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To capitalize the degree name

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A degree indicates what level of study a person has completed, and often what field or specialty. In its most basic form, a degree name includes only the level of study attained, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, they often also include majors and minors, as well as emphasis, academic distinctions, and honors.

Capitalization and style guides for degree names vary by style guide, but in general, we recommend capitalizing terms only when using specific degree names and proper nouns.

Let’s take a closer look.

Degree name

The Associated Press Stylebook recommends that degree names are not capitalized when used in general terms and capitalized when referring to a specific formal degree. Common terms for degrees include learning levels, often accompanied by articles or pronouns such as ‘a’ or ‘her’, and may contain the word ‘degree’. For example, set the following terms to all lowercase:

Associate Degrees, Bachelor Degrees, Master Degrees, PhD Degrees, Doctoral Degrees

When using a specific formal degree name, all parts of the name are capitalized.

Associate in Humanities, Bachelor of Science, Master of Business Administration, Doctor of Philosophy

However, the major, or field of study, is set to lowercase unless it is a proper noun, and is set similarly to Minor or Emphasis.

Associate of Arts in Photography

Associate Degree in Chemistry

Bachelor of Science in English with Emphasis on Journalism

Master of Business Administration in Organizational Leadership, Minor in Accounting

Master of Engineering, minor in French

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, Minor in Sociology

The Chicago Manual of Style offers a different approach and recommends setting all parts of all degree names (both common and specific) to lower case (CMOS 8.29).

Associate Degrees, Associate Degrees, Bachelor of Science Degrees, Master of Business Administration Degrees, Master Degrees, Doctor of Philosophy

As with AP style, major and minor or stress is set to lower case unless it is a proper noun.

Friends of the art of photography

Associate Degree in Chemistry

Bachelor of Science in English, Emphasis on Journalism

Master of Business Administration in Organizational Leadership, Minor in Accounting

MSc in Engineering, with an emphasis on French

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, Minor in Sociology

Chicago allows the degree name to be capitalized if it appears and acts like a title rather than a description.

Anita Falmer, MFA, Honors Student

Casey Smoul, Bachelor of Music

This includes when the degree name is used in listings, directories, diplomas, business cards, resumes and promotional items. However, Chicago does not provide specific guidance on how the measure should be styled for these uses, so this is dictated by taste and home style. Majors can be set to either uppercase or lowercase as long as they are consistent.

conferment of degrees

Many US colleges and universities offer latin honors awards at three levels of achievement: bachelor’s degrees and juris doctor degrees. Best praise” to each.

Set to lower case if the degree name contains Latin honors. AP Stylebook and CMOS (7.55) agree not to italicize these terms.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, First Class (AP)

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, cum laude (Chicago)

degree abbreviation

If you need to abbreviate the degree name, use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters according to established abbreviations. Some of the most common abbreviations use only uppercase letters.

Bachelor’s Degree (BA)

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Other degree abbreviations use mixed case. This includes the most well-known graduate degree, the Doctor of Philosophy.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Master of Education (MAEd)

Master of Engineering (MEng)

Master of Science in Master of Engineering)

Doctor (DMin)

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Chicago recommends omitting periods unless “necessary for tradition or consistency with established style” (10.21), and AP Style recommends including periods. Both guides state that degree abbreviations should be used after the full name and separated by commas.

What’s your name?

With so many options for what to include in your degree name and how to style it, it can be overwhelming. Even the word “degree” can give us pause. We often hear the word “bachelor’s degree” as often as “bachelor’s degree” or “bachelor’s degree”. The AP Stylebook recommends removing the word “degree” when using a particular full degree name. This will simply be a “Bachelor’s degree”. However, most style guides do not emphasize this. Also, including the word “degree” in the full name is not wrong in most situations and in many style guides, but it is redundant and unnecessary.

There is also some confusion about the “Associate Degree” and it’s easy to see why. Since the common terminology for bachelor’s and master’s degrees uses the possessive, it is understandable to assume that the possessive is used here as well. In fact, both “Associate Degree” and “Associate Degree” are widely used. AP Stylebook recommends using “Associate”, but Merriam-Webster and Wordnik both include “Associate” entries. According to Google Ngram, “Associate” was used more frequently in the 1980s and 2000s, but since 2013 “Associate” has been used almost equally. The Chicago FAQ says that both terms are “reasonable and logical” and can be used either way. The use of possessives depends on the chosen style her guide, consistency, and preferences.

Another degree name to pay close attention to is the PhD. A “Ph.D.” is a degree name, just like a “Master’s degree.” If “Doctor” and the degree name are used as part of the specific full name, then “Doctor of Dental Surgery”. “Doctoral” is an adjective related to a doctor or PhD, like “doctoral dissertation” or “doctoral degree”.

As is often the case with style guidance, consistency is key. In general, it’s a best practice to capitalize terms only when using specific degree names and proper nouns to avoid redundancies.

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