What are Professional Degrees?

Professional degrees are advanced educational qualifications that allow holders to work in specific careers or professions, including medicine, law and architecture.

Unlike research degrees that focus more on scholarly and professional development, professional degrees are designed for the acquisition of theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

A professional degree program can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000 or significantly more per year — some of the most expensive include law, medicine, dentistry and some design programs.

a woman with professional degree

Professional Degree Types

Some professional degree programs do not require students to have a graduate degree, such as a master’s degree.

After earning their bachelor’s degrees, students may go straight into the professional deprogram of their choosing. But it’s important to point out that eligibility requirements can vary from program to program.

Completing a professional degree program entails the preparation of students for certain working positions. As they are career-oriented programs, they train students to apply theoretical knowledge into practice in the real world.

Some areas where a professional degree is warranted include the following:

  • Medicine
  • Pharmacy
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Architecture

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common professional degrees:

Juris Doctor (JD)

To become a lawyer, it’s the JD degree that you need to get your hands on. But before you can start working on the said program, you must have a bachelor’s degree — having a master’s degree beforehand is not a requirement.

Completing a JD degree program takes three years.

After its completion, you have to sit for the bar exam and pass it as well to practice law. Getting into the program is not only the hardest part but staying in it, too.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

An MD is a prestigious degree because it serves as an indicator that you attended medical school — it usually requires you to be in medical school for four years and then spend an additional three years of residency to obtain training.

Eligibility for an MD degree program involves the completion of a four-year pre-med undergraduate degree in a relevant field as well as the demonstration of scientific knowledge in areas specified by the medical school.

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)

Looking to take on a managerial or leadership role in healthcare administration? Then consider completing an MHA program, which is about two years long if you attend full-time — some MHA degree programs are shorter.

Just like most other professional programs, you must have a bachelor’s degree under your belt, preferably in a related field such as nursing or business administration.

It’s not uncommon for an MHA program to require a minimum GPA.

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Resulting in the conferment of a public affairs degree, the MPA program prepares students for executive roles in public and non-profit sectors. The program’s coursework can be difficult, particularly for non-people persons.

It usually takes two years to complete an MPA degree program. However, there are programs exclusive to experienced and mid-career professionals that can be completed in just one year.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Simply put, the MSW degree is a terminal educational qualification for professionals who are currently in the field of social development and social welfare work as well as intend to take on leadership roles.

The most competitive candidates for the MSW degree program, which takes around one to two years to complete, are those with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology or a similar program such as in the liberal arts.

Master of Architecture (MArch)

Taking anywhere from two to three years to complete, the MArch degree program is designed for students looking to earn their first accredited professional degree that leads to the practice of architecture.

What’s nice about the MArch program is that your bachelor’s degree need not be architecture to be eligible, although you must have completed courses such as introductory physics and calculus to be admitted to it.

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)

Different DMA degree programs have different specializations. For instance, something from one college may specialize in teaching and arts of performing, while another may specialize in composition, studio production and performing.

In most instances, it takes the DMA program around three years to complete.

Unlike some professional programs, a DMA program requires students to have a master’s degree, such as a Master of Music (MM) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA).

Best Professional Degree Jobs

The following are some of the highest-paying professional jobs out there:

Job TitleAverage Annual SalaryJob Growth Rate
IT manager$164,07015%
Physician assistant$126,01027%
Nurse anesthetist$125,90038%
Health service manager$104,83028%
Physical therapist$97,72015%
Management analyst$95,29010%
Postsecondary teacher$80,8408%

Note: The figures above are from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Pros and Cons

According to the Census Bureau, around 14.4% of people in the US aged 25 and above have a professional degree.

There are more professional degree holders in the same age bracket than there are associate degree holders: 10.5%.

From 2011, the number of professional degree holders rose to 4.7 million, which is a 54.5% increase.

Before you decide to apply to graduate school to work on a professional degree program, it’s a must to weigh the pros and cons of spending another three to five years of your life studying and shelling out money for tuition.

While some people can benefit tremendously from having a professional degree, others may find that the payoff isn’t worth it.

In this part of the post, we’ll take a look at both the advantages and disadvantages of getting a professional degree to help you decide whether or not it’s something that you need in your life.


  • Attainment of specialized knowledge
  • Career advancement and flexibility
  • Professional networking
  • Procurement of a professional license
  • Credibility and prestige
  • Personal growth and satisfaction


  • Competitive admissions
  • Time commitment
  • Financial burden
  • Demanding workload
  • Changing job markets
  • Continuing education required in some fields

What’s Next After Earning a Professional Degree?

As mentioned earlier, a professional degree is the highest possible educational qualification you can earn in a particular area of discipline.

Needless to say, no other higher degree comes after it.

However, it’s worth noting that some professional degrees require continuing education.

Some examples of professional degree holders who need to ensure that they have the current information about practices and regulations in their respective fields include physicians, pharmacists, social workers and university professors.

In instances where continued education is not a requirement, those with professional degrees may further what they know by conducting advanced research or taking on roles that provide opportunities to obtain new skills.

Entering the workforce in their chosen disciplines to start applying what they have learned in real-world scenarios, in many cases, is the step taken after the completion of a professional degree program.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.