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The NCRW Corner: Different Degrees of Opinion and Fact

October 07, 2022 5:00 AM | Administrative Manager (Administrator)

By NRWA Certification Commission Member

There clearly are some differing opinions among resume writers as to the “correct” way to include mention of a college degree on a resume or cover letter. On the one hand, what is the “correct” way to write the type of degree on a resume under the heading “Education”? On the other hand, what is the “correct” way to include mention of the degree in a sentence?

When do we include periods, capitalize the degree, insert a comma, or include the word “in?” Finding consistency in the answers to these questions is a challenge!

Education section on a resume:

After scouring the dictionary, Gregg Reference Manual, AP Style Guide, NCRW Study Guide, and various resume-writing books, we are forced to admit that we don’t know if there is a “correct” answer.

If we adhere to the teaching that the degree is a title bestowed upon the recipient, when one graduates from a four-year college, he/she is now a Bachelor¾“of arts” or “of sciences.” If one completes two more years, he/she is a Master. Go a little further and one is a Doctor or Ph.D. So, if following this teaching, when writing the degree on a resume under the Education section, one would write: Bachelor of Arts, Sociology (check how it is written on your college diploma.)

We have seen other variations in format, including inserting the word “in”: Bachelor of Science in Biology; Master of Arts in Psychology. Then, there are those who insist that the word “Degree” should be included: Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology.

In her book Resume Magic, Susan Britton Whitcomb includes the following example: “B.S.; Meaning: Bachelor of Science (or bachelor’s degree); Common Mistakes: Bachelor in Science or Bachelor’s of Science.”

And what about those pesky periods? Is it correct to write BA, BS, MBA or B.A., B.S. or M.B.A.?

Without a definitive answer on what is correct or what is not, we yield to the following recommendation:

Whatever you choose to do, be consistent.

But, when should one capitalize the degree in a sentence? When examining the correct way to handle this in job search correspondence, the answer is definitive and is explained in the Gregg Reference Manual, Section 353:

Do not capitalize degrees used as general terms of classification: a bachelor of arts degree/received his bachelor’s. A master of science degree/working towards a master’s.” However, this same section goes on to say “…do capitalize a degree used after a person’s name: Claire Hurwitz, Doctor of Philosophy.”

Section 644 provides an additional example: “Fred is getting a master’s in international economics.”

Continuing our focus on education, let’s examine how to write honors on a resume.

summa cum laude is “with highest honor.”
magna cum laude is “with great honor.”
cum laude is “with honor.”

Each of these are phrases, not proper nouns. Whether writing the phrase in Latin or English, the same rule applies – write all the words in lowercase. Not sure this is correct? Check a dictionary.

We have often seen them italicized on a resume, in fact, some university style guides suggest italics, but we can’t see any reason for this. Section 287 of the Gregg Reference Manual (GRM) notes the following:

“Once a foreign expression has become established as part of the English language, italics or underlining, is no longer necessary.” The GRM goes on to list 72 common phrases that adhere to this practice.

If you are concerned that the word “cum” shows up on a resume or in job search correspondence, you have two options:

1)     Get your mind out of the gutter and present the information correctly;
2)     Stick with the English phrase and write “B.S., Geology with highest honor.”

The reality is that many people don’t know the difference between summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude anyway.

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