Capitalization of Academic Degrees



Perhaps you’ve wondered if and when academic degrees (bachelor’s, master’s, etc.) should be capitalized.

If you read through our Capitalization rules, you will notice that capitalization is sometimes a thorny area. We do not always have hard-and-fast rules to rely on; some areas are open to interpretation. This is evident in the area of capitalization of academic degrees as you will see from the different approaches of two of the leading American English reference books:

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) recommends that names of degrees, fellowships, and the like are lowercased when referred to generically, but to capitalize the name of a degree when it is displayed on a resume, business card, diploma, alumni directory, or anywhere it looks like a title rather than a description. Proper nouns, of course, should still be capitalized.

Examples:
Orlando is pursuing a bachelor of science in civil engineering.
Orlando is pursuing a bachelor of arts in English.
He introduced Jennifer Miller, Master of Fine Arts.
He introduced Master of Fine Arts Jennifer Miller.

The Associated Press Stylebook (AP) recommends no capitals when referring to degrees in general terms (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, associate degree) but always capitalizing specific degrees (Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science). AP is in agreement with CMOS that the field of study be written in lower case except when it contains a proper noun.

Examples:

Orlando is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.
Orlando is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English.
Orlando is thinking about getting a master’s degree.
He introduced Jennifer Miller, Master of Fine Arts.

Our recommendation is to pick your resource and then be consistent.

There is agreement, however, that abbreviations of academic degrees are to be capitalized. CMOS recommends omitting periods unless required for tradition or consistency (BA, BS, MA, MS, PhD), but AP prefers retaining the periods (B.A., B.S., M.A., M.S., Ph.D.).

 

Pop Quiz

  1. The keynote speaker tonight will be Juris Doctor/juris doctor Michael Abercrombie.
  2. The textbook was authored by Azizah Bakar, Master of Science/master of science.
  3. Eleanor is finally reaching the end of her studies for her Doctorate in History/doctorate in history.
  4. After studying hard for so many years, I definitely feel that I’ve earned my MS/M.S. in biology.
  5. Abraham worked hard to earn a Bachelor of Science/bachelor of science in Geology/geology and then a Master of Arts/master of arts in French/french.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. Juris Doctor
  2. Master of Science
  3. doctorate in history
  4. MS OR M.S.
  5. Bachelor of Science coupled with Master of Arts OR bachelor of science coupled with master of arts, geology, French

Posted on Wednesday, January 31, 2018, at 8:28 am

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10 Comments on Capitalization of Academic Degrees

10 responses to “Capitalization of Academic Degrees”

  1. AJ says:

    My question concerns what I think would be categorized “possessive adjectives.” My friend and I are in a dispute over a sentence: “She didn’t want to deal with anyone else’s finding out and not being able to handle her parentage.” My friend says it it should be: “…anyone else finding out…” Now, once I would’ve agreed, but I have since been told that, without the apostrophe s, it should be read: She didn’t want to deal with anyone else–period. But what she doesn’t want to deal with is someone’s finding out… Does this make sense? I hope I’m explaining it correctly. Also, is there anywhere for me to go to get an accurate and thorough explanation of this sort of grammar problem/solution? I’d appreciate whatever help I could get. Thanks. (There’s another sentence in dispute, which goes along with the same rule, I think: “He was pleased with my being a dancer.” Should it be “my” or “…with ME being a dancer”? Thanks.

  2. Hope says:

    Please clarify if correct:

    Sue holds both a bachelor of business administration and a master of accounting degree from the University of Michigan.

  3. Anthony D. says:

    Enjoyed this as always. One quick question, if it’s ok. You refer to CMOS and AP style guides but not MLA. There must be a reason that I’m not aware of. Just curious.

    • MLA is a fine style guide as well. We simply didn’t want to burden the article with a comparison of all the different points of view—two were enough to demonstrate that there are different approaches out there to choose from. We usually find that AP and CMOS sufficiently cover the ground, but people should use the style guides that best apply to the areas in which they are working or studying.

  4. Rob says:

    You offer “He introduced Jennifer Miller, Master of Fine Arts.” as an example of correct capitalization according to the CMOS. But as far as I can tell, the CMOS only recommends capitalizing job titles, degrees, military ranks, etc. in a sentence when the title precedes the name (e.g., President Jones; Master of Fine Arts Jennifer Miller). If I understand correctly, “Jennifer Miller, Master of Fine Arts” would only ever be correct if it was being used formally, e.g., in a signature, on a diploma, or on an event program where Jennifer is listed as a speaker. Can you provide some clarification?

    • That’s a good observation. As we mention in the article, capitalization (and especially capitalization of academic degrees) is a thorny area, open to interpretation. In CMOS’s online Q&A area, as well as in section 8.29, we see “Chicago style is to lowercase the degree (including the field) in running text and whenever it’s used generically. Generic uses often are introduced by ‘a’ or ‘the’ or ‘his.’ Capitalize the name of a degree when it is displayed on a resume, business card, diploma, alumni directory, or anywhere it looks like a title rather than a description. [emphasis added] You can’t go too far wrong with this if you’re consistent within a given document.”

      If you were to choose not to capitalize the academic degree in this case, you would not necessarily be “wrong”; consistency is the key.

  5. Veronica says:

    Mike holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Sue holds a doctorate, and Valerie holds a masters. In your references, you’re saying that “Engineering” should not be capitalized, though it is the name of the degree subject?

    • An academic subject is not generally capitalized unless it is being used to form part of a department name or an official course name, or the word itself is a proper noun (e.g., English, Spanish). Also, we recommend writing “…and Valerie holds a master’s.”

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