Rules for Capitalizing Academic Degrees in AP Style

by | Aug 25, 2019 | AP Style Basics, GrammarSpot | 15 comments

Rules for Capitalizing Academic Degrees in AP Style

by | Aug 25, 2019 | AP Style Basics, GrammarSpot | 15 comments

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.

Academic Degrees to Capitalize

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

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

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 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, ask away via the comments below! Click here if you’d like to freshen up on some more AP Style rules.

Henry Fung

Henry Fung is a freelance writer and blogger. When he is not earning his paycheck, he enjoys online debates over orthography and typography. He is much more mellow in person.

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