Capitalization guide for academic degrees

It's University Commencement season, a time of great celebration but also one for confusion over capitalization (or capitalisation for my UK colleagues). I don't have a style guide in front of me (bad professor!) so I turned to Teh Googles. The first search return that made sense to me comes from the University of South Carolina: Official college degrees when spelled out.
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts, but bachelor’s degree
  • Master of Philosophy, but master’s degree
The major when it appears as part of the degree.
  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
However, lowercase the major when it follows the word degree.
  • She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science.

Phew! They did it correctly.

However, checking other sources I'm finding conflicting information that degrees should never be capitalized unless they follow a person's name (Associated Press Stylebook):
  • David John Kroll, Bachelor of Science in Toxicology
Other sources are conflicting on the use of apostrophes: bachelors or bachelor's. Come to think of it, I should have used university commencement in the first line of this post. University Commencement should be used to refer to the one at my university. Right? Discuss.

Author: David Kroll

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  1. When I graduated from Minnesota, it was with a BChE, Bachelor of Chemical Engineering.

    The only reason I know is that when I went to the thesis office to turn in my master’s thesis, the style guide required that I have my bachelor’s degree on the title page. Since I didn’t have it right, I had to go back to the lab, retype the page properly and then resubmit it. (Guess what, I remembered it correctly when it came time to submit the Ph.D. dissertation!)

  2. And then you get into the issue of how to abbreviate your degree name. I have a Bachelor of Science and where I’m from it’s BSc not BS. Although some would say that I have a lot of BS.

    • Ah yes – the BSc. I’m quite comfortable seeing this from the commonwealth countries.

      In fact, I prefer degrees without periods – I always sign letters as PhD, not Ph.D. It looks cleaner.

  3. I was just reading some stuff on economics and the economic value of high investment in k-12 education, so I thought this post was going to be about students’ debt load vs. (possibly) increased income following graduation..

  4. and no, I haven’t added a terminal /l/ to my surname…

  5. Ahh, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy & Science, now known as University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and abbreviated as USciences. I just missed you there, David – I got out in 1980 with a Ph.D. Was just up there for an advisory committee meeting last week.

    • Hi John! I’m honored to know that you read the blog – hope that I occasionally post some natural products articles of interest.

      I hadn’t known you were an alum but I now understand why you’re such an outstanding scientist 😉

      To be honest, I was never too keen on the name change because PCP&S carries great historical significance in my pharmacy school circles. But I hope this is working out for them.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Given that colleges by and large seem to be fond of renaming themselves universities, will the original universities follow suit and come up with some new name to distinguish themselves from the new crowd?

    At least “Teh Googles” seems to be tracking these name changes, searches for both my undergraduate institution and yours land at the website of the new name. So I assume that we don’t look like we made the pieces of paper up on our printer, or got it from some diploma mill.

  7. AP Style guide? Isn’t that the one that claims that only MDs should receive the honorific of “Doctor”? Yeah, you can safely ignore their advice then.

  8. Good point, CashMoney. That’s one of the reasons that AP gets a lot of grief. . .and why I like to follow @FakeAPStyleBook on Twitter.


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