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'Bachelor's Degree' or 'Bachelors Degree'?

You just got your degree, but how should you write it? Grammar Girl clears up the misunderstanding.

By
Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

Degrees are singular and possessive: bachelor's degree, master's degree, and (sometimes) associate's degree.

Dawn wants to know how to write that someone was awarded a degree. Is it "bachelor's degree," "bachelors degree," or "bachelor degree"?

If you’re getting a college degree, here’s one final bit of information that won’t be on your finals but will still be good to know: how to write about your achievement. It is singular and possessive.

Bachelor's degree: singular and possessive

Write it “bachelor’s degree,” “bachelor” with an apostrophe and an S on the end.

Think of it this way:

A bachelor isn’t just a single guy who maybe eats out a lot but is also any person who has earned a specific type of degree from a university or college. 

Chaucer was the first to use 'bachelor' to refer to an education level

The word “bachelor” appeared around the year 1300 to refer to a young knight, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Chaucer first used it in “Franklin’s Tale” in 1386 to refer to a person who has “taken the lowest degree at a university.” The line reads:

His fellow was that time a bachelor of law.

Now think of the degree as the property of the bachelor, with the apostrophe-s indicating possession: It is a bachelor's degree, the degree of one person with the initial level of achievement at the university.

Capitalize degrees when using the formal name

You don't capitalize degree names, unless you're writing the formal name of a particular degree: 

  • Aardvark earned a bachelor's degree, mainly studying ant behavior. (“Bachelor’s degree” is lowercase because it’s descriptive.)
     
  • Aardvark has a Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Dynamics of Edible Ants. (“Bachelor of Science" is the formal name of the degree, so it’s capitalized; and let’s say that “Behavioral Dynamics of Edible Ants” is the formal name of a program of much interest to aardvarks, so it’s capitalized too.)

How to abbreviate degrees is a style choice

To figure out how to abbreviate these degrees, you need to check your style guide. The Chicago Manual of Style does not recommend periods in “BS” and “MS,” (1) for example, but the AP Stylebook does. (2)

'Associate's degree' is a little different

As for an “associate degree,” the Associated Press recommends just that: "associate degree," (2) but the Chicago Manual of Style simply points out that both “associate degree” and “associate’s degree” are in wide use. (3) For the sake of simplicity, I use “associate’s degree” so I can write all the degrees the same way.

“Bachelor’s degree,” “master’s degree,” and “associate’s degree,” all singular and possessive.

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Degree Names: Lesson Ideas

These assignments are appropriate for students in middle school and beyond.

Background

Degree names require specific formatting that is easy to get wrong.

Have students read the article on this page or listen to the audio from the Grammar Girl podcast (episode 823, May 13, 2021) available on this page and through Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Assignment #1 (Easy)

After learning about “bachelor’s degree” and “master’s degree,” research how to write other degree names such as the highest degrees possible granted by law schools, medical schools, and research departments. Questions to consider include the following:

  1. What are the names of the degrees?
  2. Should you use periods in abbreviations of these degree names?
  3. Do different style guides make different recommendations?

Assignment #2 (Intermediate)

In addition to the questions in the easy assignment, ask students to research when it is appropriate to refer to someone as “doctor.” Must you always call someone with a doctoral degree “doctor” or only when it is relevant to the article a journalist is writing, for example?

Is it different for someone with a medical degree versus someone with an advanced degree in biology or literature, for example? 

Do they agree or disagree with what they found in the style guides?

Assignment #3 (Advanced)

In addition to the questions in the easy and intermediate assignments, have students look up how these degree names are abbreviated differently in British English and American English. (See this page about periods in abbreviations if you get stuck.)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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