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


A BA program generally lasts three years in the United Kingdom (except Scotland), South Africa, New Zealand and Australia or four years in the United States and Canada. BA programs are increasingly taking about five (rather than four) years to complete in the USA because a student must enroll for more than 12 credit hours a semester (minimum full-time enrollment) in order to complete it in 4 years without summer classes; college students are increasingly choosing to work either full or part-time and stretch out their college education a bit more.

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 "general" three-year BA degrees, particularly in Ontario, but these degrees are seen by prospective employers and graduate schools as being less prestigious than "honours" degrees, which typically take four years to complete. Generally, four-year honours degrees are a requirement for admission to graduate school.


In the United States and Canada, a Bachelor of Arts degree usually requires students to take courses in the arts, namely social sciences, humanities, music, or fine arts, while still maintaining a majority of the coursework in the student's major of interest. The curriculum of a traditional Bachelor of Arts degree centers on 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, Brown University, Cornell University, Columbia University, Yale University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, University of California Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, and liberal arts colleges like Amherst College, Williams College, Middlebury College, Grinnell College, Carleton College, Vassar College, and many others. Also, schools such as Johns Hopkins University offer the option of obtaining either BA or BSc degrees. Some American and British universities still offer BA degrees in engineering, more from a traditional perspective than anything else. A Bachelor of Arts in the U.S. receives a BA or AB (depending on the school's traditional wording on the diploma) -- in the US, honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude or in cursu honorum) usually appear only in the curriculum vitae or resume, not normally in postnominal abbreviations.

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 some time) to undergraduates regardless of subject. The ancient universities of Scotland award an Master of Arts to arts undergraduates but a BSc to science undergraduates. A Bachelor of Arts in the UK 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 BSc/BS

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS or BSc) are very similar in some countries, 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). However, in countries that do not require a general education component - such as Australia - the subjects studied are likely to be almost completely different in each degree.

The BS typically specifies more courses in the major (or in cognate fields) than does the BA. The BA focuses on creating a well-rounded graduate through exposure to natural sciences, social sciences, and foreign languages. Predictably, the BS tends to be awarded more often in the natural sciences than in the humanities. In the United States, the BS is also often awarded in majors that are more markedly pre-professional than purely academic: one is more likely to find the BS offered in Finance, Accounting, Criminal Justice, Fire Science, Transportation Studies and the like than the BA. 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 a BA is required first.

See also

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