Back to School Alphabet Soup: BA vs BSc vs HonBA vs HonBSc
December 1, 2009 11:53 AM   Subscribe

So, I'm at a transition point in my life. A bunch of things are ending and a bunch of things are beginning. Seems like a good time to finally get around to finishing that degree. Only question is, which degree?

(Apologies in advance for how long this is.)

Let's take a trip down memory lane:

The year is 2003 and our hero is three years into a four year Honours Bachelor of Science in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, our hero is also in pretty dire financial straits. Because of decent marks, he has gotten managed to get an indefinite extension from the financial aid department on paying his tuition for the current year, but he'll have to settle up eventually. And paying rent is proving hard enough. So when the tech NGO he works for part-time as a code monkey offers him a salaried position, he jumps at it and never looks back.

In the intervening six years I've worked various coding jobs, published a novella, written a novel, lived in four countries and grown tired of referring to myself in the third person.

I'm thirty years old and considering what my next career move is. I know I don't have the temperament for a career in computer programming. Sad as it is to let those skills go to waste, I've burned out on it. Writing is my primary passion and I am in the process of cleaning up the manuscript for my novel and seeking an agent. I'm sure I'll write another regardless of whether or not i manage to sell this one. I also intend to continue doing freelance work for magazines. That said, it's not a revenue stream that's going to support me and my family.

I think I'm a pretty clever guy, I'm creative and I've got a rather extensive and esoteric skillset. I've got exceptional communication skills and I know I interview well. My real goal is to break into either the publishing (literary press or magazines) or gaming (video or tabletop) industry. Eventually I would love to be in a creative director type position. I'm more than willing to pay my dues and put in my time, but I also don't want to start in the mailroom.

I've also considered the possibility of a career in Public Service Canada.

So, it has occurred to me that before beginning the job hunt in earnest, it might benefit me to have an undergraduate degree on my resume in addition to all my work experience.

Now, the question only remains of how exactly to do that. I'm only two half-credits shy of completing a three year Bachelor of Arts degree. The University of Toronto no longer offers the three year degree but, because they did when I was originally a student, I'm grandfathered in and still have the option of completing it. The trick with getting the three year B. A. is that, should I ever opt to complete the fourth year and upgrade it to an Honours degree, I could only upgrade it to an Hon. B. A., not an Hon. B. Sc..

So, if I want to keep my options open regarding eventually completing my original course of study, I would need to complete seven courses instead of two. This would involve going back to school full time for half a year but, when I was done, I would have a three year Bachelor of Science degree.

The thing is that, since I'm not intending to seek work in a field related to my degree regardless, it's not clear to me what the relative merits are of having a B. Sc. versus a B. A. (or an Hon. B. Sc. versus an Hon. B. A.). Would the fact that I have an irrelevant science degree be more impressive to someone hiring for, say, a publishing company, than an irrelevant arts degree?

The other question is: How much, if at all, are people going to care that I have a three year degree rather than a four year degree? I definitely don't have the money or inclination to complete the rest of my four year degree right now, but I may want to upgrade in the future. I'm not planning to ever go to grad school, but my wife is a German citizen and we may well find ourselves living in Europe (again) at some point. Will my three year degree be looked down upon outside of Canada? Or will anyone even know the difference?

The reason this is important now is because, if I do ever decide to go back and complete a fourth year, I would very much prefer to complete the Hon. B. Sc. in Artificial Intelligence rather than an Hon. B. A. in Cognitive Science. The difference in cool factor should be obvious.

So, yeah... I guess this is a pretty open-ended question with two major parts:

1. Is a B. Sc. (compsci/psychology) significantly sexier than a B. A. (cognitive science/linguistics) to the people that would be hiring in the publishing or game design industries?

2. How likely am I to feel a need to upgrade my three year degree to a four year degree later in life?


Below are the actual details about what would be involved for me to finish my degree, for anyone who cares(To even walk back onto campus at U of T, I'll need to pay off the ~$3500 in back tuition that I owe the school.):

1. The fastest way to get out of the school with a degree would involve taking one half-credit psychology course and one half-credit linguistics courses. I would then qualify for a three year Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Cognitive Science. (2 courses. $1100 addtl. fees: $4600 total.)

1a. Identical to (1.) except that by adding a second linguistics half-credit, I could complement the Cog. Sci. major with a minor in Linguistics. (3 courses. $1650 addtl. fees: $5150 total.)

2. If I complete four computer science half-credits and three half-credits in psychology, then I can earn a three year Bachelor of Science with no major, but a double minor in Computer Science and Psychology. (7 courses. $3850 addtl. fees: $7350 total.)

2a. Strangely enough, I took several theoretical physics courses as electives and it turns our that I'm just as close to completing a physics minor as a compsci minor. Three year B. Sc. with double minor in Physics and Psychology. (7 courses. $3850 addtl. fees: $7350 total.)

3. To complete the original four year degree I was working towards: Six computer science half-credits, four linguistics half-credits and two philosophy half-credits would net me a four year Honours Bachelor of Science in Artificial Intelligence. (12 courses. $6600 addtl. fees: $10100 total.)

3a. Six linguistics half-credits, four psychology half-credits and two philosophy half-credits would net me a four year Honours Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Cognitive Science and Linguistics. (12 courses. $6600 addtl. fees: $10100 total.)
posted by 256 to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So, ignoring costs, a BSc in CompSci is definitely more valuable than a BA if you want certain programming jobs. For immigration purposes a degree counts a lot and a BSc in CompSci will get you points where a BA will not. I'm not sure about Europe, but definitely in the US and although it doesn't apply to you, Canada as well.
posted by GuyZero at 12:16 PM on December 1, 2009

Response by poster: So, ignoring costs, a BSc in CompSci is definitely more valuable than a BA if you want certain programming jobs.

Right. But I don't want another programming job. Ever. What I need to know is if it's still more valuable when applying for non-compsci jobs.

For immigration purposes a degree counts a lot and a BSc in CompSci will get you points where a BA will not. I'm not sure about Europe, but definitely in the US and although it doesn't apply to you, Canada as well.

This doesn't really matter. Anywhere I might want to immigrate to, I don't need any further credentials than being married to a German.
posted by 256 at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2009

So, given that it's not that big a deal which degree you get but one's goals in life do change and you may want to hedge your bets. Most video games companies are less hung up on credentials versus other software shops. Publishing has its own social norms, most of which have little to do with your degree AFAIK.
posted by GuyZero at 1:27 PM on December 1, 2009

I've never noticed anyone to care about BS vs BA or how long it took as long as you have some sort of college degree from a reputable university... then again, I have worked with startups and web firms, so those are areas where what you can do matters more than what degree you have. If you want to work in some big company, your mileage may vary. I suppose computer science is more valuable if you want to work at a video game company.
posted by lsemel at 6:07 PM on December 1, 2009

Best answer: As a fully qualified Random Internet Person™ I suggest:

1a. Because - even if it's not a BSc, BA in Cognitive Science with Linguistics, sounds pretty flashy (and that's the point right? With employers at least!), and somehow like you might be the sort of generalist who'd go into publishing.


2a. Physics with Psychology, Because - you've already got the work experience to prove your chops in Computer Science, and you've pointed out you don't ever want to do that again. Physics is both hard science, yet sounds less stuck in a niche that Computer Science - my perception is someone with a physics degree would be more likely to go off and do something random, including computer science, than the other way round. And psych balances it out saying you're (maybe) a people person, you're covering all the bases, smart AND well rounded.

And now, my point?
You should read my above comments carefully and go - but wait! I REALLY feel *this* way about it. And see THAT is what you should go with.

Good luck!
posted by Elysum at 4:34 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

PS The less-credits options above put the donkey before the cart. If you take another paper and decide *OMG*, I love this uni/academia thing!
Then you can change your mind, take more papers and stay on for Hons etc. If you feel like it's something you just want to get over and done with, then you're all good.
posted by Elysum at 4:37 AM on December 2, 2009

I would go with option 2a.

Publishing and Gaming are competitive industries. would you consider taking another techy job, not necessarily programming, but maybe IT support of some kind, at a print or game publisher to get your foot in the door?
posted by WeekendJen at 7:33 AM on December 2, 2009

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