A degree is any of a wide range of status levels conferred by
institutions of higher education, such as universities, normally as the
result of successfully completing a program of study.
The first universities were founded in ancient India in Taxila (Takshashila
University) and Nalanda (Nalanda University) in the 7th century BC and 5th
century BC respectively, followed by Byzantium in the 5th century (in
Constantinopolis and Athens). The first university in the Islamic world was
founded in Cairo (Al-Azhar University) in the 10th century, while in western
Europe, universities were founded in the 12th and 13th centuries. As with
other professions, teaching in universities was only carried out by people
who were properly qualified. In the same way that a carpenter would attain
the status of master carpenter when fully qualified by his guild, a teacher
would become a master when he had been licensed by his profession, the
Candidates who had completed three or four years of study in the prescribed
texts of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic), and who had
successfully passed examinations held by their masters, would be admitted to
a bachelor's degree. Thus a degree was only a step on the way to becoming a
fully-qualified master hence the English word "graduate", which is based
on the Latin gradus ("step").
Today the terms "master", "doctor", and "professor" signify different levels
of academic achievement, but initially they were equivalent terms. The
University of Bologna in Italy, regarded as the oldest university in Europe,
was the first institution to confer the degree of Doctor in Civil Law in the
late 12th century; it also conferred similar degrees in other subjects
including medicine. Note that medicine is now the only field in which the
term "doctor" is applied, albeit informally, to students who have only
obtained their first academic qualification.
The University of Paris used the term master for its graduates, a practice
adopted by the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the
ancient Scottish universities of St Andrew's, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and
The naming of degrees eventually became linked with the subjects studied.
Scholars in the faculties of arts or grammar became known as "masters", but
those in philosophy, medicine, and law were known as "doctor". As study in
the arts or in grammar was a necessary prerequisite to study in subjects
such as philosophy, medicine and law, the degree of doctor assumed a higher
status than the master's degree. This led to the modern hierarchy in which
the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is a more advanced degree than the Master
of Arts (M.A.). The practice of using the term doctor for all advanced
degrees developed within German universities and spread across the academic
The French terminology is tied closely to the original meanings of the
terms. The baccalauréat (cf. "bachelor") is conferred upon French students
who have successfully completed their secondary education and admits the
student to university. When students graduate from university, they are
awarded licence, much as the medieval teaching guilds would have done, and
they are qualified to teach in secondary schools or proceed to higher-level
In Europe, degrees are being harmonised through the Bologna process, which
is based on the three-level hierarchy of degrees (Bachelor (Licence in
France), Master, Doctor). This system is currently in use in the United
Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This system
is gradually replacing the two-stage system now in use in some countries.
Some degrees are awarded jure dignitatis. That is, a person who has
demonstrated the appropriate qualities to be given a particular office may
be awarded the degree by virtue of the office held. It is another kind of
In the past, degrees have also been directly issued by authority of the
monarch or by a bishop, rather than any educational institution. This
practice has mostly died out.
Types of academic degree
Some examples of specific degrees follow each general term. For more
information, see the article about the general term.
Associate's degrees (U.S.): AA, ABS, AS, AAS
Foundation degrees (U.K.): Fd A., Fd Ed., Fd Eng., Fd Mus., Fd Sc., FdTech
Bachelor's degrees: B.A. or A.B. , B.A.A., B.A.A.S., BBus, BCom or BComm, BE
or BEng, BTech, BS or B.Sc. or SB, BFA, BCL, LL.B., BM or MB or B.Mus., BBA,
BMed, MB B.Chir. or MB ChB or MBBS, BSSc
Master's degrees: M.A., MS or M.Sc., M.St., LL.M., MALD, MApol, MPhil, MRes,
MEM, MFA, MTh, MTS, M.Div., MIA, MBA, MPA, MSW, MPAff, MLIS, MLitt, MPH, MPM,
MPP, MPT, MRE, LL.M., M.Eng., M.Sc., M.Biochem., M.Chem., M.Phys., M.Math.,
M.Mus., MMusTech, MESci, M.Geol., MTCM, MSSc., BCL (Oxon), B.Phil.
Specialist degrees: EdS, B.Acc., C.A.S..
Doctorate degrees: Ph.D., EdD, DProf, EngD, DNursSci, DBA, DD, DDS, DSc,
DLitt, DA, DMA, DPS, DMus, DCL, ThD, PharmD, DrPH, DPT, DPhil, DOM, OMD,
PsyD, DSW, M.D., and J.D.
Abbreviations for degrees can place the level either before or after the
faculty or discipline, depending on the institution. For example, DSc and
ScD both stand for the (higher) doctorate in science. Various other
abbreviations also vary between institutions, for instance BS and BSc both
stand for 'Bachelor of Science'.
There are various conventions for indicating degrees and diplomas after
one's name. In some cultures it is usual to give only the highest degree. In
others, it is usual to give the full sequence, in some cases giving
abbreviations also for the discipline, the institution, and (where it
applies) the level of honours. In another variation, a 'rule of subsumption'
often shortens the list and may obscure the chronology evident from a full
listing. Thus 'MSc BA' means that the degrees conferred were - in
chronological order - BSc, BA, MSc. The subsumption rule reflects the
principle that a person of a given high status does not separately belong to
the lower status. For member institutions of the Association of Commonwealth
Universities, there is a standard list of abbreviations, but in practise
many variations are used. Most notable is the use of the Latin abbreviations
'Oxon.' and 'Cantab.' for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in spite
of these having been superseded by English 'Oxf.' and 'Camb.' (Other Latin
abbreviations include Exon. for the University of Exeter, Dunelm. for the
University of Durham, Ebor. for the University of York and Cantuar. for the
University of Kent at Canterbury.) Confusion results from the widespread use
of 'SA' for the University of South Australia (instead of S.Aust.) because
'SA' was officially assigned to the University of South Africa; and the use
of 'York' instead of 'YorkU' by graduates of York University in Canada.
The doubling of letters in LL.B., LL.M., LL.D. is because these degrees
are in laws, not law. The doubled letter indicates the Latin plural legum
as opposed to the singular legis. Abbreviations for the degrees in
surgery Ch.B. and Ch.M. are from Latin chiruguriae and often indicate
a university system patterned after Scottish models. The combination of M.B.
with Ch.B. arose from a need to graduate the students at the time of year
allocated to graduation rituals, but the legal inability to confer the M.B.
before they had been properly approved by professional regulatory bodies.
Thus the Ch.B. was conferred first, and the M.B. was conferred later, after
registration, and without ceremony. In recent times the two have come to be
conferred together and are widely (mis)understood to constitute a single
A bachelor's degree is usually an undergraduate academic degree awarded for
a course or major that generally lasts for three, four, and in some cases and
countries, five years. (Note that some postgraduate degrees are entitled
Bachelor of ..., e.g. the University of Oxford's Bachelor of Civil Law and
Bachelor of Philosophy.)
Honours degrees and academic distinctions
Under the English system, and those influenced by it such as the Canadian,
Irish, Indian, Singaporean, and Hong Kong systems, undergraduate degrees are
differentiated either as pass degrees or as honours degrees, the latter
denoted by the appearance of "(Hons)" after the degree abbreviation. An
honours degree generally requires a higher academic standard than a pass
degree, and in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and
the Canadian province of Ontario an extra year of study. In Scotland, there
also exist General Degrees.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, there are two different types of degree, Honours
degrees and Ordinary degrees and many universities offer undergraduate
courses leading to both. The length of study required for both types of degree
can vary from two to four years.
Honours degrees (usually written as BA(Hons) or BSc(Hons) are
generally regarded as being of a superior academic standard, and are usually
awarded for the more traditional academic subjects such as English, Philosophy
or Mathematics etc. An Honours degree is always awarded in one of four
classes depending upon the marks gained in the final assessments and
examinations. The top students are awarded a first class degree, the next
best, an upper second class degree (usually referred to as a 2:1), the next a
lower second class degree (usually referred to as a 2:2) and those with the
lowest marks gain a third class degree. An Ordinary or Unclassified
degree (which does not give the graduate the right to add (Hons)) may be
awarded if a student has completed the full honours degree course but has
obtained a very low pass mark which is insufficient to merit even a third
class honours degree.
Ordinary degrees are unclassified degrees awarded to all students
who have completed the course and obtained sufficient marks to pass the final
assessments and examinations. Ordinary degree courses usually have lower entry
requirements than Honours degree courses. Although Ordinary degree courses are
often considered to be easier than Honours degree courses, this is not always
the case, and much depends on the university attended and the subject being
studied. In many of the 'new' universities now offering a large range of
modern degree subjects, Ordinary degree students are able to transfer to an
Honours degree course in the same subject if an acceptable standard is reached
after the first or second year of study.
At the Scottish Ancients (St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and
Dundee), undergraduate degrees are differentiated as either General Degrees
or Honours Degrees.
An Honours degree (usually MA(Hons) for arts/social sciences or BSc(Hons)
for sciences) is awarded for students who have completed four years at
university - two years at sub-honours level, studying a variety of
different subjects, and two years at honours level studying one subject
in depth, usually including a dissertation in the final year.
A General Degree (usually MA or BSc) is awarded to students who have
completed three years at university studying a variety of subjects. The first
two years of a General and Honours degree are identical, but
candidates for the General study in less depth in their final year, and
over a wider variety of subjects. Candidates for the General do not
usually complete a dissertation. A Scottish General degree is different
from an English Pass degree even though both may be denoted BSc.
Almost all U.S. universities
DeVry University) and colleges award bachelors' degrees with
honors -- usually "cum laude" (with praise), "magna cum laude" (with great
praise) and "summa cum laude" (with highest praise) -- degrees without honors
are awarded "rite." Requirements for such notations of honors generally
include minimum Grade Point Averages, with the highest average required for
the "summa" distinction. In the case of a few schools, a senior thesis for
degrees in the humanities, and laboratory research for "pure" science degrees
is also required.
Some U.S. colleges and universities have a separate academic track known as an
"honors" or "scholars" program, generally meant for the top students of the
school and offering more challenging courses or more individually-directed
seminars or research projects. The students are awarded the same bachelor's
degree as students in the regular course, but with the notation "in cursu
honorum." Usually, the above "laude" honors are separate from the notation for
this honors course, but a student in the honors course generally must maintain
grades at least worthy of the "cum laude" notation anyway. Hence, a student
from such a school might receive a diploma Artium Baccalaureatum rite or
Artium Baccalaureatum summa cum laude in the regular course, or Artium
Baccalaureatum summa cum laude in cursu honorum, for instance.
Many of the eight New Zealand universities consider (e.g.    )
most of their honours degrees as a postgraduate degree, separate from an
undergraduate bachelors  [ in most cases. There are some apparent
exceptions at these universities, for example a few selected degrees at
Victoria and Canterbury, and most honours programmes at Otago (e.g. ),
where honours are or can be studied for as part of the undergraduate programme.
Classes are awarded.
BA, AB, BS, BSc, SB, ScB
Today, the most common undergraduate degrees given are the Bachelor of Arts
(Artium Baccalaureus) and the Bachelor of Science (Scientiĉ Baccalaureus).
Originally, in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge all undergraduate
degrees were in the Faculty of Arts, hence the degree of Bachelor of Arts.
Since the late 19th century, most universities in the English-speaking world
have followed the practice of the University of London in dividing
undergraduate degree subjects into the two broad categories of arts and
sciences, awarding the degree of Bachelor of Science to students of the latter
category of subjects.
In the United States, many colleges (particularly what are known as "liberal
arts colleges") and universities award the BA for all "academic" subjects
(whether English literature or chemistry) often these colleges and colleges
within universities only offer academic (rather than pre-professional)
courses. Schools that have professional training ("Police Science", "Finance",
"Nursing", and so on) often reserve the BS degree for these subjects. Some
schools award the BA for humanities academic courses and the BS for courses in
the physical sciences.
BLA or ABL
The Bachelor of Liberal Arts is awarded to students who major in liberal
arts, interdisciplinary studies, or who design their own concentrations.
BAL or BSL
At a some colleges the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies is awarded to
students who major in liberal arts, while Bachelor of Science in Liberal
Studies designates interdisciplinary studies drawn from both liberal arts and
The Bachelor of Architecture is awarded to students who complete five years
of study in the field.
BEng, BE, BESc
The Bachelor of Engineering (Baccalaureus in Arte Ingeniaria) degree is a
professional degree awarded to students who have completed four or five years
of study at an accredited university.
The Bachelor of Business Administration degree is awarded to students after
four years of full-time study in one or more areas of business.
The Bachelor of Social Work is awarded to students who complete an
undergraduate degree in Social Work
The Bachelor of Journalism degree is a professional degree awarded to
students who have studied journalism at a four-year accredited university. Not
all universities, however, grant BJ degrees. In the United States, schools
tend to offer the BS with a Journalism major instead.
BM or B.Mus.
The Bachelor of Music degree is an undergraduate degree at most
conservatories in the U.S.
The degree of Bachelor of Laws is the principal academic degree in law in
most common law countries other than the United States, where it has been
replaced by the Juris Doctor degree.
BS in Ed
The Bachelor of Science in Education (note, this is the degree's name, not
merely a BS with an Education major) is an undergraduate pre-professional
degree offered by many U.S. colleges and universities for those preparing to
be licensed as teachers. Students follow the regular four-year Liberal Arts,
Sciences and Humanities course, with additional courses in such subjects as
Developmental Psychology, Educational Theory, Student Assessment and testing
and so on. Preparatory to the MS in Ed, this degree is most often taken by
those interested in early childhood, elementary level, and special (handicapped)education,
or by those planning to be school administrators. (Secondary level teachers --
for high school students -- often major in their subject area, as History or
Chemistry or Mathematics, instead).
The Bachelor of Fine Arts is a specialized degree awarded for courses of
study in fine arts, usually by an "arts school" or conservatory.
The education systems in Asian countries are largely patterened after the
In the Philippines, where the term "course" is used to refer to a
bachelor's degree, several undergraduate categories exist - the two most
common degrees awarded being Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Arts (AB
or BA). Specializations ("majors") in economics, business administration,
nursing, architecture, and engineering fall under Science in most colleges and
universities. The latter two specializations normally require five years of
schooling, in contrast to the standard of four years. Other common degrees are
Bachelor in Education (BEd), and Bachelor of Laws (LLB, a graduate degree).
Institutes of higher learning in Japan provide four years of college
education leading to a bachelor's degree which is referred to as "gakushi",
e.g., Gakushi in Economics. Some institutes offer six-year programs leading to
a professional degree.
Bachelor's degrees exist in almost every country in Europe. However, these
degrees were only recently introduced in some Continental European countries,
where Bachelor's degrees were unknown before the Bologna process
Bachelor's degrees, called Bakkalaureus, existed originally in Germany, but
were abolished up until 1820 as part of educational reforms at this time. The
Magister degree, originally a graduate degree, became the new first degree
after five years of study. In 1899 a second first degree, the Diplom, was
introduced when the Technische Hochschulen received university status.
However, in 1998 a new educational legislation reintroduced the Bachelor's
degree (first degree after 3 to 4 years of study) in Germany. Today these
degrees are seldom called Bakkalaureus since the English term Bachelor is much
more common. The traditional degrees will be abolished by 2010.
The historical situation in Austria is very similar to the situation in
Germany. The traditional first degrees are also the Magister and the Diplom. A
new educational legislation in 2002 reintroduced the Bachelors degree also in
Austria, but these degrees are generally called Bakkalaureus.
Similarly to Austria and Germany, there is no tradition of Bachelor degrees
in Switzerland. The traditional first degrees where the Licentiate and the
Diplom. Bachelor's and graduate Master's degrees replacing the old degrees
New bachelor's degrees
The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are perhaps alone today in
awarding the B.A. for all undergraduate degrees. Almost all American
universities award B.A. and B.S. degrees. However, in many universities over
the last hundred years the range of bachelor's degrees has expanded
enormously, especially in
Africa, where the B.A. degree is becoming increasingly uncommon.
Some of these new degrees and their abbreviations include:
- A.L.B. Bachelor of Liberal Arts
B.A.S. Bachelor of Architectural Studies
B.A.A. Bachelor of Applied Arts
B.A.A.S Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences
B.A.Sc. Bachelor of Applied Science
B.App.Sc. Bachelor of Applied Science
B.As. Bachelor of Asian Studies
B.A.Econ. Bachelor of Economics
B.Arch. Bachelor of Architecture
B.B.A. Bachelor of Business Administration
B.Bus Bachelor of Business
B.C.A. Bachelor of Commerce and Administration
B.Ch. Bachelor of Surgery (also the name of a postgraduate degree in some
B.Comm. or B.Com. Bachelor of Commerce
B.Comp. Bachelor of Computing
B.CompSc. or B.CS. Bachelor of Computer Science
B.D. Bachelor of Divinity (also the name of a postgraduate degree in some
B.Des. Bachelor of Design (Visual design discipline)
B.Ec. Bachelor of Economics
B.Ed. Bachelor of Education
B.E.S. Bachelor of Environmental Studies
B.Eng. or B.E. Bachelor of Engineering
B.F.A. Bachelor of Fine Arts
B.G.S. Bachelor of General Studies
B.H.Sc Bachelor of Health Sciences
B.InfTech. Bachelor of Information Technology
B.InfSci. Bachelor of Information Science
B.J. Bachelor of Journalism (see the University of Missouri-Columbia)
B.Lang. Bachelor of Languages
B.M. or M.B. Bachelor of Medicine (also the name of a postgraduate degree
in some universities)
B.Math. Bachelor of Mathematics (also the name of a postgraduate degree in
B.Mus. or Mus.B. Bachelor of Music (also the name of a postgraduate degree
in some universities)
B.M.M.S Bachelor of Multimedia Studies
B.Ost Bachelor of Osteopathy
B.Optom Bachelor of Optometry
B.P.A.P.M. (Hons); Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (used at
B.P.Ed. or B.P.E. Bachelor of Physical Education
B.Pharm. Bachelor of Pharmacy
B.Phil. Bachelor of Philosophy (originally a postgraduate degree, but now
used as the name of an undergraduate degree in a few universities)
B.Psych Bachelor of Psychology (Commonwealth Usage, Particuarly Australia)
B.P.S. Bachelor of Professional Studies (University of Mary Washington,
B.R.E. Bachelor of Religious Education
B.S. Bachelor of Surgery (Commonwealth usage, usually as part of a MB BS)
B.S.E. Bachelor of Science in Engineering
B.SE. Bachelor of Software Engineering (used at McGill University and the
University of Waterloo)
B.S.B. Bachelor of Science in Business
B.S.E.E. Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
B.S.F. Bachelor of Science in Forestry
B.S.S.E. Bachelor of Science in Science Education
B.S.W. Bachelor of Social Work
B.Tech. Bachelor of Technology
B.Theol Bachelor of Theology
B.Tour. Bachelor of Tourism