How to Spell Your Degree (A Posting for the Rest of Us)

[Unidentified graduating cadet in military tro...

Ah, the time-honored tradition of preposterous haberdashery. (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

I’ve already posted about how to properly capitalize and punctuate “PhD.”  But what about the rest of us folks who have gone to college but weren’t quite ready to spend another five to seven years doing homework?  What’s the proper way to discuss our comparatively humble college and graduate degrees?*

Don’t worry, folks, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has the answers that you’ve spent four (and possibly another two) years burning for.

If you’ve finished graduate school with a terminal MA, you may be correctly said to have obtained a master’s degree (8.28).  The technical name of your degree is master of art (10.2), which is abbreviated MA, as per CMoS‘s rules regarding abbreviations ending in capital letters (10.4)

If you’ve finished college, you’d received a BA (bachelor of arts) or a BS (bachelor of science).  Note the correct spelling of “bachelor” here, because it’s a tricky one (10.20).  You can also say you have a bachelor’s degree.

Note: AM (artium magister, the Latin term for “master of arts”), SB (scientiae baccalaureus, or “bachelor of science”), and AB (artium baccalaureus, or “bachelor of arts”) are insufferably priggish but technically correct.  But then, if you’re the sort of person who wants a Latin-sounding degree, I suggest that you just go ahead and get a PhD (philosophiae doctor, “doctor of philosophy”) anyhow.

*Admittedly, in 2009 the US Census Bureau reported that only 28% of Americans had received at least a bachelor’s degree, so the whole power-to-the-people theme of this posting is pretty specious.  (Camille L. Ryan and Julie Siebens, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, Bureau of the Census (Washington, DC, 2012; obtainable online here).


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