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It may seem confusing that some education programs offer a bachelor of arts (BA), while others offer a bachelor of science (BS). Some differences exist between the two degrees; a BA provides training in liberal arts, while a BS orients more toward sciences. The most important issue with an education degree often lies in whether it is aligned to teacher licensure standards, however.
BA and BS Differences
Many education programs operate as BA programs. A BA program, technically, implies that a graduate has mastered a particular "art"—in this case, the "art" of teaching. Philosophically, this view of teaching differs from that implied in a BS program, which views teaching as one of the "sciences." The degree type does not necessarily relate to the subject area one plans to teach; for example, colleges do not provide a BA to those teaching liberal arts and humanities (English, history) and provide a BS to those teaching math and science. Rather, the distinction between BA and BS says something about whether the school considers teaching an art or a science. Practically speaking, the two degrees may not be very different, as both should, in theory, meet teacher certification or licensure requirements for that state.
Perceptions of BA vs. BS Degrees in Education
In education as in other fields, the perception exists that BS degrees are more rigorous, as they take a more scientific approach (at least in theory) than BA degrees. However, this view does not reflect the reality of the field of education as an academic discipline or, even more important, of the job market. Education courses typically involve studying social sciences, such as psychology and sociology; different schools classify these fields differently (as arts or sciences), and different schools also classify education programs, with their related content, as either arts or sciences. The rigor of the courses does not depend on whether they lead to a BA or BS, but rather on what content they cover. In fact, the classification of the degree (BA vs. BS) matters less, in the field of education, than the content of the degree (whether the classes you take will allow you to become licensed as a teacher).
Teacher Certification for BA or BS Graduates
For education graduates seeking teacher licensure, the real issue involves whether the program will lead you to teacher licensure in the state, grade level and subject area you seek, as well as the program's success in placing graduates in teaching jobs. For the best way to ascertain placement rates, discuss your questions with the faculty or administration of the program or programs you are considering.
Questions to Ask about a Program in Education
Rather than focusing on whether a program offers a BA or a BS in education, focus on whether it meets licensure requirements and will allow you to find a job after graduation. Ask faculty or administrators in the program whether you will graduate with an actual degree in education, as opposed to a minor, whether the program leads to licensure in your states or other states, and how easy or difficult you will find the process of adding other certification areas (such as an additional content area, special education, or ESOL). You may also want to ask about the program's job placement rate for graduates and the program's field-based experience (the number of opportunities it provides for you to observe or work in school settings while you are pursuing your degree).
In conclusion, the degree you receive, if you want to become a teacher, usually matters less to school districts than what you have actually learned in the program. Take your time; investigate the program's content and approach thoroughly. Most important, spend enough time in school settings, whether you are earning a BA or BS, that you can accurately determine whether a teaching career is the right choice for you.
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Tricia Smith began copy editing in 2001 for the "American Journal of Jurisprudence" and has been a grant-writing consultant since 2004. She also has experience with curriculum and instruction, educational fund-raising and special education. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Michigan.