- Education and Science
How to write the term: bachelor's degree
Why would I want to know how to spell bachelor's degree?
Well, ironically enough, I have a degree in English and yet, when confronted with having to write about my degree itself, I discovered that I was not completely certain how. Turns out that, bombastic know-it-all that I am, I still wasn't totally confident about when and how the whole big "B" little "b" thing played out. I was even wondering about the apostrophe: When do I capitalize "bachelor" and when does it get the apostrophe and the "S?" I thought I knew, but I wanted to be sure. So, I decided to find out. What I discovered is that usage is almost entirely subject to style guides. Here's how it works:
Question: Is It “Bachelor” or “bachelor’s?”
Answer: Yes. Here are the "standard" rules:
- Based on what I found, the correct standard usage when referring to the actual/specific degree or the PERSON holding it, is to capitalize and use the singular noun with its relevant prepositional phrase, like Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy etc. (It should be noted that junior college degrees use the preposition "in" not "of" for their degrees, as in an Associate in Arts.)
- The correct standard form for general reference to these degrees is to use the possessive form of "bachelor" - meaning with the apostrophe and "s" - and to drop the caps, as in "She has her master's degree" or "He has a bachelor's in music."
- Correct standard form when abbreviating is to capitalize the main component words and use periods: B.A., M.A., M.B.A., Ph.D., etc.
- When referencing your degree and major, do not capitalize your major unless your major is in some subject that is a proper noun (like English or French etc.). Correct standard use would be: "I have a bachelor's degree in business accounting." A capitalized example would be: "I have a bachelor's degree in English."
I use the term "standard form" because this form can be easily verified in widely acknowledged and expert resources like the Associated Press Stylebook, Encyclopedia Britannica Online and even my big ol' Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary--not to mention how it's written on actual degrees (I've included a couple so you can see). Note the capital letters and the lack of an apostrophe "S."
The problem with the term "standard," though, is that people interpret that to mean "etched in stone." The simple fact of grammar, and perhaps the great big sigh of relief that came with my English degree, is that "standard usage" is a squishy thing; there's lots of stuff that doesn't submit to some iron-fisted grammatical decree. Oddly enough, it's this lack of structure that explains why so many people hated English when they were in school. People like concrete facts. Definite boundaries and solid rules help us know that we are on track; they provide us with a feeling of control.
So, that said, if you're looking for the short answer to "What's the right way to write 'bachelor's degree?'" well, there you go. Do what I wrote up there and you will be technically correct. However, if you're interested in why and when those rules can change then read on, and you'll see where the style guides come in.
Style Guides: He Who Makes One Makes the Rules
I will repeat, what I wrote up there is totally correct. If it's good enough for the Associated Press, which guides lots of people, from reporters to professors in what to do, then, you're good to go. However, just because that is the correct way to write it does not mean that it is the only way to write it that is correct. Big difference. This is the squishy stuff I was talking about before, and this is where style guides come in.
Style guides are writing guides put out by schools, companies, non-profits, government agencies, you name it; if they're big, they probably put one out. Big ones besides the AP Stylebook mentioned up above are Chicago Manual of Style, APA and MLA Handbook, but corporations and colleges have them too. Totally at random, you can pull up style guides that completely destroy the rule we just neatly clarified.
Take Drake University or Washington State as arbitrary proof. Pull up their sites (WSU screenies above, both links below) and you will see that their style guides state that the specific terms for the degrees NOT be capitalized as I have done above. I realize this may seem like a petty distinction, but these two style guides are in conflict with "The Bible of the Newspaper Industry" as my AP Stylebook's cover accurately declares, and they explicitly state that the specific terms should not be capitalized, as in "bachelor of arts" and "master of science." They seem to contradict the AP people, the Encyclopedia Britannica people and even my Webster's unabridged. These sites suggest that capitalization should not be used at all.
So, who is right, the Associated Press or Drake University? Is there even a rule at all?
Well the answer is: Yes, there is a rule.
But the rule is: Know who is going to read your work.
It's the old "know your audience" thing, just focused on a slightly different detail. So, if it really, really matters; if you are submitting written work to a particular entity - be it academic, government or professional - and you don't want to come off as if you don't know how to write, find out what style guide they use and conform to what they expect. It might take a little time, maybe a phone call or two, but the effort will prevent your paper, article or manuscript from being viewed as "wrong."
The bottom line is that, unless you have some really, really anal-retentive reader, you're probably not going to be hurt if you just stick with the method that I illustrated first up there. However, if you are a student at a university that has a posted style guide to use, you may discover how picky some professors can really be.
Whatever you do, once you pick a form for writing this stuff, make sure you stick to that method throughout the entire work. Don't change strategies in the middle of your paper, letter or résumé. Midstream shifts are guaranteed to draw notice to whichever method that you use, particularly if your reader is the picky type. More than likely, though, most readers aren't going to have any clue - remember, I have an English degree and I still had to look it up. It's just not the kind of thing people really take the time to know (unless you're the wacky English major type like me). So stick to your guns, whichever method that you choose. Besides, you have resources (below) to defend yourself no matter which way you decide to go.
The Associated Press Stylebook - 2007
Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary - circa 2001
Encyclopedia Britannica Online-
http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9362439 ( June 9, 2008)
http://identity.wsu.edu/editorial-style/capitalization.aspx (June 9, 2008)
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