WEX has had a few questions in the past couple of months regarding ways of acknowledging academic degrees in our writing, and we hope this posting would help clarify the rules.  

Capitalization: In the academy we might feel compelled to capitalize all our degrees as well as subject areas.  We’ve worked hard and our subjects are important to us. However, the “rulebook” instructs that most subject or content areas are not capitalized, because they aren’t “proper nouns.” Proper nouns are specific persons, places or things. Therefore, do not capitalize fields of study (e.g. biology, business, education, leadership, psychology, environmental science, etc.).

These subject areas become proper nouns when identified as a particular program and/or school. Therefore, capitalize programs of study, a particular school in a college system, or its acronym.  The following examples might help clarify:

I am studying leadership in the Graduate School of Leadership and Change and hope to finish my PhD in 2 years.

I have applied to the School of Education and look forward to studying urban education.

I am studying to get a doctorate in environmental science.

Antioch University offers the PhD degree in environmental science, a Ph.D. in leadership and change, and several doctoral programs in psychology, including PhD and PsyD degrees.

The PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology degree; PhD is the Doctor of Philosophy degree

Exceptions: On most title pages of dissertations, your program handbook establishes how you refer to the program and the degree. As a result, many program handbooks capitalize the field of study, program, and degree.

Review: In general use, do not capitalize when you “informally” refer to the degree & its subject area (e.g. master’s in education, associate (without apostrophe), master’s or doctorate.  

Capitalize when you specify the actual degree (Associate of Arts, AA, BA or Bachelor of Arts, PsyD, PhD).

Apostrophes: Use an apostrophe (possessive) for referring to the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, but not when stating the full name of the degree, such as Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science. Do not use an apostrophe (possessive) with associate degree or doctoral degree.

I have a master’s in education vs I have a Master of Arts in education. We’re studying education.

Use of Periods: Most style sheets now omit periods in abbreviations of academic degrees.

AA, MA, MS, PhD, PsyD

*Languages are always proper nouns: French, English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Swahili, etc.