Difference between B.A. and B.S. Degrees

Computer Science at CU

The University of Colorado offers two different ways to major in computer science. A Bachelor of Science degree is available from the College of Engineering and Applied Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree is available from the College of Arts and Sciences. The BA degree is new as of Fall 2013; the BS degree has been offered at CU for decades.

What is the difference between the two degrees and which one is right for you?

You likely already know the answer; you just have to think about yourself, your interests, and your individual goals.

How are the degrees similar?

The BA in CS and the BS in CS are similar in that they both offer the same computer science courses taught by the same instructors all from the same department, the Department of Computer Science. They both offer similar job prospects. The demand for graduates with computer science skills is so high that employers are not making a distinction between computer science BA and BS degrees. Indeed, U.S. universities are currently producing only 61% of the graduates needed to fill technology jobs in the U.S. and this is projected to be true well into the 2020s.

How are the degrees different?

The BA and BS degrees are offered by two different colleges at CU Boulder. As a result, they have different graduation requirements as well as different policies and rules that govern a student's academic life during their time as an undergraduate.

The BS in CS degree is offered by the College of Engineering and Applied Science and is meant for students who identify as engineers. Engineers like to apply scientific principles to solve real-world, practical problems. They like to design and build the systems that keep our society functioning and that keep people healthy and safe. Engineers like to build things, creating prototypes that might solve a particular problem, and then iterating on the design until it's just right.

The BA in CS degree is available from the College of Arts and Sciences and is meant for students who are interested in computer science but do not identify as engineers. Such students may see themselves as scientists, wanting to learn computer science to aid in the process of scientific discovery. They may have an interest in math and view computer science as a means to explore the boundaries of computation and the analysis of large-scale, multidimensional datasets. They may have an interest in the humanities and have a desire to bring information retrieval and natural language processing techniques to bear on ancient manuscripts or the political writings of non-western societies. They might be interested in the web, either as a designer, organizer, or writer. Computer science skills can be useful in a variety of domains and the BA degree is designed to provide the space for students to combine their knowledge and skills in computer science with other A&S disciplines. (Note: while double majors are allowed and encouraged, they are not required.)

What is the high-level structure of the BS in CS degree?

A student enrolled in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, majoring in computer science, working towards a BS in CS degree needs to complete 128 credit hours to graduate.

  • 58 credit hours of computer science classes

    Divided as follows:

    • 21 credits of foundation classes
    • 20 credits of a CS curriculum track
    • 8 credits of a senior capstone project or senior thesis
    • 9 credits of CS electives
  • 17 credit hours of classes in mathematics

    Divided as follows:

    • 8 credits of calculus (Calc 1 and Calc 2)
    • 3 credits of linear algebra
    • 3 credits of probability or statistics
    • 3 credits of discrete math
  • 24 credit hours of classes in humanities, social science, and writing
  • 17 credit hours of natural science
  • 12 credit hours of free electives

What is the high-level structure of the BA in CS degree?

A student enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in computer science, working towards a BA in CS degree needs to complete 120 credit hours to graduate.

  • 42 credit hours of computer science classes

    Divided as follows:

    • 15 credits of foundation classes (includes 3 credits of discrete math)
    • 12-15 credits of a CS core classes
    • 12-15 credits of CS upper division classes
  • 11-13 credit hours of classes in mathematics

    Divided as follows:

    • 8-10 credits of calculus (Calc 1 and Calc 2)
    • 3 credits of linear algebra OR 3 credits of probability or statistics
  • 40 credit hours to complete A&S Core requirements

    Divided as follows:

    • 13 credits of natural science
    • 27 credits of classes in humanities, social science, and writing
  • 25-27 credit hours of free electives

The 25-27 credit hours of free electives are generally enough to allow a second major in A&S with careful planning. These free electives are more than adequate to obtain a minor or certificate program in a second A&S discipline.

So, in summary, what are the biggest differences between the two degrees?

The BS in CS degree is for students who see themselves as engineers. These students will take more CS courses, have slightly higher math requirements, and are required to complete a senior project or senior thesis. They also have less space in their degree to explore other disciplines via the use of free electives. The BA in CS degree is for students from a broad set of backgrounds. They take fewer CS courses, get a stronger liberal arts education via the A&S Core, and have more free electives to enable double majors, minors, and/or certificate programs in other A&S disciplines.

What if I do not want to major in CS but I'm still interested in acquiring CS skills?

Consider taking the Minor in Computer Science which is open to most undergraduate students attending CU Boulder. The Minor in Computer Science requires just 21 credit hours of CS courses.