When deciding which bachelor’s program best fits your career aspirations, you can easily get lost in the numerous options available. While many other bachelor’s degrees can differ in terms of curriculum and even value, this is not the case when earning a bachelor’s degree in Public Health. There are minor differences between a Bachelor of Arts in public health versus a Bachelor of Science.

But how can this be, and why are there different programs if that’s the case? If you take a closer look, although these programs have the same prerequisites and similar curriculums, there are a few differences when it comes to career aspirations.

This doesn’t mean that these degrees offer different levels of qualification; rather, they set you up for slightly different paths, depending on your career goals.

What Is Public Health?

Positions in public health focus on promoting and protecting the health of people and the communities they live in. Their research and studies don’t focus on individuals, rather they look closely at community trends that affect large groups of people. To better understand the different facets of this career, take a look at the five Ps framework of the public health field. Each “P” stands for one of the following components:

  • Population-based
  • Prevention
  • Promotion
  • Protection
  • Preparedness

While both a BS and BA in public health can propel you into a fulfilling career, it’s important to note the small differences in each to better position yourself for your professional aspirations.

BS vs. BA in Public Health

At the bachelor’s level, the two types of public health programs are nearly identical. They share similar prerequisites and curriculums, but with slight differences.

Bachelor of Science

A bachelor of science in public health tends to have a curriculum that is more focused on science-based materials. This means that prospective students who know they want to pursue a clinical, graduate-level education or advanced public health degree after their bachelor’s degree are more likely to apply for this program. Some examples of these graduate paths are medical, NP, and PA school.

Students who have completed a bachelor of science are more aligned with a career path in clinical health care. This doesn’t mean, however, that those who have earned a BS in public health must follow this career path. It only means that the science-focused coursework better prepares you for a position in a clinical setting.

Bachelor of Arts

These programs include more of an emphasis on social sciences, rather than hard sciences. Students still need to take technical courses like statistics, but are offered other courses that may not necessarily be required for a bachelor of science degree.

Because of this, students who pursue a BA in public health tend to enter the workforce in public health, health administration, and political science positions, rather than clinical or research positions. A BA in public health can still prepare you for graduate level education like medical school, but you may not have all the prerequisites needed to apply.

Even with these slight differences, prospective students shouldn’t be dissuaded from applying from one program over another. These two degree types are very similar in the level of education you receive, along with the jobs they prepare you for. Most employers seeking bachelors level workers will view either degree favorably, as will graduate programs.

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Public Health vs. Clinical Health Professions

In establishing the small differences between a BS and BA in public health, the larger question of a career path emerges. Even though these degrees are both excellent programs for applicants who want to pursue a career in public health, bachelor's degree graduates typically decide between two types of roles: public health vs. clinical health professionals.

Public Health Career Paths

If you have a passion for improving the well-being of individuals in your community, but don’t necessarily want to serve in a direct service clinical capacity, a career in public health is the right path for you. This career path offers opportunities to educate members of the public on health-related issues and focuses more on research and development, rather than direct patient care. Here are a few positions you can consider if you are interested in a public health career:

  • Healthcare Administrator
  • Public Health Advisor
  • Public Health Administrator
  • Public Health Policy Analyst
  • Health Educator
  • Community Health Coordinator
  • Community Health Worker

Clinical Health Career Paths

Clinical healthcare positions are well-suited for those who prefer interacting with patients and having a more hands-on role with peoples’ health. It’s important to note that while a BA or BS fulfills the minimum educational requirements for most of the positions listed above, this list of clinical healthcare positions require additional education, and residencies in some cases. Keep this in mind when looking over this list of roles you can apply for in a clinical setting:

  • Medical Doctor
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Physician’s Assistant
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Epidemiologist

While each degree type positions you for various careers, it’s important to note that prospective employers aren’t likely to pay attention to whether you received a BA or BS in public health. Just make sure you have the education and training required for whatever specialization you choose in the field.

Next Steps to Entering the Public Health Field

Completing your bachelor’s degree in public health sets you up for a fulfilling career—whether it’s a BS or BA. Prospective students should avoid getting caught up on the semantics of these degrees and instead take a closer look at what they want to achieve after graduation. Are you looking to immediately enter the public health field or attend medical school and complete several years of residencies? The answers to these questions should be able to guide you in the right direction.

Whatever path you choose, you will be well-positioned for the career of your choice!

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