The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Bachelor of Arts

A Bachelor of Arts (B.A. or A.B.) is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for a course or program in the arts and/or sciences.



The BA generally lasts three years in the United Kingdom (except Scotland) and Australia or four years in the United States.

In Canada, most BA programs last four years, although Quebec universities offer a three-year degree after graduation from a provincial CEGEP programme. Some Canadian universities outside of Quebec offer three-year BA degrees, particularly in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario, but these degrees are seen by prospective employers and graduate schools as being less prestigious than their four-year (honours degree) counterparts.


In the United States and Canada, a Bachelor of Arts degree usually requires a student to take a majority of their courses (usually 1/2 or 3/4) in the arts, namely social sciences, humanities, music, or fine arts. The curriculum of a traditional Bachelor of Arts degree is centered around providing a well-rounded, liberal arts education.

In the United States, colleges and universities often award Bachelor of Arts degrees even to those who pursue a majority of their coursework (i.e., major) in traditional, "hard" science fields such as biology and chemistry. This is particularly common at some prestigious American universities, such as Princeton University, and liberal arts colleges.

In the UK, usage varies: most universities maintain an Arts/Science distinction but some, e.g. Oxford and Cambridge traditionally awarded BAs (which automatically leads to an MA after 4 years) to undergraduates regardless of subject. Most of the Ancient universities of Scotland award an MA to arts undergraduates but a BSc to science undergraduates.

A Bachelor of Arts receives the designation BA or AB for a major/pass degree and BA(Hons) or AB(Hon) for an honours degree.

Difference between the BA and BS

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS or BSc) are very similar, in that they are the most common of undergraduate degrees. In the United States and Canada, both degrees consist of a general education component (usually requiring matriculants to take courses in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics). They typically also require students to declare a major, take a certain number of elective courses, and sometimes have basic skills components (such as writing exams or computer proficiency exams).

The BS typically requires more courses in the major than the BA. Also, the BS tends to be awarded significantly more often in the natural sciences than in the humanities. Finally, the BA is used four times as often by so-called "arts and sciences colleges" than professional/technical schools. Beyond these differences, the variation between the BA and the BS is dependent on the policies of the individual colleges and universities.

EU harmonisation

European Union members states' ministers of education have agreed on a harmonisation of the education cycles within the EU. One part of this agreement is the division into an undergraduate and a graduate level of higher education.

Following this so-called "Bologna/Berlin declaration" (see Bologna process for more information), universities in the EU are now in the process of reorganising their courses in order to offer Bachelor and Master degrees. Many universities have already changed to the bachelor/master model, and the others soon will. Subjects of the humanities and social studies can be completed with a BA at an increasing number of universities in Germany already, for example. This means EU countries are giving up their traditional magister or diploma courses to make switching and comparing universities easier.

The reason for this rationalisation is because the English magister ("master") and baccalaureus ("bachelor") classifications developed separately from most European countries. For example the baccalaureus is gained at the end of secondary education in some countries. For a fuller explanation of why this is so see Degrees of Oxford University.

The BA is supposed to last three/four years, the MA one/two years, but altogether no longer than five years.

See also:

Last updated: 05-07-2005 17:18:50
Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:53