Academic degree

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An academic degree is the state of recognized completion of studies at a school or university. A diploma is generally issued in recognition of having satisfactorily completed the prescribed course of study. The two most common degrees awarded today are associate and bachelor's.

Higher education institutions commonly offer master’s, doctoral, academic certificates, and professional degrees.


The modern academic system of academic degrees evolved and expanded in the medieval university, spreading everywhere across the globe as the institution did:

“No other European institution has spread over the entire world in the way in which the traditional form of the European university has done. The degrees awarded by European universities—the bachelor’s degree, the licentiate, the master’s degree, and the doctorate—have been adopted in the most diverse societies throughout the world."[1]
Meeting of doctors at the University of Paris (16th-century miniature)

Emergence of the doctor’s and master’s degrees and the licentiate

The doctorate (Latin: doceo “I teach”) appeared in medieval Europe as a license to teach (Latin: licentia docendi) at a medieval university.[2] Its roots can be traced to the early church when the term "doctor" referred to the Apostles, church fathers and other Christian authorities who taught and interpreted the Bible.[2] The right to grant a licentia docendi was originally reserved to the church which required the applicant to pass a test, to take oath of allegiance and pay a fee. The Third Council of the Lateran of 1179 guaranteed the access – now largely free of charge – of all able applicants, who were, however, still tested for aptitude by the ecclesiastic scholastic.[3] This right remained a bone of contention between the church authorities and the slowly emancipating universities, but was granted by the Pope to the University of Paris in 1231 where it became a universal license to teach (licentia ubique docendi).[3] However, while the licentia continued to hold a higher prestige than the bachelor's degree (Baccalaureus), it was ultimately reduced to an intermediate step to the Magister and doctorate, both of which now became the exclusive qualification for teaching.[3]

At the university, doctoral training was a form of apprenticeship to a guild.[4] The traditional term of study before new teachers were admitted to the guild of "Master of Arts", seven years, was the same as the term of apprenticeship for other occupations. Originally the terms "master" and "doctor" were synonymous,[5] but over time the doctorate came to be regarded as a higher qualification than the master degree.

Today the terms "master", "doctor" (from the Latin – meaning literally: "teacher") and "professor" signify different levels of academic achievement, but in the Medieval university they were equivalent terms, the use of them in the degree name being a matter of custom at a university. (Most universities conferred the Master of Arts, although the highest degree was often termed Master of Theology/Divinity or Doctor of Theology/Divinity depending on the place).

The earliest doctoral degrees (theology – Divinitatis Doctor (D.D.), philosophy – Doctor of philosophy (D.Phil., Ph.D.) and medicine – Medicinæ Doctor (M.D., D.M.)) reflected the historical separation of all University study into these three fields. Over time, the D.D. has gradually become less common outside theology, and is now mostly used for honorary degrees, with the title "Doctor of Theology" being used more often for earned degrees. Studies outside theology and medicine were then called "philosophy", due to the Renaissance conviction that real knowledge could be derived from empirical observation, and this usage survives in the degree title of Doctor of Philosophy. Studies in these fields have become much more common, but are now classified as sciences and humanities.

The University of Bologna in Italy, regarded as the oldest university in Europe, was the second 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.[6]

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 Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh.

Emergence of the bachelor's degree

In the medieval European universities, candidates who had completed three or four years of study in the prescribed texts of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic), and the quadrivium (mathematics, geometry, astronomy and music), together known as the Liberal Arts, and who had successfully passed examinations held by their master, would be admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts, from the Latin baccalaureus, a term previously used of a squire (i.e., apprentice) to a knight. Further study, and in particular successful participation in and then moderating of disputations would earn one the Master of Arts degree, from the Latin magister, teacher, entitling one to teach these subjects. Master of Arts were eligible to enter study under the "higher faculties" of Law, Medicine or Theology, and earn first a bachelor's and then master or doctor's degrees in these subjects. 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").

The evolution of the terminology of degrees

The naming of degrees eventually became linked with the subjects studied. Scholars in the faculties of arts or grammar became known as "master", but those in theology, 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 theology, medicine and law, the degree of doctor assumed a higher status than the master degree. This led to the modern hierarchy in which the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which in its present form as a degree based on research and dissertation is a development from 18th- and 19th-century German universities, is a more advanced degree than the Master of Arts (M.A.). The practice of using the term doctor for PhDs developed within German universities and spread across the academic world.

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 studies. Spain had a similar structure: the term "Bachiller" was used for those who finished the secondary or high-school level education, known as "Bachillerato". The standard Spanish university 5-years degree was "Licenciado", (although there were a few 3-years associate degrees called "diplomaturas", from where the "diplomados" could move to study a related licenciatura). The highest level was "Doctor".

Degrees awarded by institutions other than universities

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. In Great Britain, Lambeth Degrees are still awarded by the Archbishop of Canterbury.[7] The Archbishop of Canterbury's right to grant degrees is derived from Peter's Pence Act of 1533 which empowered the Archbishop to grant dispensations previously granted by the Pope.[8]

Academic dress

In most countries, gaining an academic degree entitles the holder to assume distinctive academic dress particular to the awarding institution, identifying the status of the individual wearing them.

Current levels of attainment of degrees

Traditionally more men than women attended and earned degrees at the world's universities. A milestone was reached in the United States according to results of the 2010 census, as women surpassed men in attaining master's degrees, for the first time.[9] The U.S. census reports that 10.5 million men have master's degrees or higher, compared with 10.6 million women. The first year that women surpassed men in earning bachelor's degrees was in 1996.[10]

Indicating earned degrees

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, 'M.Sc., B.Sc.' means that the degrees conferred were – in chronological order – B.Sc., M.Sc. 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 practice 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 (little used) English 'Oxf.' and 'Camb.' Other Latin abbreviations include St And. for the University of St Andrews, Exon. for the University of Exeter, Dunelm. for Durham University, Ebor. for the University of York, Cantuar. for the University of Kent (formerly the "University of Kent at Canterbury") and N'cle for University of Newcastle upon Tyne. 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. For universities of different commonwealth countries sharing the same name, such as York University in Canada and the University of York in the UK, a convention has been adopted where a country abbreviation is included with the letters and university name. In this example, 'York (Can.)' and 'York (UK)' is commonly used to denote degrees conferred by their respective universities.

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 (genitive case) legum as opposed to the singular (genitive case) 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 degree.

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 earned—but not generally strictly academic—degree. An exception occurs when a doctorate is conferred based on both the office and a completed dissertation. In such circumstances, the degree is awarded "dissertation et jure dignitatis."

Online degree

An online degree is an academic degree (usually a college degree, but sometimes the term includes high school diplomas and non-degree certificate programs) that can be earned primarily or entirely through the use of an Internet-connected computer, rather than attending college in a traditional campus setting. Improvements in technology, the increasing use of the Internet worldwide, and the need for people to have flexible school schedules that enable them to work while attending school have led to a proliferation of online colleges that award associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.[11]

Degree systems by regions


Bangladesh, India & Pakistan

Bangladesh, India and Pakistan mostly follow the colonial era British system for classification of degrees. Arts referring to the performing arts and literature the corresponding degree are Bachelor of Arts (BA) and its master is called Master of Arts (MA). Management degrees are also classified under 'Arts' but is nowadays considered a major new stream, Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and Master Of Business Administration (MBA). Science referring to the basic sciences and natural science (Biology, Physics, Chemistry etc.) the corresponding degree are Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) and its master is called Master of Science (M.Sc.). Another new set of Information Technology degree conferred specially in the field of computer science, Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (B.Sc.IT.) and Master of Science in Information Technology (M.Sc.IT.). The engineering degrees in India follow two common patterns. Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) and Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) both representing a bachelor's degree in engineering and Pakistan Engineering Degrees are Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) and B.Sc. Engineering both are same in curriculum, duration and pattern. where as B. Tech. Degree holders in Pakistan are not considered as Engineers as per Pakistan Engineering Council criteria for engineers they are considered as technologist in Pakistan. Medical Degree – Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS),(BCA)-Bachelor of Computer Application and (MCA)-Master of Computer Application.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka as many other commonwealth countries follow the British system with its own distinctions. Degrees are approved by the University Grants Commission.



Grading in Tunisia is done on a scale of 0-20. The passing grade is 10 out of 20 which is 50% of the complete mark; 20. This grading system is used from middle-school up to university level. A PhD thesis is even graded out of 20.

To get ahead on the academic ladder, one is strictly assessed numerically. That is; if you are a BA holder applying for an MA program you will be admitted according to how high your grades were during your undergraduate years.


Since the Lisbon Recognition Convention elaborated by the UNESCO and the Council of Europe,[12] degrees in Europe are being harmonised through the Bologna process, based on the three-level hierarchy of degrees: Bachelor (Licence in France, Poland, Portugal and Romania), Master and Doctor. This system is gradually replacing the two-stage system in use in some countries.

The Bologna Process currently has 47 participating countries.[13] Although a country is a Bologna Process member state, this does not necessarily mean that the Bologna Accords have been implemented yet in that country.[14]

Status Implementation Bologna Accords


  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia


  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Iceland
  • Republic of Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • the Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland


  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom

Not Implemented

  • Russia
  • Turkey


In Austria, there are currently two parallel systems of academic degrees:

With a few exceptions, the two-cycle degree system will be phased out by 2010.[15] Some of the established degree naming has, however, been preserved, allowing universities to award the "Diplom-Ingenieur" (and for a while also the "Magister") to graduates of the new-style Master programmes.

Czech Republic


Before the adaptation to international standards, the lowest degree that would normally be studied at universities in Denmark was equivalent to a master's degree (Kandidat/cand.mag). Denmark has two forms of master's degrees; candidate and master.

Officially, Bachelor degrees have always been obtained after 3 years' university studies.

Various medium-length (2–4 years) professional degrees have been adapted so they now have status as professional bachelor's degrees of varying length, and opposed to academic bachelor's degrees they are considered to be "applied" degrees.

The degrees available are: pb. (professional bachelor's degree = 2-3½ years), b. (bachelor's = 3-3½ years), cand. (candidate = 5-5½ years), M (master's = any of the former degrees plus 2 years), Ph.D (professional experience required plus minimum ½ year of lectures and minimum 2–3 years of studying for a dissertation no less than 200 pages). .[16]


Historically, the Finnish higher education system has been similar to the German system, which includes Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS). With the exception of few fields, Universities are in compliance with the Bologna process, thus awarding Bachelor's (kandidaatti), Master's (maisteri) and Doctoral degrees (tohtori). The traditional degree of Licenciate is subject to being phased out in the near future. The Universities of Applied sciences have the right to award only bachelor's and master's degrees, although they do not have the right to use the titles kandidaatti or maisteri in Finnish. While nearly all university students are granted the right to study a master's degree, UAS students have to apply to a Master's programme separately. The overwhelming majority of all master's degree holders have a university background.

In spite of the fact that the degrees awarded by the two institutions are at par by law, the UAS degrees are not directly comparable to nor similar in content as the university degrees. In popular culture, degrees awarded by Universities of Applied Sciences are not traditionally held as academic degrees (yliopistotutkinto) but as higher education degrees (korkeakoulututkinto). This is reflected by the fact most master's degree holders from Universities of Applied Sciences have to complete additional studies in order to apply to doctoral programmes at Universities.

The Finnish academic world also recognizes the credentials of docent (dosentti). This honorary title is similar to German Habilitation title. The Finnish universities set their own qualifications for the title. For instance, Aalto University requires evidence of research qualifications comparable to a second doctorate thesis and proven pedagogical skills. Pedagogical skills in Aalto are subject to evaluation by a teaching assessment committee. Docent is not a job title, but universities may employ docents periodically. Thus the Finnish association of Docents favors the English translation [[[adjunct professor]]] in association with this credential.


Degree Diploma
Doctorate Doctorate's Diploma
Master Universities Écoles supérieures
General Medical and Paramedical Accounting Art Business Engineering Military Public Affairs Veterinary Science
Master's Diploma
diplôme d'études approfondies
diplôme d'études supérieures spécialisées
(both diplomas phased out and no longer delivered)
diplôme de formation approfondie (Medicine, Midwifery, Odontology, Pharmacy) diplôme supérieur de comptabilité et de gestion[17] Architect State Diploma[18]
diplôme national supérieur d'arts plastiques[19]
Diploma of the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs[20]
diplôme national supérieur d'expression plastique[21]
Diplomas of the conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris[22]
Diplomas of the université Paris-Dauphine[23]

Diplomas of some Business Schools[24]
Engineer's degree
diplôme de management et contrôle du trafic aérien and diplôme d’ingénierie des systèmes électroniques de la sécurité aérienne of the école nationale de l'aviation civile[25]
Diploma of the école spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr[26] Diploma of a Institut d'études politiques diplôme d’études fondamentales vétérinaires[27]
Licence Licenciate's Diploma diplôme de formation générale (Medicine, Midwifery, Odontology, Pharmacy)[28]
Nurse State Diploma
Ergotherapist State Diploma[29]
diplôme de comptabilité et de gestion[30] diplôme d’études en architecture[31] Diploma of the école militaire interarmes[32]
Baccalaureate Bachelor's Diploma

The French education system operates on a sharp distinction between diplomas and degrees. Diplomas (diplômes) are awarded by the educational institutions, such as the universities or the grandes écoles, but degrees (grades universities) are only awarded by the Ministry of Education. Historically, academic degrees were orientated towards research and the vocational education system awarded only diplomas. Since the implementation of the Bologna Process in France, things are going towards a simplification : schools continue to deliver their own diplomas, but the State recognition and degree awarding is far more ranged than before. Nonetheless, there are many diplomas in France with no degree recognition. These are either two-years or four-years diplomas (diplôme universitaire de technologie or DUT Associate of Applied Science, brevet de technician supérieur or BTS Associate of Technology, maîtrise) which do not fall into the frame of the European Higher Education Area or specific diplomas designed by various institutions with no recognition from the Ministry of Education, such as the mastère spécialisé[33] or the Sciences Po Bachelor.


Traditionally in Germany, students graduated after four to six years either with a Magister Artium (abbreviated M.A.) degree in Social Sciences, Humanities, Linguistics and the Arts or with a Diplom degree in Natural Sciences, Economics, Business Administration, Political Science, Sociology, Theology and Engineering. Those degrees were the first and at the same time highest non-PhD/Doctorate-title in many disciplines before its gradual replacement by other, Anglo-Saxon-inspired degrees. In Germany, a Magister or Diplom awarded by universities, which both require a final thesis, is usually considered equivalent to a master's degree from countries following an Anglo-American model. However, degree equivalencies are highly complicated since for example a Diplom awarded by a Fachhochschule (university of applied sciences) is commonly regarded equivalent to an American bachelor's degree.

A special kind of examination is the Staatsexamen. It is not an academic degree but a government licensing examination that future doctors, dentists, teachers, lawyers (solicitors), judges, public prosecutors, patent attorneys, and pharmacists have to pass in order to be eligible to work in their profession. Students usually study at university for four to six years before they take the first Staatsexamen. Afterwards teachers and jurists go through a form of pupillage for two years, before they are able to take the second Staatsexamen, which tests their practical abilities in their jobs. The first Staatsexamen is equivalent to the Diplom from a university and therefore at a level equivalent to a M.Sc. or M.A. At some institutions pharmacists and jurists can chose whether to be awarded the first Staatsexamen or a master's degree (or formerly the Diplom).

Since 1999, the traditional degrees are gradually being replaced by Bachelor's (Bakkalaureus) and Master's (Master) degrees (see Bologna process). The main reasons for this change are to make degrees internationally comparable, and to introduce degrees to the German system which take less time to complete (German students typically take five years or more to earn a Magister or Diplom). Some universities were initially resistant to this change, considering it a displacement of a venerable tradition for the pure sake of globalization. However, Universities had to fulfill the new standard by the end of 2007. Since the admission into a study with the intended graduation with a Diplom or Magister degree is no longer possible these degrees will not be awarded anymore in the near future.

Doctorates are issued under a variety of names, depending on the faculty: e.g., Doktor der Naturwissenschaften (Doctor of Natural Science); Doktor der Rechtswissenschaften (Doctor of Law); Doktor der Medizin (Doctor of Medicine); Doktor der Philosophie (Doctor of Philosophy), to name just a few. Multiple doctorates and honorary doctorates are often listed and even used in forms of address in German-speaking countries. A Diplom (from a Universität), Magister, Master's or Staatsexamen student can proceed to a doctorate. In some rare cases Bachelor students can enrol into a PhD program as well usually accompanied by an additional curriculum (Fast track). The doctoral promotion (e.g. to Dr. rer. nat., Dr. phil. and others) is the highest academic degree in Germany and generally equivalent to a Bologna Ph.D. degree. Some doctorates, esepcially the degree Dr. med. for medical doctors, have to be viewed differently, however; medical students usually write their doctoral theses right after they have completed studies, without any previous conducted scientific research, just as students in other disciplines write a Diplom, Magister or Master's thesis. Higher doctorates, such as the D.Sc. degree in the UK, are not present in the German system.

Sometimes incorrectly regarded as a degree, the Habilitation is an academic qualification in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland that allows further teaching and research endorsement after a doctorate. It is earned by writing a second thesis (the Habilitationsschrift) or presenting a portfolio of first-author publications in an advanced topic. The exact requirements for satisfying a Habilitation depend on individual universities. The "habil.", as it is abbreviated to represent that a habilitation has been awarded after the doctorate, was traditionally the conventional qualification for serving at least as a Privatdozent (e.g. "PD Dr. habil.") (Senior Lecturer) in an academic professorship (now called W2 and W3). Some German universities no longer require the Habilitation, although preference may still be given to applicants who have this credential, for academic posts in the more traditional fields.


Ireland operates under a National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). The school leaving qualification attained by students is called the Leaving Certificate. It is considered Level 4-5 on the framework. This qualification is the traditional route of entry into third level education. There are also Level 5 qualifications in certain vocational subjects (e.g. Level 5 Certificate in Restaurant Operations)awarded by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). Advanced Certificates at level 6 are also awarded by FETAC.

The Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) award the following: A higher certificate at Level 6; An ordinary bachelor's degree at Level 7; An honours bachelor's degree or higher diploma at Level 8; A master's degree or postgraduate diploma at Level 9; A doctoral degree or higher doctorate at level 10.[34] These are completed in institutes of technology or universities.


In Italy access to university is possible after gaining the Diploma di Maturità at 19 years of age, following 5 years of study in a specific high school focused on certain subjects (e.g. liceo classico focused on classical subjects, including ancient Greek and Latin; liceo scientifico focused on scientific subjects such as Maths, Chemistry and Physics but also including ancient Latin and Italian Literature; liceo linguistico focused on Foreign Languages and Literature; istituto tecnico focused on practical and theoretical subjects such as Mechanics, Electronics and Economy).

After gaining the diploma one can enter university and enrol in any curriculum (e.g. physics, medicine, chemistry, engineering, architecture): all high school diplomas allow access to any university curriculum, although most universities have pre-admission tests.

Italy uses the three levels degree system. The first level degree, called (Diploma Accademico di) laurea (Bachelor's degree), is obtained after 3 years of study and a short thesis on a specific subject. The second level degree, called (Diploma Accademico di) laurea magistrale (Master's degree), is obtained after two additional years of study, specializing in a particular branch of the chosen subject (e.g. particle physics, nuclear engineering, etc.). This degree requires a more complex thesis work, usually involving some academic research or an internship in a private company.

The third level, after a further 3 years of study, is the Dottorato di ricerca (equivalent to a Doctorate of Philosophy). This degree is mainly devoted to research, with a final thesis on the results of the research undertaken.

Alternatively, after obtaining the laurea or the laurea magistrale one can attend a "Master" (first-level Master after the laurea; second-level Master after the laurea magistrale) of one or two years, offered by universities and private organisations with a variety of subjects, lengths and costs and usually including a final internship in a private company.

The title for Laureati is, regardless of the field of study, Dottore/Dottoressa (abbrev. Dott./Dott.ssa, meaning Doctor) or Dottore/ Dottoressa Magistrale, not to be confused with the title for the PhD level graduate, which is Dottore/ Dottoressa di Ricerca.


In the Netherlands, the structure of academic studies was altered significantly in 1982 when the "Tweefasenstructuur" (Two Phase Structure) was introduced by the Dutch Minister of Education, Wim Deetman. With this two phase structure an attempt was made to standardise all the different studies and structure them to an identical timetable. Additional effect was that students would be persuaded stringently to produce results within a preset time-frame, or otherwise discontinue their studies. The two phase structure has been adapted to a bachelor-master structure as a result of the Bologna process.


In order for a Dutch student to get access to a university education, the student must complete a six-year pre-university secondary education called "voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs" (vwo). There are other routes possible, but only if the end level of the applicant is comparable to the two levels is access to university education is granted. For some studies, specific end levels or disciplines are required, e.g., graduating without physics, biology, and chemistry will make it impossible to study medicine. People 21 years old or older who do not have the required entrance diplomas may opt for an entrance exam for being admitted to a higher education curriculum. In this exam, they have to prove their command of disciplines considered necessary for pursuing such study. After September 1, 2002 they would be thus admitted to a Bachelor's curriculum, not to a Master's curriculum.

For some studies[35][36] in the Netherlands, a governmental determined limited access is in place (although under political review for abolishment, February 2011).[37] This is a limitation of the number of applicants to a specific study, thus trying to control the eventual number of graduates. The most renowned studies for their numerus clausus are medicine and dentistry. Every year a combination of the highest pre-university graduation grades and some additional conditions determine who can start such a numerus clausus study and who can not.

Almost all Dutch universities are government supported universities, with only very few privately owned universities in existence (i.e. one in business, and all others in theology). Leiden University is the oldest, founded in 1575.

Pre-Bologna phases

Before the introduction of the bachelor-master structure, almost all academic studies in the Netherlands had the same length of four years and had two phases:

  • The "propedeutische fase" (1–2 years): After finishing this phase a student can follow another two years' study, which grants equivalents to the Anglo-Saxon BSc (Bachelor of Science), BA (Bachelor of Arts) or LLB (Bachelor of Laws).
  • The "doctorale fase" (3–4 years): Completing the first phase successfully gives the student access to the second phase. Again, failure to finish within the time given will lead to discontinuation. This phase is concluded with the "doctoraal examen" (doctoral exam). This is not similar to any type of doctoral exam that would grant the student with any type of PhD title. Successful completion however does grant the student the Dutch degree of "drs." "doctorandus", ir. ("ingenieur" – engineer) or "mr." ("Meester in de rechten" - master of law). Nowadays these Dutch titles have been largely replaced by the Anglo Saxon titles MSc (Master of Science), MA (Master of Arts), and LLM (Master of Laws), depending on the area of study.

For medical students the "doctorandus" degree is not equivalent to the European Anglo Saxon postgraduate research degree in medicine of MD (Medical Doctor). Besides the title doctorandus, the graduates of the Curius curriculum may also bear the title arts (physician). The doctorandus in medicine title is granted after four years (nominal time) of the Curius curriculum, while the title physician is granted after six years (nominal time) of that curriculum. The Dutch physician title is equal to a MSc degree according to the Bologna process, and can be compared with the MBBS, MB, MB BCh BAO, BMBS, MBBChir, or MBChBa in the UK degree system, and the North American, but not the UK MD degree, which is a research degree. One-on-one equivalence or interchangeability of the Dutch medical title and MD is often suggested. However, officially the MD title is not known, nor legal to use in the Netherlands. The correct notation for a Dutch physician who completed his or her medical studies, but did not pursue a doctor (PhD-like) study is "drs." (e.g. drs. Jansen, arts) and not "dr." in medicine, as often used incorrectly. However, like in the United Kingdom, physicians holding these degrees are referred to as 'Doctor' by courtesy. In the Netherlands, there is the informal title dokter for physicians, but not doctor (dr.), unless they also earn such degree by completing a PhD curriculum. Furthermore, the "doctorandus" degree does not give a medical student the right to treat patients; for this a minimum of two years additional study (internships) is required. After obtaining a Medical Board registration, Dutch physicians must work an additional two to six years in a field of expertise to become a registered medical specialist. Dutch surgeons commonly are only granted access to surgeon training and positions after obtaining a doctorate (PhD) successfully. In recent years, the six-year (nominal time) old Curius curriculum (which offered the titles doctorandus and physician) has been replaced with a three-year (nominal time) Bachelor Curius+ followed by a three-year (nominal time) Master Curius+. Those who had already begun their old-style Curius curriculum before that will still have to complete it as a six-year study (nominal time).

A doctorandus in law uses the title "meester" (master, abbreviated as mr. Jansen) instead of drs., and some studies like for example technique and agriculture grant the title "ingenieur" (engineer, noted as ir. Jansen) instead of drs. These titles as equivalent to an LL.M (the title mr.) and to a MSc (the title ir.), and if got before September 1, 2002 from a recognized Dutch university, may be rendered as M (from Master) behind one's name, instead of using the typical Dutch shortcuts before one's name. Since September 1, 2002, Dutch universities offer specific BSc, BA or LLB studies followed by MSc, MA or LLM studies, thus integrating into and merging with the international scientific community, offering lectures, other classes, seminars, or complete curricula in English instead of Dutch. According to their field of study, MSc graduates may use either ir. or drs. before their names, MA graduates may use drs. before their name and LLM graduates may use mr. before their names, but only if they received such degrees from recognized Dutch universities.

Not uncommonly, the Dutch "drs." abbreviation can cause much confusion in other countries, since it is perceived as a person who has a PhD in multiple disciplines. In the Netherlands, the degree MPhil is not legally recognised.

After successfully obtaining a "drs.", "ir.", or "mr." degree, a student has the opportunity to follow a promotion study (informally called PhD) to eventually obtain a doctorate, and subsequently the title "doctor". Promotion studies are structured ideally according to a preset time schedule of 4 to 6 years, during which the student has to be mentored by at least one professor. The promotion study has to be concluded with at least a scientific thesis, which has to be defended to "a gathering of his/her peers", in practice the Board of the Faculty with guest professors from other faculties and/or universities added. More and more common, and in some disciplines even mandatory, is that the student writes and submits scientific publications to peer-reviewed journals, which eventually need to be accepted for publication. The number of publications is often debated and varies considerably between the various disciplines. However, in all disciplines the student is obligated to produce and publish a dissertation or thesis in book form.

Bachelor/master structure

All current Dutch academic education programs are offered in the Anglo-Saxon bachelor/master structure. It takes three years to earn a bachelor's degree and another one or two years to earn a master's degree. There are three official academic bachelor titles (BA, BSc, and LLB) and three official master titles (MA, MSc, and LLM). These academic titles are protected by the Dutch government.

Academic title bearing

After obtaining a doctorate, Dutch doctors may bear either the title dr. (lower case) before, or the letter D following their name, but not both simultaneously.[38] There is no specific notation of the discipline in which the doctorate is obtained.

Stacking of the titles as seen in countries such as Germany (Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Gruber) is highly uncommon in the Netherlands and not well received culturally. Those who have multiple doctor titles may use dr.mult. before their name, but this is seldomly seen in practice.[38] The honoris cause doctors may use dr.h.c. before their name.[38] Combining different Dutch titles, especially in different disciplines, is allowed however (e.g. mr. dr. Jansen, dr. mr. Jansen, dr. ir. Jansen, mr. ir. drs. Jansen, mr. ir. Jansen). The use of the combination ir. ing. is frequent, indicating one holds a HBO, vocational (or professional) engineering degree together with an academic engineering degree.[39] What is not allowed is, after obtaining a doctorate, using dr. drs. Jansen; dr. Jansen should be used instead.

A combination of a Dutch title with an international title is not allowed, except for some limited number of international professional titles.[39] Thus, one should choose either one's classical Dutch title, or use the shortcut provided by the law following one's name (since September 1, 2002 it is the other way around: those who hold Dutch degrees as MSc, LLM or MA may optionally use the old-style shortcuts before their names).[39][40] Hence, formal use of the Anglo-Saxon PhD following one's name is not legal, as it is not a Dutch degree. However, its use is commonly used for clarity towards international readers, for example English publications. The law provides the option of using the shortcut D following one's name instead of dr. before one's name.

"Doctors" (dr.) can proceed to teach at universities as "universitair docent" (UD – assistant professor). With time, experience, and/ or achievement, this can evolve to a position as "universitair hoofddocent" (UHD – associate professor). Officially an UHD still works under the supervision of a "hoogleraar", the head of the department and commonly a professor. However, this is not a given; it is also possible that a department is headed by a "plain" doctor, based on knowledge, achievement, and expertise. The position of "hoogleraar" is the highest possible scientific position at a university, and equivalent to the US "full" professor. The Dutch professor's title, noted as prof. Jansen or professor Jansen, is connected to one's employment. This means that, should the professor leave the university, he or she also loses the privilege to use the title of professor. Retired professors are an exception, and may continue to note the title in front of their name, or use the title emeritus professor (em. prof.). People who switch to a non-university job lose their professor title, and are only allowed to use the "dr." abbreviation.

Unlike some other European countries such as Germany, Dutch academic titles are used rarely outside academia, hold no value in everyday life, and typically are not listed on official documentation (e.g. passport, drivers license, (governmental) communication). Dutch academic titles however are legally protected and can only be used by graduates from Dutch institutions of higher education. Illegal use is considered a misdemeanor and subject to legal prosecution.[41][42] Holders of foreign degrees therefore need special permission before being able to use a recognised Dutch title, but they are free to use their own foreign title (untranslated).[43][44][45][46] In practice, the Public Department does not prosecute the illegal use of a protected title (in the Netherlands applies the principle of opportunity, so some known crimes are not prosecuted).[47]


Prior to 1980, there were around 50 different degrees and corresponding education programs within the Norwegian higher education system. Degrees had titles that included the Latin term candidatus/candidata. The second part of the title usually consisted of a Latin word corresponding to the profession or training. For example Cand.Mag. (Candidatus Magisterii) required 4 years, Cand.Real. (Candidatus Realium) required 6 years of study and a scientific thesis in a select set of scientific disciplines (realia). Over the years these were replaced gradually with degrees that were more and more internationally comparable programs and corresponding titles. For example the degree Cand. Scient. replaced Cand. Real. in the period 1985 to 2003. These degrees were all retired in 2003 in favour of an international system.

The reform of higher education in Norway, Kvalitetsreformen ("The Quality Reform"), was passed in the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting, in 2001 and carried out during the 2003/2004 academic year. It introduced standard periods of study and the titles master and bachelor (baccalaureus).

The system differentiates between a free master's degree and a master's degree in technology. The latter corresponds to the former sivilingeniør degree (not to be confused with a degree in civil engineering, which is but one of many degrees linked to the title sivilingeniør, which is still in use for new graduates who can chose to also use the old title). All pre-2001 doctoral degree titles were replaced with the title "Philosophical Doctor degree", written philosophiæ doctor (instead of the traditional doctor philosophiæ). The title dr. philos. is a substantially higher degree than the PhD[citation needed], and is reserved for those who qualify for such a degree without participating in an organized doctoral degree program.


In Poland the system is similar to the German one.

Russia, Ukraine and some other former USSR republics

Since 1992, Russian higher education has introduced a multilevel system, enabling higher education institutions to award and issue Bachelor of Science and Master of Science Degrees.[48]

In Russia, Ukraine and some other former USSR republics educational degrees are awarded after finishing college education. There are several levels of education one must choose between 2nd and 3rd year usually on the 3rd year of study.[49]

  1. Bachelor degree – usually takes 4 years of college. (minimum level to be recognized as having Higher Education)
  2. Specialist degree is awarded after 5 years of college. (4 + 1)
  3. Master (Magister) degree is awarded after 6 years of college. (4 + 2)[50]

(But Specialist degree can appear equivalent to Magister degree by reason of equivalence of amount of educational time). Usually Specialist or Magister degrees incorporates bachelor's degree in them, but only high-level degree is stated in final diploma. Specialist and Magister degrees require taking final state exams and written work on practical application of studied skills or research thesis (usually 70-100 pages) and is roughly equivalent to Master's degree.[51]

The first level academic degree is called "Kandidat nauk" (that could be translated verbatim as a "Candidate of Sciences"). This degree requires extensive research efforts, taking some classes, publications in peer-reviewed academic journals (usually 3 publications suffice), taking 3 exams (one in their speciality, one in a foreign language and one in the history and philosophy of science) and writing and defending an in-depth thesis (80-200 pages) called a "dissertation".

Finally, there is a "Doktor Nauk" (that could be translated verbatim as a "Doctor of Sciences") degree in Russia and some former USSR academic environment. This degree is granted for contributions in a certain field (formally – who established new direction or new field in science). It requires discovery of new phenomenon, or development of new theory, or essential development of new direction, etc. There is no equivalent of this "doctor of sciences" degree in US academic system. It is roughly equivalent to Habilitation in Germany, France, Austria, and some other European countries.

In countries with a two-tier system of doctoral degrees, the degree of Kandidat Nauk should be considered for recognition at the level of the first doctoral degree. In countries with only one doctoral degree, the degree of Kandidat Nauk should be considered for recognition as equivalent to this degree.

According to Guidelines for the recognition of Russian qualifications in the other countries[52] In countries with a two-tier system of doctoral degrees, the degree of Doktor Nauk should be considered for recognition at the level of the second doctoral degree. In countries in which only one doctoral degree exists, the degree of Doktor Nauk should be considered for recognition at the level of this degree.

According to International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) UNESCO 2011,[53] par.262 for purposes of international educational statistics

  1. DPhil to Doktor Nauk/Philosophy,
  2. D.Lit to Doktor Nauk in Literature,
  3. D.Sc to Doktor Nauk of Natural Science,
  4. LL.D to Doktor Nauk of Legal Science.


Spain's higher-education legal framework includes: Official and accredited education, and Non-official education.

1.1 Official and accredited education.

In Spain, accreditation of official university study programmes is regulated by law and monitored by governmental agencies responsible for verifying their quality and suitability for official approval and accreditation.

Official professional study programmes lead to degree qualifications (Títulos) with full academic and professional effects, and the degrees awarded in accordance with the latest higher-education system are:

1. Bachelor’s Degree (Grado) – 240 ECTS Credits in 4 years.

2. Master’s Degree (Master Universitario) – 60 to 120 ECTS Credits in 1–2 years.

3. Doctoral Degree PhD (Doctorado) – in 3–4 years.

Accredited bachelor's degrees and master's degrees qualifications will always be described as "Grado" and "Master Universitario". These qualifications comply with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)[54] framework. Officially approved and accredited university study programmes must implement this framework by law in order to attain and retain accreditation in Spain.

Spanish Official University Education Legal Framework 02

1.2 Non-official education.

Not all EHEA compliant study programmes in Spain are officially approved and/or accredited by government agencies. Some universities offer proprietary study programmes as an alternative to accredited study programmes for a variety of reasons: attending the continuing education market for individual self-advancement and also providing higher education to individuals that have failed to acquire bachelor's degree qualifications. The main reason for offering this alternative studies, though, is the heavy burocratic process that needs to be accomplished to receive the approval of specific titles, in particular when it refers to new studies or studies about matters that do not fit with the official studies. For historical reasons, the academic system has been very much under the control of the State, and private universities are still regarded with as a threat to the State system.

These programmes fall within the category of "Non officially approved and accredited" or "Estudios no oficiales" and they have no academic or professional effects. This means that they do not entitle the bearer to claim to have any specific academic or professional qualifications, as far as the Spanish authorities are concerned. However, there may be private agreements to recognize the titles.

Spanish Official University Education Legal Framework 01

Universities offering non-official study programmes are legally bound to clearly differentiate between officially approved and non-officially approved qualifications when naming their offer of non-official qualifications. Non-accredited master's degrees will be described as "Master" on its own, without the term "Universitario".

Certain non-officially approved and accredited study programmes may acquire a well deserved reputation. However, neither Professional Association, Government Agencies, Judiciary Authorities, nor Universities -other than the study programme provider- are obliged to recognize non-official qualifications in any way.

2. Accreditation System

University taught study programmes accreditation is granted through the ANECA,[55] a government dependent quality assurance and accreditation provider for the Spanish Higher Education System and ensures that the data held in the RUCT,[56] a national registry for universities and qualifications, is correct and up to date. All study programmes must be accredited by ANECA[55] prior to their inclusion in the RUCT.[56] The RUCT[56] records all officially approved Universities and their bachelor's degrees, Master's Degrees and PhDs, and each and every one of the officially approved and accredited study programmes and universities are assigned a specific number Code (Código) by the RUCT. The same study programme may acquire different codes as it progresses through various stages of official approval by local government and central government.

Prospective students should check the RUCT[56] Code awarded to the study programme of their interest at every stage of their enquiries concerning degrees in Spain.

ANECA makes recommendations regarding procedures, staffing levels, quality of teaching, resources available to students, and continuity or loss of accreditation and the ANECA Registry[57] records all events in the life of an officially approved and accredited study programme or a university. The ANECA Registry Search Facility[58] may be the simplest and safest way to verify the status of all officially approved and accredited study programmes in Spain.

It is also possible to track qualifications by using the search facility that several Autonomous Communities own accreditation agencies offer. These agencies work within the ANECA framework, and generally show more detailed information about the study programmes available in each territory (i.e.: Catalonia, Madrid, etc.)

3. Qualifications framework for Higher Education.

The qualifications framework for higher education MECES is the reference framework adopted in Spain in order to structure degree levels.

Not all universities offer degrees named exactly the same, even if they have similar academic and professional effects. Each university may present proposals for the study programme considered to meet professional and academic demand. The proposal will consist of a report linking the study programme being considered and the proposed qualification to be awarded. This report will be assessed by ANECA and sent for the Consejo de Universidades Españolas.[59] If the Consejo agrees with ANECA’s approval, it will be included in the RUCT and ANECA registries. 4. Spanish qualifications and their professional effects.

All bachelor's and master's degrees accredited by ANECA enjoy full academic and professional effects in accordance with new and previous laws. Professional practice law in Spain is currently under revision.



Before the Bologna Process after 4 or 5 years of study the academic degree of a Licentiate was reached.[60] Depending on the official language of the university it was called Lizentiat (German) Licence (French) or licenza (Italian) and is today considered equivalent[61] to the Master's degree according to the Bologna reform. A Licentiate with a predefined qualification gave access to the last stage of further two or more years of studies (depending on the field) for a Doctoral's degree.

Apart from this most universities offered a Postgraduate Diploma with up to two years of study. French-speaking universities called them diplôme d'études approfondies DEA or DESS, the Italian-speaking University post laurea and German-speaking universities mostly Nachdiplomstudium (NDS). Today the federal legislation defines these postgraduate diplomas (60 ECTS credits) as Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) or Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) degree. Universities may also offer the possibility to gain a Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS), less than 60 ECTS credits).[62] These degrees do not normally give access to the doctorate study.

United Kingdom

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The title 'degree' is protected under UK law. All valid UK degrees are awarded by universities or other degree-awarding bodies whose powers to do so are recognised by the UK government; hence they are known as 'recognised bodies'.[63]

The standard first degree in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is the Bachelor's degree conferred with honours. Usually this is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. Other variants exist, for example Bachelor of Education. It usually takes three years to read for a bachelor's degree.

The honours are usually categorised into four classes:

  • First class honours (1st)
  • Second class honours, divided into:
    • Upper division, or upper second (2:1)
    • Lower division, or lower second (2:2)
  • Third class honours (3rd)

Candidates who have not achieved the standard for the award of honours may be admitted without honours to the 'ordinary' Bachelor's degree if they have met the required standard for this lesser qualification (also referred to as a 'pass degree').

The foundation degree[64] is a qualification at lower than Bachelor's level awarded following a two-year programme of study that is usually vocational in nature. The foundation degree can be awarded by a university or college of higher education that has been granted foundation degree awarding powers by the UK government. This degree is comparable to an associate degree in the United States.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge award honorary Master of Arts (MA) degrees to graduates of their Bachelor's programmes, following a specified period of time. This is comparable to the practice of the ancient universities in Scotland of awarding an MA for a first degree, and arguably reflects the rigorous standards expected of their graduates.

Master's degrees[65] such as Master of Arts or Master of Science are typically awarded to students who have undertaken at least a year of full-time postgraduate study, which may be taught or, in many cases, involve an element of research. Degrees such as Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Master of Letters/Literature (MLitt) are likely to be awarded for postgraduate degrees involving original research. A student undertaking a Master's would normally be expected to already hold an honours degree in a relevant subject, hence the possibility of reaching Master's level in one year.

Some universities award a Master's as a first degree following an integrated programme of study (an 'integrated master's degree'). These degrees are usually designated by the subject, such as Master of Engineering for engineering, Master of Physics for physics, Master of Mathematics for mathematics, and so on; it usually takes four years to read for them. Graduation to these degrees is always with honours. Master of Engineering in particular has now become the standard first degree in engineering at the top UK universities, replacing the older Bachelor of Engineering.

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is highly valued by those seeking to advance in business as managers and decision makers.

Doctoral degrees or doctorates,[66] such as the Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD or DPhil), are awarded following a programme of original research that contributes new knowledge within the context of the student's discipline. Doctoral degrees usually take three years full-time. Therefore, in the UK it may only take seven years to progress from undergraduate to doctoral level – in some cases six, since having a Master's is not always a precondition for embarking on a Doctoral degree. This contrasts with nine years in the United States, reflecting differences in the educational systems.

Some doctorates, such as the Doctor of Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy) qualification, confirm competence to practice in particular professions. There are also higher doctorates – Doctor of Science (DSc) and Doctor of Letters/Literature (DLitt) that are typically awarded to experienced academics who have demonstrated a high level of achievement in their academic career; for example they may have published widely on their subject or become professors in their field.

UK post-secondary qualifications are defined at different levels, with levels 1-3 denoting further education and levels 4-8 denoting higher education. Within this structure, a foundation degree is at level 5; a Bachelor's at level 6; at Master's at level 7; and a Doctoral degree at level 8.[67] Full information about the expectations for different types of UK degree is published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.[68]

See also graduate certificate, graduate diploma, postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma and British degree abbreviations.


The standard first degree for students studying arts or humanities in Scotland is either a Bachelor of Arts or a Master of Arts (the latter traditionally awarded by the Ancient Universities of Scotland for a first degree in an arts/humanities subject). The standard undergraduate degree for natural and social science subjects is the Bachelor of Science.[69]

Students can work towards a first degree at either ordinary or honours level. A general or ordinary degree (BA/MA or BSc) takes three years to complete; an honours degree (BA/MA Hons or BSc Hons) takes four years. The ordinary degree need not be in a specific subject, but can involve study across a range of subjects within (and sometimes beyond) the relevant faculty, in which case it may also be called a general degree; if a third year or junior honours subject is included, the ordinary degree in that named discipline is awarded. The honours degree involves two years of study at a sub-honours level in which a range of subjects within the relevant faculty are studied, and then two years of study at honours level which is specialised in a single field (for example classics, history, chemistry, biology, etc.).

This also reflects the broader scope of the final years of Scottish secondary education, where traditionally five Highers are studied, compared to (typically) three English or Welsh A-Levels. The Higher is a one-year qualification, as opposed to the two years of A-Levels, which accounts for Scottish honours degrees being a year longer than those in England. Advanced Highers add an optional final year of secondary education, bringing students up to the level of their A-Level counterparts – students with strong A-Levels or Advanced Highers may be offered entry directly into the second year at Scottish universities.

Honours for MA or bachelor's degrees are classified into three classes:

  • First class honours
  • Second class honours, divided into:
    • Division one (2:1) [Upper Second Class Honours]
    • Division two (2:2) [Lower Second Class Honours]
  • Third class honours

Students who complete all the requirements for an honours degree, but do not receive sufficient merit to be awarded third-class honours may be awarded a Special Degree (ordinary degree – bachelor's level SCQF Level 9).

In most respects, the criteria for awarding qualifications at honours level and above are the same as in the rest of the UK (see above under England, Wales and Northern Ireland). Postgraduate qualifications are not designated Master of Arts as in the rest of the UK, as this is an undergraduate degree. Postgraduate degrees in arts and humanities subjects are usually designated Master of Letters (M.Litt) or, in natural and social sciences, Master of Science (M.Sc). Non-doctoral postgraduate research degrees are usually designated Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) or Master of Research (M.Res). The postgraduate teaching qualification is the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

Postgraduate qualifications are classified into four classes:

  • Distinction
  • Credit
  • Merit
  • Pass

North America

Canada and United States

In the United States and Canada, since the late 19th century, the threefold degree system of bachelor, master and doctor has been in place, but follows a slightly different pattern of study from the European equivalent.

In the United States and Canada, most standard academic programs are based on the four-year bachelor's degree, most often Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), or Bachelor of Science (B.S./B.Sc.), a one- or two-year master's degree (most often Master of Arts (M.A.), or Master of Science (M.S./M.Sc.); either of these programs might be as long as three years in length), and a further two to five years of coursework and research, culminating in "comprehensive" examinations in one or more fields, plus perhaps some teaching experience, and then the writing of a dissertation for the doctorate, most often Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), or other types such as Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), Doctor of Theology, (Th.D.), for a total of ten or more years from starting the bachelor's degree (which is usually begun around age 18) to the awarding of the doctorate. This timetable is only approximate, however, as students in accelerated programs can sometimes earn a bachelor's degree in three years or, on the other hand, a particular dissertation project might take four or more years to complete. In addition, a graduate may wait an indeterminate time between degrees before candidacy in the next level, or even an additional degree at a level already completed. Therefore, there is no time-limit on the accumulation of academic degrees.

Some schools, mostly junior colleges and community colleges and some four-year schools, offer an associate degree for two full years of study, often in pre-professional areas. These may stand alone, or sometimes be used as credit toward completion of the four-year bachelor's degree.

In Canada and the United States, there is also another class of degrees called "First Professional degree". These degree programs are designed for professional practice in various fields other than academic scholarship. Most professional degree programs require a prior bachelor's degree for admission, and so represent at least about six total years of study and as many as seven or eight. Some fields such as fine art, architecture, or divinity call their first professional degree a "master's degree" (e.g., M.Arch., M.B.A.) because most of these degrees require at least the completion of a bachelor's degree. There is currently some debate in the architectural community to rename the degree to a doctorate in the manner that was done for the law degree decades ago, however, this would also require increasing the length of their education.[citation needed]

In the United States and Canada, many colleges and universities offer also an "honors bachelor's degree". The term "Honours" is an academic distinction, which indicates that students must achieve their bachelor's degree with a sufficiently high overall grade point average; in addition, some programs may require more education than non-honours programs. The honours degrees are sometimes designated with the abbreviation in brackets of '(Hon(s))'. It should not be confused with the Canadian consecutive bachelor's degree "with Honours", Latin "Baccalaureatus Cum Honore", abbr. e.g. 'BA hon.' de jure without brackets and with a dot. It is a "postgraduate" degree which is considered to be the equivalent of corresponding maîtrise degrees under the French influenced system e.g. in Québec. Going back in history, in Canada a three-year bachelor´s degree (also known e.g. in Québec as grade de bachelier) was also called a pass degree or general degree. A student who first achieve a general bachelor's degree with a sufficiently high overall average may be admitted to a "postgraduate" Baccalaureatus Cum Honrore degree in the same field; it requires a minimum of one years but may also take longer; it typically does not exceed two years. Students are required to undertake a long high quality research empirical thesis (Honours Seminar Thesis) combined with a selection of courses from the relevant field of studies. The consecutive degree is essential if students ultimate goal is to study towards a two- or three-year very high quality research masters´ degree qualification. A student holding a Baccalaureatus Cum Honore degree also may choose to complete a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program without the requirement to first complete a master's degree. Over the years, in some Canadian universities certain Baccalaureatus Cum Honore programs have been changed to corresponding master´s degrees.

In 21 US jurisdictions, religious institutions can be authorized to grant religious-exempt (rel. exmpt., rel. expt. etc.) degrees without accreditation or government oversight.[70] Such degrees are used primarily to attain church-related employment.[71]

In Canada, professional degrees in medicine (the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)), law (the Juris Doctor (J.D.)), and pharmacy (the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)) are considered to be undergraduate (first cycle) degrees[72][73][74][75][76] whereas M.D., J.D., or D.O. are first professional doctorates (third cycle degrees) in the United States, whereas the Ph.D. is the highest degree offered in the United States and is a fourth cycle degree.[77]

Perceptions of the Value of a degree in the US

Students, the media, and the general public have shown much concern over the value of getting a higher degree in the US ever since the Great Recession of 2007. A 2015 survey of 2,000 adults (900 of which were graduates), implemented by an education technology company called Greenwood Hall, reported that more than half of the graduates surveyed believe those getting their degree now will be receiving a lower return on their investment than their counterparts10-15 years ago.[78] Media coverage of the rising costs of higher education and increased student debt have also affected the public’s perceptions of whether higher degrees are still worthwhile. Statistics citing that college graduates make around $1 million more in their lifetimes than those who didn’t attend college, and living longer, healthier lives work in favor of those who argue the continued value of higher degrees.[78] Studies like the 2011 Learning Gains study by Arum and Roksa, on the other hand, reported that only 55% of students had any learning gains during their first two years of college, which favors the argument that investing in higher education may not still be worth it.[79] As academics continue researching and dissecting these arguments, education remains a hot topic in the US as shown by President Obama recently setting a national goal for the US to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.[80]


In the province of Quebec, the majority of students must attend college prior to entering university. Upon completion of a two-year pre-university program, such as in Sciences or Humanities, or a three-year technical program, such as Nursing or Computer Science, college graduates obtain a college diploma, which is a prerequisite access for university-level studies. Although the previously mentioned college programs are typical, they are not offered in every institution in the province. Moreover, while a few other pre-university programs with various concentrations exist, many other technical/career programs are available depending on the college of choice. For example, Dawson College in Montreal has nearly sixty different programs leading to a college diploma. Special programs, such as physical rehabilitation therapy, are offered in some colleges as well. These programs are particularly interesting because they allow students to enter professional university programs, such as physiotherapy (which consists of an integrated Bachelor of Science in Physiotherapy and Master of Physical Therapy), without having to meet the usual grade and course prerequisites required from students holding a pre-university science diploma. A similar option is offered for college nursing graduates as they can pursue their studies in university to obtain a Bachelor of Nursing in two years (rather than the usual three or four years, depending on whether the student has completed a college diploma in Quebec). Additionally, whereas aspiring medical students are usually required to complete an undergraduate degree before applying to medical schools, Quebec college graduates have the option to enter:


Education in Mexico follows a three-degree system similar to that of Canada and the US. After high school, students progress to university, where they study for a licenciatura, then a maestría, then a doctorado.

The pre-university academic level is the bachillerato (also called preparatoria), similar to high school. Students typically leave preparatoria at the age of 18 for university, at which point they choose to specialize in a specific academic area.

Once in university, students begin the carrera, the study of a precise academic branch like economics, business administration, sciences, law, engineering, or medicine. Students will be in university for 8-10 semesters of full-time study, which typically takes 4–5 years. Upon graduation, students receive a licenciatura in their chosen subject area, which is equivalent to an American Bachelor's degree. They can also get the degree of "ingenieria" or "medico" that refers to an engineer or MD respectively. After receiving the licenciatura, students may take extra courses called diplomados. These courses last 4–12 months and are a means to further study without continuing to the next degree level. Most students stay at this level, but some choose to continue to the maestría, equivalent to the Master's degree. Study at the maestría level takes 2–3 years and mandates completion of a thesis. Post-graduate students in Mexico typically enter a master's program after a few years in the workforce and often continue working while studying.

Traditionally, students who have completed the maestria may continue on to the doctorado, or the doctorate. Doctoral study typically lasts 3–4 years. In last years this schemes has become flexible such that in some PhD programmes, students are accepted before, or not completing at all a Master course.


Australia & New Zealand

The Australian and New Zealand academic degrees are

  • diplomas (1–2 years),
  • advanced diplomas (1–2 years),
  • bachelor's degrees (3 years),
  • bachelor's degrees with honours (bachelor's + 1 year),
  • master's degrees (bachelor's + 1.5–2 years),
  • postgraduate diplomas (1–2 years),
  • graduate diplomas (1-2 years) and
  • doctorates (bachelor's with Honours or master's + 3–4 years).

In Australia, most degrees are issued ungraded, with bachelor's degrees with honours being the exception. In New Zealand, both Masters and Bachelors with Honours are awarded graded. (e.g. - A Master of Science with First Class Honours) The bachelor's degree is the standard university qualification. In both Australia and New Zealand, unlike some other countries, honours degrees require an additional year of research and study on top of a bachelor's degree, and are undertaken by invitation only. Master's degrees may be by coursework or research. Doctorates are by research only (e.g. the PhD) or by some combination of coursework and research (e.g. the DBA, EdD). Some extended master's degrees in medicine, veterinary science, and law may carry a "Doctor of" title in alignment with American usage, but are not doctorates. Nevertheless, professionals in some of these fields use the title "doctor" in spite of possessing only bachelor's or master's degrees. Some bachelor's degrees (e.g. Bachelor of Engineering or Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery) may take longer than three years to complete, and double bachelor's degrees (i.e. completing two bachelor's degrees simultaneously in four to five years) are common.

South America



Undergraduate students in Brazilian universities graduate either with a bachelor's degree, a Licentiate degree or a Technologist degree.

Bachelor degrees in Brazil normally takes four or five years of full-time study to complete, with the exception of the human medicine course which requires six years.

Licentiate degree, normally takes four-years length degrees, available for students who want to qualify as school teachers. Licenciatura courses exist mostly in mathematics, humanities, and natural sciences.

Technologist degree is available in technology-related fields and can be normally obtained in three years. These degrees are turned to fast entry the industry.

Admission as an undergraduate student in most top public or private universities in Brazil requires that the applicant pass a competitive entrance examination known as Vestibular. Contrary to what happens in the United States, candidates must declare their intended university major when they register for the Vestibular. Although it is theoretically possible to switch majors afterwards (in a process known within the universities as transferência interna), that is actually quite rare in Brazil. Undergraduate curricula tend to be more rigid than in the United States and there is little room to take classes outside one's major.

Individuals who hold either a bachelor's degree, Licentiate or Technologist are eligible for admission into graduate courses leading to advanced master's or doctor's degrees. Criteria for admission into master's and doctor's programs vary in Brazil. Some universities require that candidates take entrance exams; others make admission decisions based solely on undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and possibly oral interviews. In most cases, however, especially for the doctorate, the candidate is required to submit a research plan and one faculty member must agree to serve as his/her supervisor before the candidate can be admitted into the program; The exception are the Natural Sciences post-graduate programs, that accepts students with very broad and/or vague research prospects with sometimes the prospect is given in promptu during the interview, preferring to let the students define their study program and advisor in the course of the first year of studies.

There are two types of post-graduate programs, lato sensu (specialization, professional Masters and MBAs) and strictu sensu (Master and Doctorate):

Specializations, professional Masters or MBAs are courses that include taking a minimum number (minimum 360 hours) of graduate classes but with no need to do research nor defend a thesis, only present a final work showing the knowledge. It's a professional level where theory and practice are focused in a broad sense.

Master's degrees usually takes one to two years of full-time study. Requirements for an academic master's degree include taking a minimum number of advanced graduate classes (typically between five and eight)and submitting a research thesis which is examined orally by a panel of at least two examiners (three is the preferred number), sometimes including one external member who must be from another university or research institute. The emphasis of the thesis must be in adding some value to the academic knowledge, but not necessarily in being original.

Doctor's degrees normally take four additional years of full-time study to complete. Requirements for obtaining a doctor's degree include taking additional advanced courses, passing an oral qualifying exam, and submitting a longer doctoral dissertation which must represent a significant original contribution to knowledge in the field to which the dissertation topic is related. That contrasts with master's thesis, which, in addition to being usually shorter than doctoral dissertations, are not required to include creation of new knowledge or revision/reinterpretation of older views/theories. The doctoral dissertation is examined in a final oral exam before a panel of at least two members (in the state of São Paulo the preferred number is five, while the other regions prefer three members), usually including one or two external examiners from another university or research institute.

Finally, a small number of Brazilian universities, most notably the public universities in the state of São Paulo still award the title of Livre-Docente (free docent), which is of higher standing than a doctorate and is obtained, similar to the German Habilitation, by the submission of a second (original or cumulative) thesis and approval in a Livre-Docência examination that includes giving a public lecture before a panel of full professors.

See also Universities and Higher Education in Brazil


In Colombia, the system of academic degrees is similar to the U.S. model. After completing their "bachillerato" (high school), students can take one of three options. The first one is called a "Profesional" (professional career), which is similar to a bachelor's degree requiring from four to 6 years of study according to the chosen program. The other option is called a "Técnico" (technician); this degree consists of only two and a half years of study and prepares the student for technical or mechanical labors. Finally, the third option is called a ¨Tecnólogo¨ (equivalent to associate degree), and consist of 3 years of study.

After this, students, now called "profesional" (professionals), Tecnólogos (associates) or "técnicos" (technicians), can opt for higher degrees. Formal education after the bachelor's degree is the master's degree with the title of "Maestro", and Doctorate's degree known as "Doctorado" (doctorate). The master's degree normally consists of two years.

Commonly, students prefer to take an specialization course, "Especialización", after their bachelor's degree rather than the more formal Master and Doctorate paths. This program is very popular in the country, because it requires only one year to complete and because the student only acquires the technical knowledge, without the bulk of the theoretical subjects.

A similar situation in Colombia, when compared to the U.S. system, is that the students may not go directly to the "Doctorado" without having the "Master" degree first.


In Chile, the system in a nutshell is as follows: Quite similar to the case described for Colombia, students may opt to be "Profesionales"(Professionals) or "Técnicos"(Technicians). After completion of high school, students may follow professional or technical studies at Universities or Technical schools. Only Universities and the Academies of the Armed Forces can give Academic Degrees. In general, traditional professions require an Academic Degree, but there are many professions that not require the degree because they were conceived as strictly "professional" not academic. The degrees are as follows:

"Licenciado" it is similar to the Bachelor, but to get it is necessary to complete at least eight semesters of study on the subjects which are part of the Major. This degree is enough to continue developing an academic career, however, to get a professional title -which is not academic, but allows you to get a professional practice, you have to continue one or two additional years of study. (For example, to be an engineer it is necessary to study four years to get a Licentiate in Engineering Sciences, and two additional years to get a Professional Title and become an engineer. Sometimes it is possible to take additional subjects and get a "Magister" degree besides the professional title.)

"Magister" is the equivalent to the master's degree in English speaking countries.

"Doctorado" is the equivalent to the Doctorate or Phd. There is no separate classification for Professional Doctorates.

In particular, the engineering profession may be complicated for the foreigner since there are two types of engineers: those who got an Academic Degree such as Civil Engineers or Armed Forced Politechnical Engineers, and those who are "Ingenieros en Ejecución" (Professional Engineers) which are considered terrain Engineer more focused to apply the engineering in the field and completed only four years of study. They are not able, by law, to authorise plans or drawings like engineers with a degree or architects.


Titles in Venezuela start with the Certificado de Educación Básica (Certificate of Basic Education), awarded upon completing 9th grade. The next title is earned upon completing 11th grade, and may be Bachiller en Ciencias (Bachelor of the Sciences), Bachiller en Humanidades (Bachelor of Humanities), or Técnico en Ciencias (Technician of the Sciences). The reason for this diversity is because some schools provide vocational education as part of their high school curriculum (thereby allowing them to hand out "Technician" titles) while elsewhere, the student is required to decide whether to study Sciences or Humanities for the last two years of secondary school.

Titles at the higher education level usually depend on the institution handing them out. Technical schools award the student with the tile of Técnico Superior Universitario (University Higher Technician, to distinguish from Technicians of the Sciences). Universities award the student with the title of Ingeniero (Engineer) or with the title Licenciado (Licentiate) after completing a five-year program. The Engineer have more physics subjects than the Licenciate, but both are five-year careers. Some higher education institutions may award Diplomados (Diploma) but the time necessary to obtain one varies. Medical Doctors are awarded the title "Médico Cirujano" after completing a 6 year-career.

Post-graduate education follows conventions of the United States (being named "Master's" and "Doctorate" after the programes there)

Pontifical Universities

Pontifical universities around the world such as the Pontifical University, St Patrick's College, Maynooth in Ireland, the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas in Manila,[81] The Catholic University of America, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome, the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru depend for their status as pontifical universities and for the nature of their academic degrees on the Pope through the Congregation for Catholic Education. The nature of academic degrees from ecclesiastical institutions of education is outlined in the apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana,[82]

In distinction to secular or Catholic universities, which are academic institutions for the study and teaching of a broad range of disciplines, Ecclesiastical or Pontifical universities "are usually composed of three principal ecclesiastical faculties, theology, philosophy, and canon law, and at least one other faculty. A Pontifical university specifically addresses Christian revelation and disciplines correlative to the evangelical mission of the Church as set out in the apostolic constitution Sapientia christiana."[82][83]

There are three cycles of degrees that constitute the core of degrees granted by pontifical universities: the first cycle leading to the baccalaureate degree; the second cycle leading to the licentiate degree; the third cycle leading to the doctorate. From this core pontifical universities confer degrees including:

  • Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology, Sacrae Theologiae Baccalaureatus (S.T.B.)
  • Licentiate in Sacred Theology, Sacrae Theologiae Licentiatus (S.T.L.)
  • Doctorate in Sacred Theology, Sacrae Theologiae Doctoratus (S.T.D.)


  • Baccalaureate in Philosophy, Philosophiae Baccalaureatus (Ph.B.)
  • Licentiate in Philosophy, Philosophiae Licentiatus (Ph.L.)
  • Doctorate in Philosophy, Philosophiae Doctoratus (Ph.D.)

Canon Law:

  • Baccalaureate in Canon Law, Juris Canonici Baccalaureatus (J.C.B.)
  • Licentiate in Canon Law, Iuris Canonici Licentiatus (J.C.L.)
  • Doctorate in Canon Law, Iuris Canonici Doctoratus (J.C.D.)

See also


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Academic degrees
Associate's degrees (U.S.) AA, AAS, ABA, ABS, AOS, AS, AMusA and LMusA (Australia), ASN, Associate in Specialized Technology [AST]
Foundation degrees (U.K.) FdA, FdEd, FdEng, FdMus, FdBus, FdSc, FdTech
Bachelor's degrees AB or BA, BAcc or BAcy, BAdm, BAgrEc, BArch, BBA, BBus, BCom or BComm, BCS, BCL, STB, BD, BDent, BDS, B.Ed., BEc, BEng or BE, BSBME, BFA, BHSc, BGS, BHE, BHK, BID, BJ, BTh, BLibStud, BLIS, BMath, BMedSc or BMedSci, BMus, BSN, BPE, BPharm, BS or BSc or SB, BSc(Agr) or BSA, BSocSci, BSW, BTech, LLA, LLB, MB ChB or MB BS or BM BS or BMed or MB BChir or MB BCh BAO, MA (Cantab.), MA (Dubl.), MA (Hons), MA (Oxon.)
Master's degrees MArch, MA, MAT, MALS or MLS, MS or MSc, MSt, DEA, MAcc or MPAcc, MALD, MApol, MPhil, MRes, MFA, MTech, MBA, MBI, MBT, MBus, MCGI, MCom, MDes, MTh, MTS, MDiv, MEd, MMT, MPA, MPD, MPS, MSN, MProfStuds, MJ, MST, MSW, MPAff, MLIS, MLitt, MPH, MPM, MPP, MPT, MRE, MTheol/ThM/MTh, STM, LLM, MEng, MSci, MBio, MChem, MPhys, MMath, MMedSc or MMedSci, MMus, MESci, MGeol, MTCM, MSSc, BCL (Oxon), BPhil (Oxon), ThM
Licentiate degrees: Lic Arts, LDS, JCL, STL, SSL, LSS, PhL
Specialist degrees EdS, SSP
Engineer's degrees AE, BE, BME, CE, CE, ChE, EE, CpE, ECS, EnvE, MSE, ME, NavE, NuclE, Ocean E, SysE, Eng
First-professional degrees AuD, DC, DCM, DDS, DMD, JD, MD (US), DPT, ND, OD, DO (US only), PharmD, DP, PodD, DPM, MDiv, MHL, DVM, PD, STB
Doctoral degrees DHSc, PhD, DPS, EdD, DEng, EngD, PDEng, DEnv, DBA, DD, JCD, SSD, JUD, DSc, DLitt, DA, MD (out of US and Canada), DMA, DMus, DCL, ThD, DrPH, DPT, DPhil, PsyD, DSW, JD, LLD, LHD, JSD, SJD, JuDr, STD, DMin

External links

  • Media related to Script error: No such module "Commons link". at Wikimedia Commonsla:Gradus academicus