A Bachelor of Arts (BA or AB; from the Latin baccalaureus artium or artium baccalaureus) is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate program in the arts and sciences. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three or four years depending on the country and institution. They are contrasted with Bachelor of Science.
Diplomas generally give the name of the institution, signatures of officials of the institution, type of degree conferred, conferring authority, and location at which the degree is conferred. Diplomas are printed on high-quality paper or parchment; individual institutions set the preferred abbreviation for their degrees.
In colleges and universities in Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, and South Africa, the BA degree can be taken over three years of full-time study. Students must pursue at least one major area of study and units from that subject are usually studied in each year, though sometimes students may choose to complete upper-level classes in the same year and as a result, can leave space for elective subjects from a different field. At some universities, students may choose to pursue a second major; alternatively, the remainder of the degree is taken up with a minor area of study (in the first two years) and other individual or stream-based subjects make up the degree.
Unlike in other countries, students do not receive an overall grade for their Bachelor of Arts degree with varying levels of honours ("honours" is a distinction but not part of the degree itself). Qualified students may be admitted, after they have achieved their (general) bachelor's program with a high overall grade point average, to a further one-year bachelor (with) Honours degree program ((with) Honours is part of the degree itself). Thus, to achieve a Bachelor (with) honours degree (e.g. BA (Hons.) or BA hons.), an extra "postgraduate" year and a high research honour's thesis must be completed; see honours degrees. A student who holds a (with) honours degree is eligible for direct entry to either a doctorate (PhD) or a very high research master's degree program.
Education in Canada is controlled by the provinces and can be very different depending on the province. Canadian universities typically offer four-year Bachelor of Arts degrees. In many universities and colleges, Bachelor of Arts degrees are differentiated either as BA or as honours BA degrees. The term "honours" is an academic distinction, which indicates that students must achieve their BA degrees with a sufficiently high overall grade point average; in addition, some programs may require more education than non-honours programs.
The honours degrees are sometimes designated with the abbreviation in brackets of '(Hon(s))'. It should not be confused with the consecutive BA degree "with Honours", Latin baccalaureatus in artibus cum honore", 'BA hon.' de jure without brackets and with a dot. It is a "postgraduate" degree. Going back in history, a three-year BA degree (also known e.g. in Québec as grade de bachelier ès arts) was also called a pass degree or general degree.
A student who first achieves a general BA degree with a sufficiently high overall average may be admitted to a "postgraduate" baccalaureatus cum honore degree in the same field; it requires a minimum of one year, but may also take longer; it typically does not exceed two years. Students may be required to undertake a long high-quality research empirical thesis (honours seminar thesis) combined with a selection of courses from the relevant field of studies. The consecutive B. cum Honore degree is essential if students' ultimate goals are to study towards a two- or three-year very high research master's degree qualification. A student holding a B. cum Honore degree also may choose to complete a doctor of philosophy (PhD) program without the requirement to first complete a master's degree. Over the years in some universities, certain B. cum Honore programs have been changed to corresponding master's degrees.
In general, in all four countries, the BA degree is the standard required for entry into a master's programme. In science, a BA hons degree is generally a prerequisite for entrance to a PhD program or a very high research activity master's programme. As such, for example, the UK awarded honours are designed and should not be confused with Canadian-, Australian-, New Zealand-, and South African-awarded BA hons/BA (Hons) degrees.
For further clarification, in other countries, the so-called "honours" bachelor may not be an actual degree, but the name of a (vocational) programme that can be completed through specified course work, a high grade average, and the completion of possibly a short paper or project; students who completed such an honours BA programme sometimes style themselves by '(Hon)' after the degree abbreviation without a space, in parentheses, and after the 'Hon(s)' without a dot, for example 'BA (Hon)'. The three- and four-year BA.degree is also accepted for entry into graduate professional programmes such as law or a master of business administration program.
In the Netherlands, the BA and master of arts (MA) degrees were introduced in 2002. Until then, a single program led to the doctorandus degree. This comprised the same course load as the bachelor's and master's programs combined. The title doctorandus was used in almost all fields of study; other titles were used for legal studies (meester, Dutch for master, abbreviated Mr.) and engineering (ingenieur). Those who had already started the doctorandus program could, on completing it, opt for the doctorandus degree (entitling them to use "Drs." in front of their name), or could use the master's degree (postnominal letters) in accordance with the new standard.
In Germany, university-level education usually happens in either a Universität (plural: Universitäten) or a Fachhochschule (plural: Fachhochschulen); both can be referred to as a Hochschule, which is the generic term in Germany for all institutions awarding academic degrees. Fachhochschule is often translated as "University of Applied Sciences". Universitäten place greater emphasis on fundamental science and theoretical background, while Fachhochschulen are generally designed with a focus on teaching professional skills. Degrees earned at Universitäten and Fachhochschulen are legally equivalent.
In Germany, the B.A. normally lasts between three and three and a half years – six or seven semesters – and is awarded after the student earns between 180 and 210 ECTS.
In the United Kingdom (excluding Scotland) and Ireland, the first degree course normally lasts three years, but nomenclature varies: 19th-century and later universities usually distinguish between arts and sciences subjects by awarding either a B.A. or B.Sc. degree. However, some older or ancient universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin traditionally award B.A.s to undergraduates having completed the final examinations, e.g. Part II Tripos (Cambridge), Final Honour Schools (Oxford), Moderatorship (Dublin), in most subjects including the sciences. Some new plate glass universities established in the 1960s, such as York and Lancaster originally followed the practice of Oxford and Cambridge by awarding B.A.s in all subjects, but have since changed to awarding B.Sc. degrees in science subjects. At Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin the degree of M.A. can be claimed, usually twenty-one terms after matriculation. For many centuries, the bachelor's degree was an intermediate step and was awarded for much of the work carried out in later times at secondary schools. The names of the final secondary school exams in France and Spain (and increasingly in the UK—the International Baccalaureate) come from this: le Baccalauréat and el Bachillerato, respectively.
The Ancient Universities of Scotland award a Master of Arts degree to humanities or arts graduates, but a B.Sc. to science graduates. This course takes four years for an honours degree and three for an ordinar. In Scotland, it is possible to opt to take an ordinary degree rather than this simply ranking below a third class honours (for example, B.A. with distinction, merit or pass).
A Bachelor of Arts is entitled to the designation B.A. for an ordinary/pass degree and B.A. (Hons) for an honours degree. Students who completed an honours B.A. sometimes style themselves by '(Hon)' or '(Hons)' after the degree abbreviation in parentheses. An honours degree is always awarded in one of four classes depending upon the marks gained in the final assessments and examinations. The top students are awarded a first-class degree, followed by an upper second-class degree (usually referred to as a 2:1), a lower second-class degree (usually referred to as a 2:2), and those with the lowest marks gain a third-class degree. An ordinary or unclassified degree (which does not give the graduate the right to add '(Hons)') may be awarded if a student has completed the full honours degree course but has not obtained the total required passes sufficient to merit a third-class honours degree. Typically these degrees lack the final year requirement of a dissertation.