When do you capitalize a word or phrase that denotes an academic discipline? This post details the distinctions between these terms as proper nouns and as generic descriptions.
If you’re writing a résumé or a biographical blurb for yourself or someone else, or editing one, or you’re otherwise referring to an academic discipline, begin one or more words with uppercase or lowercase letters depending on whether the text pertains merely to the discipline itself or to an entity devoted to the discipline, such as a course, a department, or an institution. Note the following examples:
“My course load includes classes in French and astronomy,” but “My favorite classes last semester were French III and Introduction to Astronomy.”
“He obtained a degree in Asian studies,” but “He enrolled in the Department of Asian Studies” (or “the Asian Studies Department”).
“It has always been her ambition to study architecture,” but “The building that houses the School of Architecture is a disgrace to the discipline.”
When references to academic disciplines are listed, as on a business card or a résumé, or in institutional promotional text such as flyers or in lists, they are labels rather than prose, so capitalization is acceptable.
On a related note, take care to distinguish between singular and plural terms. For example, social science is a specific academic discipline, the study of society. However, the social sciences are, collectively, the academic disciplines pertaining to humans, such as archaeology, economics, geography, and so on (including social science). (Likewise, observe the distinction between communications and “mass communication.”)
Again, both terms are capitalized only as part of a proper name (for example, “the Department of Social Science,” “the Institute of Social Sciences”). In addition, because they constitute standing phrases, they are not hyphenated as a phrasal adjective. (For example, “The paper examines athletics from a social science perspective.”)