MA, MBA, BS, MS, MSW, PhD, PsyD: What Does it All Mean?

The benefits of college degrees, be it associate, B.A., M.A. or Ph.D level, have been touted and restated many times. Despite rising costs, the investment continues to be valuable one for a wide variety of people. That said, back it up a little bit: just what do all those different degree acronyms mean? Beyond that, what differentiates, say, a B.B.A. from a BSN?

To help answer those questions we put together the following list of definitions for what each degree acronym stands for as well as explanations of the meanings behind all the different terminology.

Breaking It Down: The Acronyms

Here's a breakdown of some of the acronyms you'll find out there:

A.A. A.S. B.A.
B.S. B.F.A. B.B.A.
B.Arch BSN B.E.
M.A. M.B.A.





    • A.A.

      Associate of Arts

      The associate of arts is a basic-level undergraduate degree granted upon completion of a two-year program, usually at community or junior college, technical college or trade school. As such, these are typically a jumping off point towards pursuing a full bachelor's degree.

    • A.S.

      Associate of Science

      Similar to the A.A., the associate of science degree is the culmination of a two-year academic program. The A.S. is usually awarded to junior college students enrolled in science or tech-related programs.

    • B.A.

      Bachelor of Arts

      The usual degree path for majors in liberal arts, humanities or social sciences such as English, creative writing, fine arts or political science. A B.A. is typically awarded upon completion of a four-year undergraduate program at a traditional school or university.

    • B.S.

      Bachelor of Science

      The bachelor's typically awarded to undergraduates in science and technical fields.

    • B.F.A.

      Bachelor of Fine Arts

      Awarded to majors like art history, theater, film studies and photography.

    • B.B.A.

      Bachelor of Business Administration

      A business-oriented bachelor's path, typically associated with management, accounting, marketing, etc.

    • B.Arch

      Bachelor of Architecture

      A bachelor's degree geared towards the architecture field.

    • BSN

      Bachelor of Science in Nursing

      A degree path oriented towards the technical and hands-on training necessary to obtain a nursing license.

    • B.E.

      Bachelor of Engineering

      Concentrates on engineering fields like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer engineering.

    • M.A.

      Master of Arts

      The basic graduate-level degree granted to grad students in fields in the humanities, social sciences or fine arts.

    • M.B.A.

      Master of Business Administration

      The Master of Business Administration is the master-level degree granted upon completion of a business administration or management-oriented program. In contrast to an M.A., M.B.A. programs are typically oriented around subjects more narrowly tailored towards business operations like accounting, marketing and analysis.

    • M.S.

      Master of Science

      Typically awarded to graduate students in scientific or technical fields.

    • M.S.W.

      Master of Social Work

      Similar to the M.B.A., the Master of Social Work is narrowly defined master's degree focused on social work. M.S.W. programs may adhere to either a clinical track or practice track. The clinical track is oriented towards working with patients, while the practice track focuses on politics and policy as well as management.

    • Ph.D

      Doctor of Philosophy

      Despite what the name might suggest, this isn't a degree for philosophers exclusively. A Ph.D is the doctorate-level degree granted in a variety of different disciplines. These are typically research-intensive programs pursued by those who've already acquired bachelor's and master-level credentials in their field of study.

    • Psy.D.

      Doctor of Psychology

      The Psy.D. is similar to a standard doctorate degree, but granted specifically for students pursuing psychology practice. 

What do these letters stand for?

There are two parts; one can classify the educational level of the degree: "B" stands for bachelor's degree; "M" stands for master's degree; and "D" stands for doctoral degree. The second part denotes the discipline of the degree, like "S" for science, "A" for arts, or "Ph" for Philosophy.

What are the distinctions between arts and science degrees?

Depending on the school you attend and the kind of courses you take, you could earn an arts degree or a science degree. Typically, an "arts" degree means that you focused on a wide area of learning and discussion, while a "science" degree implies a deep, technical understanding of your subject.

What kinds of designations exist for doctoral students?

The highest degree you can earn in most liberal arts disciplines is a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. However, clinical and counseling psychologists earn a PsyD, Doctor of Psychology nomenclature; medical students earn M.D. degrees and law students can earn J.D. (Juris Doctor) degrees.

What about some of the other specialized degrees?

Distinctive nomenclature are named after applied disciplines, include Master of Social Work (MSW), Doctor of Social Work (DSW), Master of Education degree (MaEd), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

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