For example, learning foreign languages can help students to work in international contexts. In addition, sociology or history courses can allow students to develop critical thinking and communication skills, which can benefit them greatly throughout their careers.
  • For those who are less decisive about their career paths, a BA program can allow the flexibility to study computer science while double-majoring or minoring in a different department, which can help with decisions later on.

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  • BA programs might work less well for students who are intent on specializing in a specific area within computer science, since certain specializations might be unavailable.
  • Students will likely receive fewer credit hours in computer science and math, so a BA may not be the best program for those who are only interested in taking courses in those areas.

What jobs can you get with a BA vs a BS in Computer Science?

A bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, whether a BA or BS, will likely set you up for a well-paying career opportunity after graduation. While a BS might help you get a niche job in your focus area, a BA can also set students up for a wide variety of positions in areas from computer programming, to research science, to web development, to information security. In other words, while certain computer science jobs may be more easily available for those with a BS, the decision to pursue a BA will not hold you back from a great position (in fact, the interdisciplinary studies involved in a BA program can even lead graduates to different entrepreneurship opportunities or career possibilities in adjacent fields that they would not have otherwise found).

Here are a few of the many well-paying jobs available to those with BA and BS degrees in Computer Science:

1) Computer and Information Research Scientist

 These computer science professionals work to develop new technologies to solve computing problems. They are often responsible for creating and testing computing theories and conducting experiments in collaboration with other research scientists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these research scientists made a median pay of $136,620 in 2022.

2) Cyber Security Analyst

 Cybersecurity analysts protect computer networks from cyberattacks and unauthorized access, working to anticipate attacks and respond to security breaches in order to protect an organization’s data. These professionals are responsible for a number of tasks, including monitoring network traffic, fixing vulnerabilities, and conducting risk assessments. In 2022, they made a median salary of $112,000.

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3) Software Developer

 Software developers are responsible for new software products, ensuring that they are bug-free and operating correctly. This involves running a wide range of tests and troubleshooting a product before it is released to the public. Those with attention for detail and excellent problem-solving skills might be drawn to this career path. According to U.S. News and World Report, software developers made a median salary of $127,260 in 2022.

4) Systems Architect

 This job involves developing and maintaining computer systems and networks, planning and conceptualizing systems that support a company’s specific IT needs. These employees must have detailed expertise in software engineering, while also being able to think broadly and collaboratively. In 2022, systems architects made a median salary of $126,900.

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5) Web Developer

 These professionals work on the overall functionality and appearance of websites. While some work as freelance developers, others work for large companies or agencies. This could be an ideal position if you have strong computer programming skills and also an artistic side, since web developers often work on a site’s graphics (from color scheme to typeface). While pay for this job depends largely on the workplace, web developers make around $78,580 per year.

Some top programs to start your search

Here are five of the top schools in Computer Science, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. While some schools either have a BA or a BS, others only offer one degree or the other. Click here for a more complete list with descriptions of these top schools.

Note that while these are top programs, many schools from large state universities to small liberal arts colleges offer excellent Computer Science BA and/or BS programs. To be as informed as possible, you should check out the Computer Science programs at a range of institutions.

1) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (BS)

Ranked #1 in the U.S., this BS program boasts a flexible curriculum and hands-on approach to learning.

2) Carnegie Mellon University (BS)

Ranked #2 in Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon’s BS program “combines a solid core of Computer Science courses with the ability to gain additional depth through a required minor in a second subject or concentration in a computing area.”

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3) University of California, Berkeley (BA or BS)

UC Berkeley offers a BA in Computer science, as well as a specialized BS in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science. The school, located conveniently in proximity to the Silicon Valley tech economy, is also tied for the #2 ranking in Computer Science by U.S. News.

4) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (BS)

In addition to having an excellent BS program, UIUC has a blended degree program called CS+X, which allows students to pursue a BS in Computer Science in combination with another degree program in a wide range of disciplines, including (but not limited to) Animal Science, Education, Physics, Music, Anthropology, Economics, and Advertising. UIUC is ranked #5 in Computer Science.

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5) Princeton University (BA or BS)

Ranked as #6 by U.S. News, Princeton’s Computer Science program encourages interdisciplinary thinking and independent research, allowing for a rare amount of student flexibility.

BA vs BS Computer Science – Final thoughts

Let’s recap: the decision of whether to pursue a BS or BA in Computer Science can be a tough one. In general, if you’re interested in exploring computer science in an interdisciplinary and broadly-focused context, a BA program might be the best for you. If you’re more excited about delving into one area of computer science with an intensive focus, you should consider looking at BS programs. Either way, you will find these programs at a wide range of colleges, and both degrees can lead to many well-paying job prospects.

Best of luck as you continue the search and application process! For more information on computer science degree programs, we recommend checking out the 14 Best Online Computer Science Degree Programs and Top Feeders to Tech and Silicon Valley.