Rules for Capitalizing Academic Degrees in AP Style
As a firm believer in the value of higher education, I can appreciate people taking pride in their academic degrees. These credentials are hard-earned, representing significant investments of time, money and effort. It’s understandable for people to want to show them off in capital letters. As a writer following the Associated Press Stylebook, however, I capitalize according to the rules and not people’s egos. There are clear guidelines for capitalizing academic degrees in AP style.
If you’ve ever wondered if bachelor’s degree or master’s degree is capitalized, then keep reading to find out!
Academic Degrees to Capitalize in AP Style
So do you capitalize degrees? The following formal names of specific degrees should always be capitalized in AP style:
Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Science
Master of Arts
Master of Science
Master of Business Administration
As you can see, master’s degrees are capitalized when abbreviated. However, the forms bachelor’s degree, bachelor’s, master’s degree and master’s are acceptable as general terms.
In case it’s not obvious, I have a bachelor’s in writing.
As you can probably tell, I did not pursue a master’s degree.
Note that these are possessives and should contain apostrophes, whereas formal names of specific degrees are never possessive.
Associate degree is never possessive.
I collected a few dozen associate degrees before deciding to become a freelance writer.
When to Abbreviate Academic Degrees
When it is necessary to establish an individual’s academic credentials, AP style guidelines advise that you use a phrase instead of an abbreviation. When noting the credentials for several individuals, however, use AP style rules for abbreviations if writing out phrases for each person would render the text cumbersome. These abbreviations should be used only with full names, and they should be set off with commas.
Bringing together expertise across a range of trades and industries, the panel included Bella Andrews, B.A.; Matthew Song, M.S.; Lloyd Davis, LL.D.; and Phyllis Dreyfus, Ph.D.
Note that the abbreviations M.A. and M.S. include periods, but MBA does not.
If possession of an academic degree grants the title Dr. to an individual, do not use both the title and the abbreviation in the same reference.
Incorrect: Dr. Janet Chang, Ph.D.
Correct: Janet Chang, Ph.D.
Correct: Dr. Janet Chang
Capitalizing Doctoral Degrees
When referencing an individual with a Ph.D., say that he or she holds a doctorate, then name the area of specialty.
My former classmate, who holds a doctorate in comparative literature, now works as a campus security officer at our old high school.
Use Dr. as a formal title on first reference to individuals with degrees in medicine, optometry, dental surgery, osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine or veterinary medicine.
For individuals with doctoral degrees in other disciplines, you may use Dr. on first reference as necessary to establish credentials. If the individual’s area of specialty is not immediately clear from the context, take care to specify it within the first two references.
The team enlisted Dr. Abigail Preston, the leading historian on the subject.
If no area of specialty is specified, an individual with the title Dr. is generally assumed to be a physician. In articles involving multiple individuals with different doctoral degrees, however, you may need to specify if any are physicians.
Refrain from using Dr. to refer to individuals with honorary doctorates.
The Rules for Capitalizing Degrees Apply to Everyone
You don’t need a master’s degree to know the proper names for credentials. If you still have questions about capitalizing academic degrees in AP style (i.e. Should master’s degree be capitalized? Is bachelor’s degree capitalized?), ask away via the comments below! Click here if you’d like to freshen up on some more AP Style rules.
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Does a person’s concentration or major need to be capitalized? For example:
“John holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Southern Methodist University.”
Great question, Meaghan. The degree specialty is not capitalized, unless it includes a proper noun.
Ex: “John holds a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Southern Methodist University.”
Ex: “John holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Southern Methodist University.” (“English” is a proper noun.)
When I’m writing someone’s resume and everything in that line is in “initial caps,” I capitalize even the subjects, e.g., “Civil Engineering,” that are not proper nouns. It looks nicer. However, I feel a little guilty doing it for honors like “Summa Cum Laude” because – every time I look it up – it says, “Don’t capitalize the honors.”
But look at the two ways it could appear:
Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Summa Cum Laude
Bachelor of Arts in mathematics, summa cum laude
I like it the first way. Please tell me I’m not wrong…or at least be gentle. (FYI, one time, a client had written “suma cum laude,” and I had to – gently – advise him that he should be sure to spell it right or no one would believe them…granted, English wasn’t his first language.)
oops – I tried to remove the “they” and “them” but left one in…my bad…my very, very bad…
If you’re rigorously following AP style, then honors should be lowercase. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! 😀
Thanks for bearing it and baring it. I don’t rigorously follow any published style. I was taught to always use the Oxford comma; and, over the past 20 years, have found it very helpful for clarity.
I’m always interested in hearing what is considered right or wrong. Now, can we talk about semi-colons for a moment? I just have one question. I wa
s taught to use a colon to set off a list and then, depending on how long the list is and how long each item in the list is, to separate the items with semi-colons. However, I sometimes see a list of items separated by semi-colons but there was no colon to set off: this; that; or the other.
What say you?
A colon is not always necessary to set off a list. Consider AP’s example for clarifying a series:
“He is survived by a son, John Smith, of Chicago; three daughters, Jane Smith, of Wichita, Kansas, Mary Smith, of Denver, and Susan, of Boston; and a sister, Martha, of Omaha, Nebraska.”
Thanks for reading!
“Associate degree is never possessive.”
Grammar gurus focus on avoiding the possessive, but I cannot find an explanation why. The English language is difficult to master because it has so many exceptions to the rule!
Re. “associate degree is never possessive”: I think this is also the rule with doctorate/doctoral degrees. Is that correct?
That’s correct, Debra. Ex: “I earned my bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in literature.”
Thanks for reading!
Through our state Title Legislation a person who has graduated with an interior design
degree ,passed a rigorous national Interior Design Council examination process and has credited work experience can use the title Registered Interior Designer designation with their name .
ie) Janis Doe , ASID or Janis Doe , ASID / Registered Interior Designer
Registered Interior Designer
My question is .. a local newspaper journalist never ” capitalizes “the designation when I am listed in the header as the professional in an advertising feature article.,etc. …saying AP Rules says it is not appropriate . As a sole proprietor of my business it is my business name . I have told them I want it capitalized and regardless of AP rules I would think as a paying advertiser they would accommodate in these circumstances … however since it is a legislative passed title act .. why would AP rules say it should not be capitalized?
Please help clear it up .. Thanks !
Hi, Kathy. This is a good question. AP style has very specific style guide rules, and not all of them make sense to me. You could reach out to the AP editors at http://www.apstylebook.com if you want to learn more about why the editors make the rules they do.
Best of luck!
I noticed the author’s bios are inconsistent across edited volumes. Here are the differences I encounter in the same books. What is the correct way to write a professor’s title?
John Doe is Associate Professor in x at University xyz
John Doe is an Associate Professor in X at University xyz
John Doe is associate professor in x at University xyz
Hi, Carolina. If you’re following AP style, go with “John Doe is an associate professor in x at University XYZ.”
Check out our blog How To Use Formal Titles in AP Style to learn more.
Based on this article, AP now allows for the editorial prefix use of “Dr” for Ph.D’s as well as
MD’s on first reference. Am I Correct?
This is the AP rule: “Use Dr. in first reference as a formal title before the name of an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of podiatric medicine, or doctor of veterinary medicine: Dr. Jonas Salk.”
AP clarifies this: “Do not use Dr. before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees.”
Hello so you only use “Dr.” with the first reference to the individual who holds a medical degree?
First reference: Dr. Mahendra Amin
Second reference: Amin
AP uses the title “Dr.” only when a person holds one of these degrees: doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of podiatric medicine, or doctor of veterinary medicine.
This is a great article, I learned a lot from it, thank you for posting
I subscribe to the online AP Stylebook. The entry for Dr. that I see does not say, as the Fung article asserts, “For individuals with doctoral degrees in other disciplines, you may use Dr. on first reference as necessary to establish credentials. If the individual’s area of specialty is not immediately clear from the context, take care to specify it within the first two references.”
What I see in the Stylebook says: “Do not use Dr. before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees. Instead, when necessary or appropriate: Cassandra Karoub, who has a doctorate in mathematics, was lead researcher. U.S. first lady Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, plans to continue teaching. U.S. second gentleman Doug Emhoff, a lawyer, is joining the faculty of Georgetown Law.
In a list: Stephanie Sanchez, Ph.D.”
Thanks for letting us know, Antony. The rules used to be different, and we missed that update.
Is it south Omaha or South Omaha?
Very helpful column. I’m still unclear on when to use periods for three-letter abbreviations.
AP says to include for Ph.D. and LL.D., but not MBA (and, presumably, DVM, DDS, and others).
Is there a comprehensive list of abbrev’s for academic titles?
I haven’t found a comprehensive list. Here are snippets from AP’s entries or responses to guide you:
“Use such abbreviations as B.A., M.A., LL.D. and Ph.D. only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would make the preferred form cumbersome. Use these abbreviations only after a full name — never after just a last name.”
“Abbreviated M.A., M.S., but MBA. A master’s degree or a master’s is acceptable in any reference.”
“It’s D.V.M. although AP prefers a descriptive, as in Dr. John Doe, a veterinarian.”
“AP uses M.D., D.O., Ph.D. and D.D.S. as doctoral abbreviations in apposition to the individual’s full name … We sometimes use RN, without periods, in follow-ups to the spelled out registered nurse on first reference.”
I hope that helps!
Is their direction on John Doe has his Master of Business Administration or a Master….
Maybe should have used the correct form of “there” in that question…don’t hate on me.
This is a good question, Claire, but I could not find AP Stylebook clarification. I’ve seen similar phrasing go both ways. To be safe, you won’t go wrong with “a Master.”
Do you capitalize Doctorate of Audiology in a sentence?
Example: “Miss Jane Smith earned her Doctorate of Audiology from the Univerisity of Maryland in 2018.”
AP Stylebook takes this approach:
Ex: Cassandra Karoub, who has a doctorate in mathematics, was lead researcher.
Ex: U.S. first lady Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, plans to continue teaching.
What is the AP rule for the abbreviation of an Audiology Doctor? I cannot find one in the stylebook to confirm using periods or not, i.e. Au.D. or AuD?
I’d follow AP’s other examples (“LL.D.” and “Ph.D.”) and use periods: “Au.D.”