How to Write Academic Degree Titles

Do you know how to correctly write college degree titles?

The landing gear is down on another academic year as students and faculty make their final approach toward the graduation runway. Many soon-to-be newly minted grads are now wading into the sometimes turbulent, often murky, and always anxiety-producing waters of job hunting.

So let’s think about how to correctly write academic degree titles on résumés, cover letters, celebration invitations, and LinkedIn profiles. This can be confusing, and in my nearly twenty years in higher education—as a counselor, instructor, administrator, and hiring manager—I’ve seen many resumes and applications where the writer apparently didn’t know how to correctly indicate his or her own degree. Stumbling over something so basic may not go over well with prospective employers. It never hurts to get this right.

To make it as simple as possible, I’ve put this information in chart form (and intentionally left the doctorate out of it as there are so many variations).

Formal (full) Title                       Informal Title                   Abbreviation
Associate of Arts/Science              associate degree                   AA/AS
  (or, Associate in Arts/Science)   (note: no apostrophe)
Bachelor of Arts/Science               bachelor’s degree                 BA/BS
                                                             bachelor’s
Master of Arts/Science                   master’s degree                    MA/MS
                                                             master’s

NOTE that informal degree titles are NOT CAPITALIZED and that an APOSTROPHE is used in bachelor’s and master’s but not associate.

Examples using bachelor’s degree:
CORRECT:

  • Formal: Adam has successfully completed his Bachelor of Arts in Economics. 
  • Informal: Adam has successfully completed his bachelor’s (or bachelor’s degree) in economics. [Note: (1) use an apostrophe; (2) the academic discipline is not capitalized unless the full formal degree title is used as above.]
  • Abbreviation: Adam has successfully completed his BA in economics.

WRONG: Adam has successfully completed his bachelor’s of arts (or Bachelor’s of Arts) in Economics.

REALLY WRONG: Adam has successfully completed his Bachelors of Arts in Economics (or Bachelor’s of Arts, or bachelors of arts) in Economics.

Examples using master’s degree:  
CORRECT:

  • Formal: Eve earned a Master of Science in Business Administration in 1995.
  • Informal: Eve earned a master’s (or master’s degree) in business administration in 1995. [Note: (1) use an apostrophe; (2) the academic discipline is not capitalized unless the full formal degree title is used as above.]
  • Abbreviation: Eve earned an MS in business administration in 1995.

WRONG: Eve earned a master’s of arts (or Master’s of Arts) in Business.

REALLY WRONG: Eve earned a Masters of Arts (or Masters, or masters of arts) in Business. 

Here’s another tip: Please, please be sure to get your own field of study correct! For example, at many colleges and universities there’s a “communication” or “human communication” (singular) degree, not “communications” (plural) degree. If you write “communications,” be sure that’s what it’s called at your school. Does it seem unimportant? Think again! If the competition for a position is stiff, every detail is especially important.

Congratulations to ALL graduates and best wishes for your future endeavors.

Questions? Comments? I’d like to hear from you!

Sources consulted: Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition) and The Associated Press Stylebook (2009 edition).

© Copyright 2017 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

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Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, voiceover guy, baseball bug, logophile, classical music afficionado, classic rock 'n' roll lover, classic-movie buff, bibliophile, former this, used to be that, and future who knows what. Every day is an adventure in learning.

2 thoughts on “How to Write Academic Degree Titles”

  1. Odd but I always seem to capitalize words or subjects or topics or people I respect. Again thanks for this information. I have always capitalized my degrees and licenses . Now I can do capitalize them in the right way. Thanks Corky

    Liked by 1 person

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