degree, academic

Title conferred by a college or university to indicate completion of a course of study or extent of academic achievement. In medieval Europe there were only two degrees: master (a scholar of arts and grammar) and doctor (a scholar of philosophy, theology, medicine, or law). The baccalaureate, or bachelor's degree, was originally simply a stage toward mastership. In contemporary France the baccalauréat is conferred on the completion of secondary education, the licence on completion of a three- to four-year program of university study, the maǐtrise on the passing of advanced examinations, and the doctorat on completion of several years of advanced academic studies. Other contemporary degrees include the Bachelor of Arts (B.A. or A.B.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, typically awarded after a four-year program of college study; the Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree, earned after a year or two of additional study; and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), earned after several years of post-baccalaureate study and research. In the mid-20th century the Associate of Arts degree (A.A.) began to be awarded by U.S. junior colleges. Common professional degrees are the Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) and the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). Honorary degrees are granted without regard to academic achievement.

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A degree is any of a wide range of status levels conferred by institutions of higher education, such as universities, normally as the result of successfully completing a program of study.


As with other professions, teaching in universities was only carried out by people who were properly qualified. In the same way that a carpenter would pass through the grades of apprentice and journeyman to attain the status of master carpenter when fully qualified by his guild, a teacher would become a master when he had been licensed by his profession, the teaching guild. These teaching guilds in various cities took on the identity "university" when granted a charter (by the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor in Europe's case), and students were admitted to the university and passed through its grades in ways directly analogous to those of the trade guilds.

Though higher education institutions date back to ancient times, such as Taxila and Nalanda in ancient India, the first higher education institutions to issue academic degrees (at all levels including bachelor, master and doctorate) were the medieval Madrasahs founded in the 9th century. The University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco is thus recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world with its founding in 859 by the princess Fatima al-Fihri. Also in the 9th century, Bimaristan medical schools were formed in the medieval Islamic world, where medical degrees and diplomas were issued to students of Islamic medicine who were qualified to be a practicing Doctor of Medicine.

The origins of the doctorate in particular dates back to the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") in the medieval Islamic legal education system, which was equivalent to the Doctor of Laws qualification and was developed during the 9th century after the formation of the Madh'hab legal schools. To obtain a doctorate, a student "had to study in a guild school of law, usually four years for the basic undergraduate course" and at least ten years for a post-graduate course. The "doctorate was obtained after an oral examination to determine the originality of the candidate's theses", and to test the student's "ability to defend them against all objections, in disputations set up for the purpose" which were scholarly exercises practiced throughout the student's "career as a graduate student of law." After students completed their post-graduate education, they were awarded doctorates giving them the status of faqih (meaning "master of law"), mufti (meaning "professor of legal opinions") and mudarris (meaning "teacher"), which were later translated into Latin as magister, professor and doctor respectively.

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 masters, would be admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts, from the Latin baccalaureus, a term previously usually 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. Masters 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's 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").

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 but, for instance, the highest degree was variously 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 and studies outside theology and medicine have become more common (such studies were then called "philosophy", but are now classified as sciences and humanities - however this usage survives in the degree of Doctor of Philosophy).

The University of Bologna in Italy, regarded as the oldest university in Europe, was the first institution to confer the degree of Doctor in Civil Law in the late 12th century; it also conferred similar degrees in other subjects, including medicine. 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.

The naming of degrees eventually became linked with the subjects studied. Scholars in the faculties of arts or grammar became known as "masters", but those in 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's 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 all advanced degrees 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.

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 Britain, Lambeth Degrees are still awarded by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Only the universities of Oxford and Cambridge still permit the D.Phil. (Oxford) or Ph.D. (Cambridge) to be conferred upon a student by an individual member of the faculty .

Examples of degrees

Some examples of specific degrees follow each general term. For more information, see the article about the general term.

Abbreviations for degrees can place the level either before or after the faculty or discipline, depending on the institution. For example, DSc and ScD both stand for the (higher) doctorate in science. Various other abbreviations also vary between institutions, for instance BS and BSc both stand for 'Bachelor of Science'.

There are various conventions for indicating degrees and diplomas after one's name. In some cultures it is usual to give only the highest degree. In others, it is usual to give the full sequence, in some cases giving abbreviations also for the discipline, the institution, and (where it applies) the level of honours. In another variation, a 'rule of subsumption' often shortens the list and may obscure the chronology evident from a full listing. Thus 'MSc BA' means that the degrees conferred were - in chronological order - BSc, BA, MSc. The subsumption rule reflects the principle that a person of a given high status does not separately belong to the lower status.

For member institutions of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, there is a standard list of abbreviations, but in 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 and Cantuar. for the University of Kent (formerly the "University of Kent at Canterbury"). Confusion results from the widespread use of 'SA' for the University of South Australia (instead of S.Aust.) because 'SA' was officially assigned to the University of South Africa. 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 strictly academic—degree.

Degree systems by regions

North and South America


Undergraduate students in Brazilian universities normally graduate either with a Bacharel degree (equivalent to an American B.S. or B.A.) or with a professional degree (roughly modeled on the old German Diplom).

Bacharel degrees are awarded in most fields of study in the arts, humanities, social sciences, mathematics, or natural sciences and normally take four years to complete (a bachelor's degree in Law requires an extra fifth year to be obtained). Professional degrees are awarded in state-regulated professions such as architecture, engineering, psychology, pharmacy, dental medicine, veterinary medicine, or human medicine and are named after the profession itself, i.e. one graduates with a degree of Engenheiro (engineer), Arquiteto (architect), or Médico (physician/surgeon) for example. Professional degrees are generally regarded as being of higher social standing than a Bacharel degree and are considered more academically demanding. A typical course of study leading to a first professional degree in Brazil normally takes five years of full-time study to complete, with the exception of the human medicine course which requires six years.

In addition to the standard Bacharel and professional degrees, Brazilian universities also offer the Licenciatura degree, available for students who want to qualify as school teachers. Licenciatura courses exist mostly in mathematics, humanities, and natural sciences. Although Licenciatura courses also last 4 years, they are nonetheless considered to be of lower standing than a Bacharelado course. A lower degree of Tecnólogo (Technologist) is also available in technology-related fields and can be normally obtained in three years only. 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 more rigid than in the United States and there is little room to take classes outside one's major.

Individuals who hold either a Bacharel degree, a professional diploma or Licenciatura 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 (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.

Master's degrees normally take two years to obtain and are classified into academic master's degrees or professional master's degrees. Requirements for an academic master's degree normally 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 its clarity and ease of understanding by future students, not in its originality. Professional master's degrees on the other hand normally involve taking a larger number of classes, and, in the case of engineering programs in particular, often completing a project as an intern in an engineering company and submitting a final project report. The most relevant difference to the international scenario is that, due to restrictive production goals set by government agencies, in most universities a Master degree is not only considered inferior to a Doctor degree but a pre-requisite for the admission in a Doctorate program.

Master's titles in Brazil normally include an explicit reference to the field of study in which they were awarded, e.g. one graduates with a degree of Mestre em Engenharia (Master of Engineering), Mestre em Economia (Master of Economics), and so on. The generic title Mestre em Ciências (Master of Sciences) is used sometimes though, especially in the natural sciences (physics, biology, chemistry, etc.). The word profissional is normally added to the title to distinguish it from an academic master's degree, e.g. Mestre Profissional em Engenharia Aeronáutica (Professional Master in Aeronautical Engineering).

Doctor's degrees on the other hand normally take four additional years of full-time study to complete and are of a higher standing than a master's degree; With very few exceptions (namely, people with outstanding accomplishments in research), a Master degree or equivalent is required for admission in a Doctorate Program. 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 theses, 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.

Conventions for naming doctoral degrees follow similar rules to those used for master's degree, i.e. an explicit reference to the field of study is normally included in the title itself, e.g. Doutor em Engenharia (Doctor of Engineering), Doutor em Direito (Doctor of Laws), Doutor em Economia (Doctor of Economics), etc., although a generic title like Doutor em Ciências (Doctor of Sciences) may be occasionally used.

Finally, a small number of Brazilian universities, most notably the public universities in the state of São Paulo still award the title of Livre-docência (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.


In Colombia, the system of degrees is a bit similar to the U.S. model. After completing their high school, or "bachillerato", students (called "bachilleres") can take one of two options. The first is called a "Profesional", which is similar to a Bachelor's Degree requiring from nine to eleven semesters of study according to the program chosen. The other option is called a "Técnico"; this degree only three years of study and prepares the student for technical or mechanical labors, similar to the associate's degree given in the U.S.

After this, students, now called "profesionales" or "técnicos", can opt for higher degrees. Formal education after the Bachelor's degree is the Master's degree with the title of "Magíster", and Doctorate's degree known as "Doctorado". The Master's degree has a normal duration of two years.

More commonly students prefer to take an specialization's degree, "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 go directly to the "Doctorado" without having to take the "Master" or "Especialización".


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 wich are part of the Mayor. 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 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 is 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 technicians more focused to apply the engineering, 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.

United States

In the United States, since the late 1800s, the threefold degree system of bachelor, master and doctor has been in place, but follows a slightly different pattern of study from the European equivalents.

In the United States, 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.), a one- or two-year master's degree (most often Master of Arts, M.A., or Master of Science, M.S.; either of these programs might be as much as three years in length) and a further one or two 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 Ed.D., Psy.D., 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, but some four-year schools as well—offer an associate's degree for two full years of study, often in pre-professional areas. This may stand alone, or sometimes be used as credit toward completion of the four-year bachelor's degree.

In 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 rather than academic scholarship. Most professional degree programs require a prior bachelor's degree for admission (a notable exception being the PharmD program), and so represent at least about five total years of study and as many as seven or eight.

Some fields such as fine art, architecture, or divinity have chosen to name their first professional degree after the bachelor's a "master's degree" (e.g., M.F.A., M.Div.) because most of these degrees require at least the completion of a bachelor's degree while the professional degrees in medicine (the M.D.) and law (the J.D.) are doctorates. 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. It is important to recognize that first-professional degrees in these fields are different than research-oriented degrees and comparisons to the Ph.D. are problematic.

Asia and Oceania


In some countries, such as Australia, a diploma is a specific academic award in addition to that of Bachelor/Master's/Doctorate. Diplomas are usually signified by a stole rather than an academic hood, the latter being used only for those of graduate status. A person with a diploma is termed a diplomate.

Australia has several different kinds of diplomas: Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas, Graduate Diplomas and Postgraduate Diplomas. The system is not without anomalies, due largely to the different traditions of individual institutions which the Australian Qualifications Framework aims to regularise. A Diploma is usually equivalent to the first year of a Bachelor's degree, although a few have been similar to Bachelor of Arts degrees and permit direct admission to graduate programs.

An Australian Advanced Diploma is usually considered lower than a Bachelor degree, but may qualify its holder for advanced placement in a Bachelor program, direct admission to a Graduate Diploma course or (albeit rarely) direct admission to a Master's program.

Graduate Diplomas are always higher than a Bachelor degree, and usually require one year of full-time study. They are often an additional course taken after a standard Bachelor degree to introduce a specialization in a particular field or a new discipline. For example, Australian school teachers often study for a bachelor's degree in Arts or Science, then in an additional year complete requirements for a Graduate Diploma of Education, which qualifies them as school teachers. Some Graduate Diplomas are simply the first two semesters of a three- or four-semester Master's program. (In the past, the Graduate Diploma of Education was called the Diploma of Education.)

Some universities have issued Postgraduate Diplomas, which are always in the same discipline as the undergraduate degree, and generally no different from a Bachelor with Honours degree, which requires one year after a regular Bachelor degree.


In Europe, degrees are being harmonized through the Bologna process, which is based on the three-level hierarchy of degrees: Bachelor (Licence in France), Master and Doctor. This system is gradually replacing the two-stage system now in use in some countries.

This system is also currently in use in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Croatia.


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. 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's programmes.



In French universities, the academic degree system was quite complicated: the first degree was the baccalauréat (completed in fact after high school), then the two-year diplôme d'études universitaires générales (DEUG General Academic Studies Degree) or premier cycle (undergraduate education), then the one-year licence, the one-year maîtrise (master's degree), the two forming the second cycle (graduate education), the 1-2 years Diplôme d'Études Approfondies, Special Studies Degree and the three-year doctorate, the two forming the troisième cycle (postgraduate education). With the Bologna process, the system is now much more simple: baccalauréat, licence, master, a new two-year degree merging maîtrise and DEA, and doctorate. Now, in French Universities, there is an "LMD" system which means licence-master-doctorat. After 3 years licence, 2 years Master is done and then 3-4 years doctorat programmes can be obtained.


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 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. From the level of academic study a Magister or Diplom has to be considered equivalent to a master's degree and marks the end of four to six years of studying with the writing of a final thesis similar to a master's thesis.

A special kind of examination is the Staatsexamen. It is not an academic degree but a government licensing examination that future doctors, 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 4-6 years before they take the first Staatsexamen. Afterwards teachers and jurists go on to work in their future jobs for two years, before they are able to take the second Staatsexamen, which tests their practical abilities in their jobs. The first Staatsexamen is at a level which is equivalent to a M.Sc. or M.A.

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 are still resistant to this change, considering it a displacement of a venerable tradition for the pure sake of globalization. Universities must fulfill the new standard by the end of 2007. In the future, the Diplom or Magister degree will no longer be awarded.

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 medizinischen Wissenschaft (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. The doctoral promotion (e.g. to Dr.rer. nat., Dr.phil. and others) is equivalent to a Ph.D. degree and is therefore the highest academic degree to earn. The doctorate's degree for medical doctors has to be considered as different: Medical students predominantly write their doctoral theses straight after they have completed studies like other students in other disciplines have to write a Diplom, Magister or Master's thesis.

Sometimes incorrectly regarded as a degree, the Habilitation is an academic qualification in Germany and Austria, 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.") (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.


In Ireland a National Diploma is below the standard of the honours bachelor degree, whilst the Higher Diploma is taken after the bachelor degree. The new NQAI National Framework of Qualifications, adopted in 2003, replaced the National Dipoma with the Ordinary Bachelors degree. The framework also clarifies that although the Higher Diploma is taken after the bachelor degree the learning outcomes are at the same level as for the Honours Bachelors Degree.

More technically, a diploma is a document attesting that its bearer has satisfied certain study requirements, as opposed to a degree being a status level in the academic community. For this reason, diplomas are 'awarded to' the recipient while degrees are 'conferred upon' the graduand who then becomes a graduate, or the graduand is "admitted to" a degree. Similarly a person 'has' a diploma, but a graduate 'is in' a status. It is also for this reason that study for diplomas can be at undergraduate or advanced level.


In Italy access to university is possible after gaining the high school degree, called diploma di maturità which is obtained at 19 years, after 5 years of study in a particular high school, focused on a certain subject (e.g. liceo classico focus on classical subjects and includes ancient Greek and Latin, liceo scientifico focus on scientific subjects but includes Latin and litterature, liceo linguistico for languages, istituto tecnico for technics).

After the diploma one can enter university choosing any faculty (e.g. physics, medicine, chemistry, engineering, architecture): there is no requirement to complete a specific high school in order to access a particular faculty but most of the university program test to select students. Almost all faculties nowadays offers two academic degrees. A first degree (called laurea triennale) is obtained after 3 years of study and a short thesis on one subject. The second degree (called laurea Specialistica/Magistrale - LS/LM) can be obtained proceeding with usually two additional years of study and specializing in a particular branch of the chosen subject (e.g. particle physics, nuclear engineering, etc.). The laurea magistrale is obtained after the discussion of a thesis (which usually involves some academic research or an internship in a private company).

Only few students continue their university career (after passing a public selection) to 3 further years of Dottorato di ricerca (equivalent to a Ph. D) mainly devoted to research (with some compulsory courses), the degree is also obtained after the discussion of a thesis on the results of the research done.

Alternatively, after obtaining the laurea triennale and the laurea magistrale one can attend a so-called Master, (first-level Master after the laurea triennale; second-level Master after the laurea magistrale) offered by universities and private organisations with a variety of subjects, lengths and prices (one year of Master in Italy can cost more than the fees paid for the entire preceding university education), usually including a final internship in a company.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the structure of academic studies was altered significantly in 1982. In this year the "twee fase structuur" (Two Phase Structure) was introduced by the Dutch Minister of Education, Minister 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 timeframe, or otherwise discontinue their studies. The two phase structure is still in effect today and is in line with the [Bologna process].

In order for a Dutch student to get access to an university education, he/ she has to complete the appropriate pre-university secondary education "Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs" (VWO (Gymnasium - Atheneum) - 6 years). There are other routes possible, but only if the end level of the applicant is comparable to the VWO levels 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 follow an academic medicine study.

For some studies in the Netherlands a governmental determined limited access is in place. 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 the medicine and dentistry. Every year a combination of good pre-university secondary education grades, luck, and some additional conditions determine who can start such a numerus clausus study and who can not. A study location and/ or university to graduate from are appointed and are not subject to free choice. In practice, it is only possible on very exclusive grounds (e.g. family history connected to a certain university) to alter this assignment. Thus, all the members of the Dutch royal family studied at the University of Leiden. Almost all Dutch Universities are government supported universities, with only very few privately owned universities in existence (i.e. one in business, and others in theology). The University of Leiden is the oldest, founded in 1575.

As mentioned before all university studies in the Netherlands have in principle the same length (four years) and exist out of two phases:

  • The "propedeutische fase" (1-2 years): Should the student not be able to finish this phase in the given time frame of 2 years, than he or she has to abandon the study and will not be allowed to continue. After finishing this phase the student follows another two years' study after which the student has a level equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon BSc (Bachelor of Sciences).
  • The "doctorale fase" (3-4 years): Completing the first phase successfully gives the student access to the second phase. Here the student is expected to conclude the phase within the given time frame of 3 to 4 years. 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 " doctorandus", abbreviated as "drs". This Dutch title is more and more replaced by the Anglo Saxon title MSc (Master of Sciences). For medical students the " doctorandus" degree is not equivalent to the MD (Medical Doctor) degree in the Anglo Saxon culture, and does not give the medical student to opportunity to treat patients. For this a minimum of two years additional study (specialisation) is required. The correct notation for a Dutch physician who did complete his or her medical studies, but did not pursue a PhD study is "drs" (e.g. drs. Jansen) and not "dr". In medicine like with many other disciplines, nothing is noted additionally to clarify the specific discipline, although there are some exceptions. Thus a doctorandus in law is allowed to carry the title "meester" (master, abbreviated as mr. Jansen) and some studies like for example physics grant the title "ingenieur" (engineer, noted as ir. Jansen).

Not uncommon, 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.

Nowadays many Dutch universities offer specific MSc studies, thus integrating into and merging with the international scientific community. In addition, on many Dutch universities lessons ("hoor colleges") or complete " curricula" are conducted in English in stead of Dutch.

After successfully obtaining a "drs." or MSc degree, the student has the opportunity to follow a PhD study to eventually obtain a doctorate. These too are structured ideally according to a pre-set time schedule of 4 to 6 years. During these 4-6 years the PhD student has to be mentored by a professor, or more common, multiple professors. The PhD study has to be concluded with at least a scientific thesis that 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 practice nowadays (and in some disciplines even mandatory) is that during the PhD study the student writes and submits scientific publications to peer-reviewed journals, that eventually need to be accepted for publication. Although the number of publications is often debated and varies considerably, a minimum of four (one per year of PhD study) is quite accepted in the field of the exact sciences, physics, chemistry, technology, and medicine.

After successful conclusion of a PhD study, the student is allowed the title of "doctor", abbreviated as "dr". This is similar for all Dutch PhD graduates. The discipline in which the PhD is obtained is not specifically noted. Hence for example a PhD in law, medicine, or mathematics all put the same abbreviation in front of their name, (e.g. dr. Jansen). As with the " doctorandus" degree, nothing is noted behind the name of the PhD to specify the discipline. Stacking of titles as seen in other countries like for example Germany (Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Musterfrau) is highly uncommon in the Netherlands and not well received.

PhD graduates or "doctor"s 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 Hoofd Docent" (UHD – associate professor). Officially an UHD still works under the supervision of a " hoog leraar", the head of the department and commonly a professor. The position of " hoog leraar" is the highest possible scientific position at a university, and equal to the US "full" professor.

In the Netherlands, the title of professor (noted as prof. Jansen or professor Jansen) is connected to ones function. In practice, professors are head of a scientific department of an university faculty. However, this is not a given; it is also possible that a department is headed by a "plain" PhD, based on knowledge, achievement, and expertise. Officially it is not possible to use the title professor if not connected to an university. Should a professor decide to leave the university, thus he or she also looses the privilege to use the title of professor. In practice however, different customs are observed. Rule of thumb however is that retired professors often still note the title in front of their name, where as people still active switch to a non-university job must switch from the professor title to the PhD or "dr" abbreviation.

Contrary to some other European countries, in the Netherlands academic titles are rarely used outside of academia and are for instance not listed on passports or drivers licences as for example in Germany.


The content of this section was translated from the corresponding article in the Norwegian Wikipedia

Prior to 2003, there were around 50 different degrees and corresponding education programs within the Norwegian higher education system. In 2003, a reform was instituted to replace this older system with an "international system."

For example, many 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. These degrees were all retired in 2003.

The reform of higher education in Norway, Kvalitetsreformen ("The Quality Reform"), was passed in the Norwegian Parliament, the Stortinget, 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 reserved for those who qualify for a degree without participating in an organized doctoral degree program.


In Poland the system is similar to the German one. For instance, Warsaw University confers the following university degrees and titles:

  • licencjat title (the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, granted after at least 3 years of study),
  • inżynier title (the equivalent of engineer's degree, granted after at least 4 years of study
  • magister title (the equivalent of a Master's degree, granted after 5 years of study, or 2 years of additional study by holders of a previous degree),
  • doktor degree (Doctor's degree, Ph.D.),
  • doktor habilitowany degree (Polish Habilitation degree, requires approval by an external ministerial body),

The profesor (Professor's) title is officially conferred by the President of Poland.

Russia, Ukraine and some other former USSR republics

In Russia, Ukraine and some other former USSR republics they strongly distinguish educational kinds of academic degrees and "real" academic degrees connected with scientific researches.

The educational one is called diploma or specialist, is awarded after 4-7 years of college (university), requires writing a research thesis (usually 50-70 pages) and is roughly equivalent to US master degree. (See also section "Ukraine" for an image of the corresponding diploma.) Currently there is also a trend in Russia to introduce a degree which is somewhat equivalent to bachelour degree (requires only 3-4 years of college). In Ukraine this is already done: besides the specialist degree, there are degree of bachelour and Master's degree. A typical Ukrainian university gives bachelour degree after 4 years of study in it and Master's or specialist one after 1 or 2 years more; as a rule, a student have a choice between Master's degree and specialist one and it is more difficult to obtain a possibility to study for Master's one.

First level academic degree is called "candidate of ... sciences" (say, candidate of physical-mathematical sciences, or candidate of engineering sciences, candidate of historical sciences, etc). This degree requires extensive research efforts, taking some classes, publications in peer-reviewed academic journals (usually 5 publications suffice), and writing in-depth thesis (80-200 pages). Special scientific council of notable specialists in the field then reviews the thesis, the written opinions of several outside referees, and upon approval recommends the thesis for defense. Upon open defense in front of the same council the members of the council vote (it takes dominant majority - 2/3 - to pass) and then a chair writes a statement on recommending to award the degree "candidate of ... sciences" to the defendant. All paperwork including thesis is then sent to so called Highest Attestation Commission which upon review makes final approval and then issues the diploma of "candidate of science". The "candidate of sciences" degree is roughly equivalent to US Ph.D. degree, although it requires longer research efforts, more publications (actually in US publications are not required for Ph.D. degree), wider exposure, and larger peer pool to pass.

Finally, there is a "doctor of ... sciences" (Doktor nauk) degree in Russia and some former USSR academic environment. This degree is sought after by established scientists who made discovery-level contributions into 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. This usually takes a decade or two of hard work after receiving "candidate of sciences" degree, an extensive list of publications in peer-reviewed academic journals (usually ~50-300+ papers), publishing a few monographs, extensive participation in various panels and peers (journals, conferences, grant/award panels, etc), and establishing a school of "candidates of sciences" under own supervision (so at least a few of your students have received "candidacy" degrees working with you on your discovery or in your new field/direction). It requires writing a deep and advanced thesis (usually 300-800 pages) and defending it in front of special council of prominent scientists in the field (or in adjacent fields if the field/discovery is completely new) in a similar to "candidate of sciences" defense manner. Upon voting all paperwork is again sent to the Highest Attestation Commission which upon approval awards the diploma of "doctor of ... sciences".

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.




Before the Bologna Process, because there are three official languages in Switzerland (German, French and Italian), the Universities' degrees were different, depending on the language. In French-speaking universities, the first academic degree was the Licence: 4 to 5 years of study, equivalent to the Master's degree in the UK or the USA. The postgraduate degree was the diplôme d'études approfondies DEA or DESS: 1-2 years of study, equivalent to the Master of Advanced Studies degree. In the Swiss-German Universities, the first degree was called Lizentiat, a 4-year degree, and the second was the Diplom nach dem ersten akademischen Grad. In the Italian-speaking University, the first degree was called licenza, a 4-year degree; the second was the post laurea, which took 1-2 years. The Doctoral's degree is the last stage at all the universities; it requires 3-5 years, depending on the field.


This subsection is for an image on the right-hand side. For information see subsection "Russian, Ukraine and some other former USSR republics".

United Kingdom

England and Wales
The standard first degree in England and Wales is the Bachelors degree with honours (e.g. BA (hons) for arts subjects, BEng (hons) for Engineering and BSc (hons) for science). This usually takes three years' full-time study.

Honours degrees are usually categorised by one of four grades:

  • 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)

Students who do not achieve the standard for the award of honours may be given an ordinary or pass degree which is without honours.

The Graduateship (post-nominal GCGI) awarded by the City & Guilds of London Institute is mapped to a British Honours degree

Some students study an integrated Master's, which is still a first degree. This takes four years of study and is usually designated by the subject, such as MEng for engineering, MPhys for physics, MMath for mathematics, and so on. Grades are as above. The 4-year MEng degree in particular has now become the standard first degree in engineering in the top UK universities, replacing the older 3-year BEng.

Unlike the case in the United States, due to earlier specialisation in education, Master's Degrees may take only one year of full-time study, and the usual amount of time spent working for a Ph.D. is three years full-time. Therefore, whilst the usual amount of time spent studying from Bachelors level through to doctorate in the United States is nine years, it is in most cases only seven in the United Kingdom, and may be just six, since a Master's degree is not always a precondition for embarking on a PhD.

Recently, there has been a significant rise in the number of courses offering "Postgraduate Diplomas", often in very specific, vocationally-related subjects. Many institutions (eg The Open University) offer these courses over one year, with an additional year required for the award of a Master's. The popularity of these courses is in part due to legislative requirements to demonstrate managerial competence in public-sector related functions.

A Foundation degree can be awarded for having completed two years of study in what is usually a vocational discipline. The Foundation degree is comparable to an associate's degree in the United States, and can be awarded by a University, or College of Higher Education.


The standard first degree in Scotland is either a Master of Arts, for arts and humanities subjects, or a Bachelor of Science, for natural and social science subjects. These can either be studied at general or honours levels. A general degree (MA or BSc) takes three years to complete; an honours degree (MA Hons or BSc Hons) takes four years to complete. The general degree is not in a specific subject, but involves study across a range of subjects within the relevant faculty. 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 BSc are classified into three classes:

  • First class honours
  • Second class honours, divided into
    • Division one (2:1)
    • Division two (2:2)
  • 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

Postgraduate Master's Degrees may be offered in some subjects; however, unlike England and Wales, these are not designated Master of Arts, as this is an undergraduate degree. Postgraduate degrees in arts and humanities subjects are usually designated Master of Letters (MLitt); in natural and social sciences, as Master of Science (MSc). Non-doctoral postgraduate research degrees are usually designated Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Master of Research (MRes). First doctoral research degrees in arts, science and humanities subjects are usually designated Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).


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