Masters Degree or Master’s Degree?
Edwin Johnstone wrote:
What is the proper way to spell masters degree ?
or is it master’s degree?
or Masters degree?
or Master’s degree?
To answer this question, I’ve consulted the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, and some university dissertation guidelines.
Speaking generically, you would write master’s degree:
Jack has finally earned his master’s degree.
Speaking of a specific degree, you would capitalize Master:
He holds a Master of Fine Arts from State University.
When it comes to abbreviating academic degrees, you’d better check the style book that governs your work.
For example, here is what the guidelines say on the site of Ohio University:
Use periods when abbreviating academic degrees.
Ex. Dr. Bond received her A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. –Ohio University
Northeastern University, like the MLA guide, prefers to drop the periods:
Punctuating degrees: Do not include periods in degree abbreviations. [Ex. BS, BA, MA, PhD] The single exception is Hon. for Honorary. –Northeastern University
NOTE: Not all universities use the same abbreviations for the master’s degree (from Wikipedia):
Harvard University and the University of Chicago for instance, use A.M. and S.M. for their master’s degrees and MIT uses S.M. for its master of science degrees. Master of Science is often abbreviated MS or M.S. in the United States, and MSc or M.Sc. in ; Commonwealth nations and Europe.
Should You Ever Drop the Apostrophe?
While it’s generally considered correct to include an apostrophe in master’s degree, there are some publications – including academic ones – that don’t.
A good example is the UK website prospects.ac.uk, which is aimed at helping students choose a career. Throughout the site, Masters degree is used, instead of master’s degree.
If you’re writing for a specific publication (like a website or journal) or a particular publishing house, use their style guide. If they want you to write Masters degree or masters degree, do that.
If you’re writing for your own website, blog, or you’re self-publishing a book, it’s entirely up to you what you do. Keep in mind that master’s degree is the most common and conventional punctuation of that phrase, though.
Also, whatever option you go for, make sure you’re consistent in what you do: don’t have master’s degree in some places and masters degree in others, and don’t use BA (without periods) and M.A. (with periods) – pick one and stick to it.
Master’s Degree on Newspapers
The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago have teamed up to offer a master’s degree program for the next generation of community leaders. — LA Times
Earning an advanced degree is part of many people’s plans for their education and career. But “front-loading” your education and pursuing a master’s degree immediately after completing your bachelor’s degree isn’t always the best path. – USA Today
The rules to follow, then, are:
- Use master’s (with an apostrophe) to talk about degrees – unless you’re writing for a publication that has chosen to use “masters”.
- Don’t capitalize master unless you’re speaking about a specific degree (e.g. “He holds a Master of Science”.
- When abbreviating, check with a style guide. Some publications will abbreviate Master of Arts as M.A. and others will abbreviate it as MA (without the periods).
- Check what abbreviation a specific institution or country uses, too: in the US, a Master of Science is normally abbreviated as “MS” or “M.S.” whereas in the UK and Europe, it’s “MSc” or “M.Sc”.
What About Other Degrees?
The same rules apply to bachelor’s degrees (normally “bachelors degrees” or “bachelors’ degrees”). Other degree levels aren’t written in the same way – e.g. doctoral degrees – so the apostrophe isn’t an issue.
With any type of degree, though, you should follow the above rules on abbreviating it … and always use your publication or publisher’s style guide, if applicable.
Masters or Master’s Quiz
In each case, select the correct form of the missing word, which is indicated by (blank). Unless otherwise indicated, assume that the most common and conventional spelling/punctuation is being used.
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