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Arts vs Sciences



Choosing a college major involves choosing between topics of study in the arts vs. sciences. This article defines the arts and sciences, points out differences in art vs. science majors and classes. Keep reading for more on arts vs. sciences.

Many major universities have a college or school of arts and sciences, and this phrase - arts and sciences - is a common way to capture the bulk of the subjects studied in higher education. But these words are not being used in the way they are in earlier schooling: we’re not talking about grade school art and science here, and this can be confusing. Just what are the arts and sciences? This article will explain.

What Are the Arts?

This group of subjects goes by various names, including

  • Arts
  • Liberal Arts
  • Arts and Letters
  • Arts and Humanities

When arts are contrasted with sciences, they can include any or all of the following:

  • Art (Art History, Studio Art, and Graphic Design)
  • Film Studies
  • History
  • Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature
  • Performing Arts (Dance, Music, Theatre, and Musical Theatre)
  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Women’s Studies or Gender Studies

Any of these departments that grows big enough may be moved to its own school at a large institution. For example, at Northwestern University, the School of Music is separate from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

What Are the Sciences?

The sciences are often divided into two major groups: the physical sciences and the social sciences. Engineering and applied sciences may be considered a third group, but is often not offered at small liberal arts colleges and even some universities. Because different universities organize their divisions differently, there isn’t a single rule that covers it, but engineering and applied sciences and social sciences may each have a separate college or division.

Physical Sciences may include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Physics
  • Mathematics and Statistics

as well as combinations like biochemistry or physical chemistry. Astronomy and Geology may be separated from Physics or

Social Sciences often include:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Government and Politics
  • Health and Fitness
  • Psychology
  • Public Policy
  • Sociology

Types of Work in the Arts and Sciences

With so much done differently at different institutions, and such a wide range of majors possible in the arts and sciences, only generalizations about the differences are possible.

  • Courses in the arts usually concentrate more on interpretation and understanding of words and cultural artifacts.
  • Courses in the sciences usually concentrate more on observation of the natural world (including people).
  • Courses in the arts often considers objects of study in terms of meaning.
  • Courses in the sciences often concentrate on objects of study in terms of measurement.
  • Courses in the arts usually require creating (if studio arts, music, or theatre) or writing papers.
  • Courses in the sciences tend to have more laboratory work and tests.
  • Typically, courses in the arts award a Bachelor of Arts degree (B.A.).
  • Typically, courses in the sciences award a Bachelor of Sciences degree (B.S.).

Typical Courses of Study in the Arts and Sciences

For most college students, the experience with a major in the arts or sciences will be similar:

  • Choose a major in sophomore year.
  • Fulfill general requirements, which vary by school, but may include entry level mathematics, foreign language, English writing and sometimes English literature. At some schools with a Common Core, there will be a more extensive list of requirements.
  • Fulfill a list of requirements and options in one’s major.
  • Choose electives that may be completely free or have some guidance.

Note that in lieu of choosing completely free electives, at most colleges it is possible to choose to minor in another area (which can be either an art or science, no matter what your major is) or even double major. Some colleges also allow students to design their own, unique course of study.

There will often be a culminating project that results in a paper, unless on is in studio arts or performance, in which case, the final project will reflect the discipline. The bachelor’s paper is often called just that: it does not have a special name like the master’s thesis or the doctoral dissertation.