Deciphering Degrees- An Introduction to Academic Titles

There are several different titles attached to different professors and educators that you will find when you go to a college. In this article, let us discuss more about the degrees offered in educational institutes.

TCM Staff

23rd June 2020

There are several different titles attached to different professors and educators that you will find when you go to a college. Professors and students have different educational backgrounds and sometimes it is quite confusing. One should be familiar with acronyms before entering college.

Here in this article, we will discuss various degrees offered in different educational institutes. We will also talk about the titles given to different degree holders and how should you address them while interacting.

Importance of Knowing Various Degrees

When we are surrounded by highly acknowledged and academically profound and sound people, we often hear the titles and degrees associated with them, as it is part of the academic language. So as a student you must understand the meaning and association of these titles. Make sure you use the appropriate title while addressing your professors.

Degrees and Their Meaning

Degrees and titles speak a lot about a person’s professional qualification and what kind of expertise they hold. Knowing degrees will not only help you in knowing their educational background but you will also be able to connect with them in a more efficient manner.

In addition to this it will help you in knowing the educational background of your professor. You can also know who will be the best person to guide you in certain areas in your college campus. 

When Evaluating Professors: Terminal Degrees

Before you start evaluating your professors based on their professional qualification, you must understand the niche and nuances of each degree, title and their significance. In some of the universities the highest professional degree available is not the doctoral degree and hence the terminal might be a master degree. 

United States Degrees (Not Necessarily the Same in the Rest of the World)

Here, it should be noted that all of the degrees in this article refer to the standards in the United States only. Other countries may have different academic systems, degrees, and titles, that may or may not transfer to the United States’ system. If you plan on attending school abroad, you should look into the degrees of that country specifically, along with whether or not they are broadly recognized if you decide to pursue further studies in the United States. 

What are the kinds of degrees one can have?

The next very important thing you need to understand is that the degrees awarded in the United States might not be the same as the degrees  awarded in the rest of the world. Largely there are two types of degrees, graduate and undergraduate degrees. Undergraduate degrees are done before graduate degrees. Undergraduate degrees are also known as Associate and Bachelor degrees. Graduate degrees are known as Master’s, doctoral and professional.

Associate Degree

An associate degree is awarded for about two years of academic study. These degrees programs are typically offered at community colleges. The acronym for this kind of degree depends greatly on the field of study. For example, AA stands for an Associate of Arts, AS stands for Associate of Science, and ABS stands for Associate of Business Science. You can usually identify an associate degree by the “A” at the beginning of the abbreviation.

Associate degrees are generally offered by Community colleges and they include two years of academic study. There are some famous degrees offered which are AA, AS and ABS. AA stands for Associate of Arts, AS stands for Associate of Science and ABS stands for Associate of Business Science.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor's degree is awarded to people who have completed four years of academic study. But depending on the course and college it ranges from three to seven years. It is considered as a standard degree and is awarded by undergraduate degree colleges. This degree is not equivalent to graduation.

A bachelor’s degree also depends on the subject that one studies during one’s tenure in college. Most famous acronyms for this degree are BA, BS and BSE. A BA stands for Bachelor of Arts, BS stands for Bachelor of Science and BSE stands for Bachelor of Science in Engineering. The BS is also known as Sc.B. In some colleges with a BA degree, they also get a chance to study science. So it entirely depends on your college.

Master’s Degree

Master's degrees are usually specialized and advanced study. The syllabus for a master's degree generally covers specialization beyond bachelor's. Master’s degrees generally range from one to three years.

The famous and common master degrees are MA, MS, MTS, MSW, MFA, MBA, MPH, MPP and MDiv. MA stands for Master of Arts, MS stands for Master of Science, MFA stands for Master of Theological Studies, MSW stands for Master of Social Work, MFA stands for Master of Fine Arts, MBA stands for Master of Business Administration, MPH stands for Master of Public Health, MPP stands for Master of Public Policy and MDiv stands for Master of Divinity. Besides this also many professional master degrees offered by colleges. 

Similar to bachelor’s degrees, there are other names for master's degrees as well. For example, MS can also be referred to as Sc.M. Some of the professor’s highest qualifications might only be a master's degree. But regardless of their qualification, title and degree they deserve to be addressed as professors if they are teaching post-secondary students. 

Doctoral Degree (Academic)

The doctoral degree is given to highly specialized study and research. It usually takes five to ten years to complete the doctoral program. Here students do exhaustive research work and very often their research work is published in different journals as well. The most common degree is a Ph.D. but if management students pursue a doctorate program they are awarded DBA title i.e Doctor of Business Administration.

Usually, most of the professors in universities and colleges do have doctoral degrees. People with doctoral degrees are less likely to be referred to as doctors in public. Usually, individuals from a medical background are referred to as doctors. However, the college professors are addressed as professors irrespective of their educational background.

Medical Degrees

Medical degrees are the graduate-level degrees awarded for specific and intensive training in the field of medicine. Few terminologies and degrees awarded in this field are:

  • MDs(Doctors of Medicine) for doctors

  • MSN(Master of Science in Nursing) and BSN(Bachelor of Science in Nursing) for nurses 

  • DDS(Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine)

  • DVM(Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) for veterinarians

These degrees are found among the professors in the science and health field. Such degrees are awarded to people teaching in medical school, people practicing medicine and also to those who are doing research in the field of medicine.  

Law Degrees

Law stream students in the United States receive two types of degrees. One is JD(Juris Doctorate) and SJD(Doctor of Juridical Science). The JD program takes three years to complete.

So JD degree holders write “JD” after their names and doctoral degree holders write “Esquire” or “Esq” after their names. But while talking to someone with a law degree you should address them as a professor. 

Honorary Degrees

Honorary degrees are usually awarded to those who have done something extraordinary in their field. These degrees are awarded by universities and colleges.  They are known as “Degree Honoris Causa”. These degrees are considered doctoral degrees but sometimes also considered as masters degrees.

Note that honorary degrees have nothing to do with the actual academic qualification of the person. That said, the honorary degree is a sign of great respect and indicates that the person is highly respected by the college, and that’s why the college has honored them with this degree. In general, the recipient will not be referred to by the degree title by others. In other words, it is more like an award that will connect them to that school but do not speak about their academic qualification. 


In short, if you want to know in a broader sense there are two degrees, undergraduate and graduate. Then comes the doctorate degree. Through this, you can get an idea about what kind of academic qualification a person has received. When it comes to doctorate degrees mostly people in the medical profession are referred to as doctors and the rest of the people with doctorate degrees are referred to as professors by their students.

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