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Is a BS or BA better for graduate school and future employment?

TWNealTWNeal Registered User Posts: 72 Junior Member
edited October 2011 in Parents Forum
I plan to get my undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) or North Carolina State University (NCSU). After attaining my degree, it is important to me that I get into the most prestigious graduate program in computer science that I can.

If I attend UNC for my undergraduate degree, I have the choice to pursue a B.A. or a B.S. In the eyes of future employers and graduate program admissions officers, does it matter at all which degree I attain? If so, to what extent?

Thanks in advance!
Post edited by TWNeal on
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Replies to: Is a BS or BA better for graduate school and future employment?

  • turbo93turbo93 Registered User Posts: 2,845 Senior Member
    First identify what area of CompSci you'd like to focus on, and that should cut down the list of prestigious places fairly quickly.

    Second, the difference between a BS and BA may be that the BS has all the engineering or math emotional baggage attached (which looks good) while the BA may have the electives (liberal arts and the like) which may not look as good. So a BS will likely be more useful.
  • TWNealTWNeal Registered User Posts: 72 Junior Member
    Of how much importance is this emotional baggage? In my situation, I will have two years worth of college credits by the time I graduate high school. If I go to UNC, a B.A. will likely take only four semesters to achieve, while the B.S. will probably take five due to a more complex prerequisite structure. Is getting a B.S. over a B.A. important enough that I should attend undergraduate school for an extra semester?
  • polarscribepolarscribe Registered User Posts: 3,232 Senior Member
    Nobody pays any attention to the difference between a B.A. and a B.S. because it's not a good or consistent indicator of anything. Different universities have different criteria for the awarding of different degrees and there is no reliable rhyme or reason to which is which.

    I have a BS in journalism - not because I took any more math or science classes, but because at my undergraduate school, a BA required two years of foreign language while a BS required a minor or double major. I didn't want to take a foreign language, so I opted for a minor in American studies and earned a BS.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 69,826 Senior Member
    For UNC specifically, you can compare the degree programs' requirements:

    Degree Requirements for the Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science ? Department of Computer Science
    Degree Requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science ? Department of Computer Science

    Common requirements:

    COMP 401 (foundation), 410 (data structures), 411 (computer organization)
    MATH 231 (calculus 1), 381 (discrete math)
    STOR 435 (probability)
    Six upper level COMP or related courses including:
    Programming languages course
    Systems course
    Applications course
    College of Arts and Science breadth requirements

    BS has but BA does not:

    COMP 550 (algorithms and analysis)
    MATH 232 (calculus 2), 233 (multivariable calculus), 547 (linear algebra)
    Theory course (as one of the six upper level COMP courses)
    PHYS 116 (mechanics)
    Second science course

    To prepare for graduate study in CS as an undergraduate at UNC, you probably want to select the upper level COMP courses in all of the areas specified by the BS degree program, plus whatever you are interested in specializing in for graduate study. You also probably want a stronger math background, including the math courses specified by the BS degree program and possibly additional courses in algebra and number theory if you want to go into theory or cryptography.

    The extra physics and second science course specified by the BS program is unlikely to be noticed or cared about by graduate schools or employers (unless you are applying CS to that particular area of science).

    For industry software jobs, you probably want to include the COMP 550, 431, 530, 523, 521, and 535 in your course selection.
  • polarscribepolarscribe Registered User Posts: 3,232 Senior Member
    There's a distinction to make here: The classes you have taken certainly may be considered as part of graduate school admission, but BA/BS won't be.

    So if you pursue a BA program but take those upper-level CS/COMP classes as part of your course selection, there will be no disadvantage in your preparation.
  • toblintoblin Registered User Posts: 1,862 Senior Member
    BS or BA, no matter.

    Truth is: They just want the maxim amount of your money.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 69,826 Senior Member
    toblin wrote:
    Truth is: They just want the maxim amount of your money.

    A state university typically wants in-state students to graduate as quickly as possible, since each extra term means costing an in-state tuition subsidy.
  • turbo93turbo93 Registered User Posts: 2,845 Senior Member
    Unless CompSci grad school has changed since my days math is not really used much (unless you apply to Cornell, brrr :-)) and hence the math portion of the emotional baggage is not a big deal - but Prestige U. may want to see it all the same.

    The Theory of Computation classes are very entertaining and you need to have them.

    The science parts, again, make you look a bit better but not very useful.

    If you have no gaps in prerequisites and the like it won't make a big difference. If you're trying to finish quickly, keep in mind that having 'college credits' at high school graduation is one thing, being able to use them all is quite another. Only an Admissions Dude/Dudette from UNC et al will be able to tell you how the credits you have map out to UNC/ et al curriculum.

    I did a second BS degree in CompSci after BS Civil Engineering and it was fairly painstaking to get thru the credit transfer etc process. You may want to have as much of it set in stone before committing to a specific school.
  • thumper1thumper1 Registered User Posts: 69,871 Senior Member
    I'm not sure it matters. I have a BS for undergrad and a MA for grad....same field of study...and clearly my masters had NO liberal arts electives.
  • GeekMom63GeekMom63 Registered User Posts: 1,957 Senior Member
    This is an indirect answer: get the BS because of the classes you will take on your way there. I have a BS CS and am working in the field. I wish I had taken more science classes, and then I might be programming scientific applications, not business applications.
  • MomfromKCMomfromKC Registered User Posts: 378 Member
    Get the BS. Don't expect all your high school classes to transfer or count toward anything. Just because you have two years of college credits doesn't mean it is in the right classes. Look at the list and see how what you have taken lines up with what is required. Don't be shocked when you find out that 12 hour of humanities is required but you have 20. Guess where that extra 8 hours of credit goes. Accept the fact that it is going to take you 3 years to graduate - as it should.
  • Time2Time2 Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    Why is getting into the "most prestigious graduate program".......such a big focus for you? Ultimately you use your degree(s) to get a job. I bet 5 yrs after you join a company, most you work with won't even be able to say where the others they work with went to college.
  • ucsd_ucla_daducsd_ucla_dad Registered User Posts: 8,573 Senior Member
    I think you should go for the BSCS unless you have a specific reason for going for the BACS. Generally speaking, the BSCS implies more technicically oriented courses but what it actually boils down to will vary with the particular college. At some colleges it can indicate the difference between doing CS in the School of Engineering vs. doing it in the college of Letters and Sciences along with a different curriculum and at some universities, I think like UCB for example if I remember correctly, it's easier to be accepted to the BACS program than the BSCS program (BS in EECS there).

    As an employer, it can make a difference to me if I think one candidate had a more rigorous suite of courses than another.

    But if there's something you like better about the BACS program at the particular U then go ahead and do that.
  • jaychangjaychang Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    Do the BS if you want to get into a good graduate school. BS programs are often more rigorous than BA programs. Plus, a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science sounds a little odd versus a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, don't you think?
  • motherbear332motherbear332 Registered User Posts: 797 Member
    The specific courses you take in CS and math are more important for grad school admissions than whether the degree is labeled BA or BS; how programs are labeled is not very consistent across universities, so you can't really make a blanket statement. At UNCH, based on the info in post #5, it is probably worthwhile getting the BS. If you were doing the BA so you could get a double major some liberal arts field that could be relevant to your grad work like perhaps math, physics, or linguistics, that would be very good, too.

    Another important factor in admissions to an elite graduate program is demonstrated research potential. Whether you decide to do the BA or BS, try to get some undergraduate research experience.
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