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Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Study a Degree”?

Higher education is one of the most exciting prospects for academically-minded people. Regardless of your field of study, the chance to learn more about your favorite subjects and receive a certification for that knowledge is an incredible achievement. Still, how do you talk about this process, and how do you explain what you’re studying?

It’s incorrect to say “study a degree.” This is because the verb “study” either stands alone or comes with a preposition. There are also some other intransitive verbs that you can use to explain your student status.

Here, we’ll look at some of the correct ways to use the verb “to study” when you’re talking about pursuing a degree. We’ll also explore some of the alternative verbs and phrases that you can use to express your journey and goals as a student. 

How Do You Say “Study for a Degree”?  

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As we’ve stated previously, the phrase “study a degree” is not grammatically correct, but it is correct to say “study for a degree. The phrase “study for a degree” expresses that you are attending classes or otherwise preparing to receive an academic degree. 

When you use the preposition “for” after the verb “study,” you build a collocation. A collocation is a phrase or set of words that go together; there is no rule about which words form a collocation (source). Instead, there are phrases that are just right in English.

Native English speakers learn and use collocations without even thinking about it. When you ask them why we should say “study for” and not “study to,” they usually can’t explain it. They just say that “study for” sounds right. 

On the other hand, non-native English speakers often have problems with collocations, because the only way to learn them is by exposure, memorization, and practice. 

Often, collocations include a verb and a preposition (such as “study for”), so you’ll just have to remember which preposition goes with which verb. 

For more information about some English collocations, check out our articles “Please Be Advised: Meaning and Proper Usage” and “Is It Proper Grammar to Say, ‘Looking Forward to Talking to You’?

How Do You Use “Study for a Degree”?  

A common way that you’ll use “study for a degree” is when someone asks you, “What do you do?” Here, they’re asking what your job or occupation is, usually when you first meet.

You can reply, “I’m studying for a degree.” Often, you’ll also include some extra information in your answer, such as which department or subject you’re studying, what kind of degree you’re pursuing, and which college or university you’re studying at.

Let’s take a look at this sample conversation to get a better idea of how you can use “study a degree” in context: 

Sally: Hi, welcome to our first meeting. My name is Sally, and I’m the director of the program. What’s your name?

Mark: Hi, I’m Mark. Nice to meet you!

Sally: Likewise. What do you do, Mark?

Mark: Well, I’m studying for a degree in sustainable agriculture at the local university. That’s why I’m so interested in your program.

Sally: That sounds like an interesting degree! Are you specializing in a specific topic?

Mark: Actually, I study different chemicals and their impact on bees.

In this example, you can see how Mark uses the phrase “to study for a degree.” He describes his occupation when he says, “I’m studying for a degree.” 

You can also see how he uses the verb “to study” when he describes his research. In that case, the topic of his research comes directly after “study,” without any preposition. 

This is because the verb “to study” isn’t always a collocation; adding the preposition “for” is a special construct that we use when we’re talking about a degree. 

When Can You Use “Study for a Degree”?  

Usually, you use the phrase “study for a degree” when you’re introducing yourself. Suppose you are a student in a college or university, and someone asks, “What do you do?” You can reply to this question by saying, “I’m studying for a degree in [subject area] at [name of the institution where you are studying].” 

When Not to Use “Study a Degree”?

We do not use “study a degree” when we’re referring to earning an academic title. Based on our previous explanations, we can dissect why it is incorrect to say that you are “studying a degree.” 

Grammatically speaking, all of the words are in the correct order: “degree” is a noun, so it is technically possible to study one (source). 

However, in this case, “degree” describes the title that someone earns upon completing a program of study, not the program of study itself. This means that if you were to “study a degree,” you would be studying someone’s title or the diploma that certifies they earned that title. 

Let’s examine a similar noun, “test,” in the same context to illustrate this better. If you say that you are “studying a test,” you could mean two things.

The first and more likely meaning is that you are reviewing and analyzing the questions on a test. The second possible meaning is that you are examining the physical paper, webpage, etc., on which the test is presented. 

So, if you say, “I’m studying a test,” you are not saying that you are preparing to take the test. To convey that meaning, you would say that you are “studying for a test.” This phrasing suggests that you are reviewing the material that you expect to appear on the test to be prepared and get a better grade.

These same rules apply to the word “degree” when we use it in academic contexts. “Studying a degree” implies that you are examining a physical document or academic title. “Studying for a degree” is the actual process of attending classes, taking exams, and participating in events to earn an academic title.

Using “Study for a Degree” in a Full Sentence

Remember, when you want to express that you’re working on getting a degree at a college or university, you can’t just say, “I’m studying a degree.” Instead, you need to add that preposition “for” to build an appropriate collocation.

So, now that you have the collocation “to study for a degree” ready to go, how can you use it in the context of a complete sentence?

You can use “to study for a degree” in every verb tense. You just need to add a subject and change the verb accordingly. 

You can also add other information to the sentence, such as the department or topic you’re studying, the type of degree you’re trying to earn, and the college or university where you’re studying. 

Examples of “Study for a Degree” in a Full Sentence

For example, if someone asks, “What does your brother do?” you can answer, “He’s studying for a degree in mathematics at the local community college.”

In this example, we can see that your brother is pursuing his degree in mathematics right now or nowadays. The present continuous tense (“is studying”) shows us that your brother is working towards his degree at the present moment.

Here’s another example: “While I was studying for my degree in education, I was also volunteering in a local elementary school. That was a great experience that helped me apply all the new things I was learning.”

In this instance, we used the past continuous (“was studying”) to refer to a time when my occupation was as a student in the department of education at a college or university. 

Then, once we used the phrase “study for a degree” to define the time, we explained the main verb in the sentence, “to volunteer.” Here, “study for a degree” helped us show the timeframe of another action, thanks to the past continuous tense.  

Different Tenses of “Study for a Degree”

We can use the collocation “to study for a degree” in every verb tense. Here are a few examples of other popular conjugations of the phrase:

Infinitive to study for a degreeSally wants to study for a degree in music. 
Simple futurewill study for a degreeAfter high school, Mark will study for a degree, but he doesn’t know which college to attend.
Present perfecthave/has studied for a degreeHave you ever studied for a degree?
Present perfect continuoushave/has been studying for a degreeNina has been studying for her degree for three years, and she hopes to graduate next year.

What Can You Use Instead of “Study a Degree”?

Your best option is to rephrase this sentence entirely to avoid this issue. The most common phrasing people use when describing their degrees is to state the specific subject they studied in the past or are studying currently. For instance, you could say, “I am studying law at Stanford.”

Even with this advice, using “degree” in a sentence can be challenging. It is all too easy to revert to the phrase “study a degree” given its prevalence on the internet and other publications. 

Graduation, Grads, Cap, Diploma, Education, College
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If you really want to use the word “degree,” remember that the correct version of the phrase is “study for a degree.” It may be helpful to express the statement differently to help you remember this.

For example, you could say, “I am studying for my degree.” This specifies that you are talking about the degree you will eventually receive. Using “my” may help you remember the correct phrasing because it is interchangeable with “a” in this sequence. 

Another option is to omit “study” entirely. For example, you could say, “I am earning a degree.” The word “earn” has the added benefit of emphasizing the work required to receive higher-level academic accreditation.

A similar approach would be to specify the type of degree you will be earning. For example, a student who graduated from a community college or a similar institution might say, “I earned my associate’s at Roane State Community College.” 

Finally, another option for rewording this phrase is, “I am pursuing my degree.”

How Do You Say You Are Pursuing a Degree?

Now that we know that it’s grammatically incorrect to say “I’m studying a degree,” let’s look at some other verbs that we can use instead of “to study.” One of the most popular collocations to use in this context is “to pursue a degree.”

When you say that you’re pursuing a degree, it means that you are actively working to achieve a degree. Usually, this happens at a college or university level. However, if you’re talking about your high school career, you should say, “I’m pursuing a diploma” or “I’m pursuing my diploma.”

The verb “to pursue” literally means to chase after something. When you say, “I’m pursuing my degree,” you give a little bit of drama to the connotation. The listener will probably get the sense that you are working and focusing very hard to earn your degree. 

If you don’t want to give that strong of a connotation, then you can say, “I’m getting my degree” or “I’m studying [subject matter] at university.” These choices are also grammatically correct, but they imply a more relaxed study regimen. 

Indefinite Articles

The word “degree” is not the only tricky part of the phrase “study a degree.” The other issue is the use of the indefinite article “a.”

Articles are special adjectives that denote specificity. The English language recognizes three articles: “the” to describe specific nouns and “a” and “an” to describe nonspecific nouns (source). “A” precedes nouns that begin with a consonant sound, while “an” precedes nouns that begin with a  vowel sound.

Since the phrase includes a nonspecific, general degree, we can use the article “a” to describe it the first time. 

Of course, once you specify what you’re studying, the type of degree you’re pursuing, and the institution where you’re studying, you can refer to it as “the degree.” That’s because the context gives it specificity. 

Another exception to this rule would occur in informal conversations. For example, examine the following dialogue:

Speaker A: I think I’m going to get a degree in business.

Speaker B: That isn’t a degree; that is the degree. You’ll have so many opportunities!

By using the definite article “the,” Speaker B implies that a degree in business is the most important and/or best degree possible to earn. Outside of this context, however, using “the” to describe your degree is inaccurate. This article was written for

If you want more examples of when articles are appropriate and which one to use, check out our article “A Usual” or “An Usual”: Which Article Should You Use?

Final Thoughts

Even though you may have heard the phrase before, it’s actually not grammatically correct to say “study a degree.” However, there are other verbs and phrases that have the same meaning. Some of the most popular synonyms are “to pursue a degree (in [subject area])” and “to get a degree (in [subject area]).”

There are also other grammatically correct ways to use the word “study” when you’re talking about pursuing a degree. The most popular fix is to add the preposition “for” after the verb “study.” This makes a collocation, which is a set of words that just go together in English.