How To Refer To And Punctuate Your Degree Properly

For college students, the end of the school year is extra special if it means they finally get to hold their degree. The best part of graduation just might be that moment when a student officially receives the diploma that they worked so hard for. Now that all the hard work is done, they can proudly say that they earned a college degree. But how should they refer to that degree? There are lots of different degrees, and each one has different rules about how to correctly refer to them. Don’t worry, though, because we are offering an exclusive crash course in the correct ways to refer to all of those different college degrees.

⚡️ Commence with the high marks by taking our snappy quiz on the ways to punctuate and refer to degrees here!

Are degrees capitalized?

In general, major style guides agree that the names of specific degrees should be capitalized and the words referring to types of general degrees shouldn’t be capitalized. For example:

  • My mother has a master’s degree.
  • Jeff earned a Bachelor of Science degree. (A Bachelor of Science is a specific degree, whereas a bachelor’s degree is the more general name or category.)
  • Professor Andrews has two doctorates: a Doctor of Fine Arts degree and a Doctor of Music degree. (Similarly, a Doctor of Fine Arts is a specific degree within the general category of doctoral degrees.)

Of course, many universities have their own rules and style guides about how they refer to the degrees that they offer. Because of this, a university may capitalize the names of their degrees differently than the style guide that you use.

Should we abbreviate names of degrees?

In general, the rules around abbreviating names of degrees will depend on the style guide you use. For example, The Associated Press’s style recommends not abbreviating degree names at all and only allows it in order to avoid long sentences that include multiple degrees and people. If you are using AP style, the following example would apply:

Incorrect: Dr. Smith, who has a Ph.D, taught the class.
Correct: Dr. Smith, who has a doctorate in philosophy, taught the class.

Other major style guides are typically less strict about using abbreviations. Generally, the important thing is to remain consistent if you decide to use abbreviations or not.

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How are degrees punctuated?

If we are using abbreviations, the punctuation will depend on the style guide that you use. According to AP style, degrees that have two-letter abbreviations use periods while longer abbreviations do not. For example, Bachelor of Science would be abbreviated as B.S. while Bachelor of Fine Arts would be abbreviated as BFA. If you’re using The Chicago Manual of Style, no periods are used in abbreviations of any degree unless it is required or part of tradition. Again, a particular university may also have their own preferences regarding how they punctuate their degree names.

In AP style, abbreviations must follow a person’s full name. For example:

Incorrect: Dr. Nguyen, DDS
Correct: Dr. Angela Nguyen, DDS

Here’s how to style the most common types of degrees

With all of that out of the way, let’s look specifically at how we typically refer to the different types of degrees. In the American university degree system, there are typically four major types of degrees. While the specific names of degrees are usually consistent, the abbreviations will often vary depending on the style guide or university.

Associate degree

An associate degree is an undergraduate degree typically earned in two to three years of study. The name associate’s degree is also commonly used to refer to this degree, but some style guides may consider that incorrect. When written out, the names of associate degrees typically begin with Associate of.

There are many different types of associate degrees. Some common examples include:

Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree that typically takes around four years of study to earn. The name bachelor degree is also commonly used but may be considered incorrect by style guides. When written out, the names of bachelor’s degrees typically begin with Bachelor of. Unlike the general name, the specific names do not use the possessive bachelor’s.

There are many different bachelor’s degrees. Some examples include:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA/B.A. or AB/A.B.)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS/B.S. or SB/S.B or BSc/B.Sc. or ScB/Sc.B.)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch.)
  • Bachelor of Education (B. Ed.)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Criminal Justice (BJA)

Master’s degree

A master’s degree is a graduate degree that typically takes at least five years to earn. The name master degree is also commonly used but style guides may consider this name to be incorrect. Typically, the specific names of master’s degrees begin with Master of. As with bachelor’s degrees, the possessive master’s is not used in specific degree names.

There are many different master’s degrees. Some examples include:

  • Master of Arts (MA/M.A. or AM/A.M.)
  • Master of Science (MS/M.S. or MSc/M.Sc. or SM/S.M. or ScM/Sc.M.)
  • Master of Chemistry (MChem)
  • Master of Psychology (MPsych/M.Psych. or PsyM/Psy.M.)
  • Master of Engineering (ME/M.E. or MEng/M.Eng.)


A doctorate, also known as a doctoral degree, is typically the highest level degree offered by universities. The specific names of doctorates usually begin with Doctor of.

There are many different doctorates. Some common examples include:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D./PhD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D./MD)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD)
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D./JD)

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