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What Is a Professional Degree?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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A professional degree is generally a college degree that allows you to work in a certain profession. There are some types of employment that are not open to people without a professional degree. For instance you can’t be a doctor, a nurse, a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner without obtaining the appropriate degrees first. In most cases, some fields require a professional degree before you can even be considered for hire in your chosen career. Further, many licensing agencies, may not agree to give testing or licensing to those who don’t have a degree.

Frequently, the professional degree is a master’s level or doctorate degree. There are a few professional degrees that require only bachelor’s degree training, and even a couple that require only an Associate of Arts or Sciences(A.A. or A.S.) degree, essentially two years in college. Typically, most professional degrees will require a fairly extensive education. Some require training after education is finished in order to become licensed.

The professional degrees that require doctorate level training include the following:

  • MD or medical doctorate
  • DO or Doctor of Osteopathy
  • JD or Juris Doctor
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • PhD in fields like psychology or pharmacology

Many people in specific professions take a professional degree that is essentially equivalent to master’s level work. Again these degrees will require a bachelor’s degree prior to obtaining a professional degree. These degrees may be required in fields like engineering or for teaching at the community college level. You need a professional degree at the master’s level to become a nurse practitioner, social worker, or a counselor or therapist. You may also need a master’s level degree to practice in fields like physical therapy, and in divinity/theology. The teaching credential is also considered a professional degree.

Other types of work require a professional degree that is earned by attending a college and obtaining a four-year degree. For example, people who wish to become licensed accountants, work as researchers in most of the sciences, become registered nurses or physicians assistants must all hold bachelor’s degrees. A few professional degrees are two-year degrees. A vet tech, an electrician or a licensed vocational nurse usually must have completed two years of college in their chosen field in order to be considered as having a professional degree.

The concept of the professional degree can be somewhat difficult to understand because often, there are several degrees available to the professional. A person can call her/himself an engineer with a bachelor’s degree. Yet the same person may also obtain master’s or doctorate degrees in engineering. A teacher can teach with certificate training, sometimes included in the bachelor’s degree, but he or she can go on to earn master’s, or a PhD in either his or her area of expertise or in education.

When there are several degrees available for a specific profession, there can be advantage in seeking an advanced professional degree. This usually means a person will receive a higher level of pay, and in competitive fields, it can mean a better chance at receiving a job. For instance, most people with a master’s degree can teach at a community college. Yet with greater competition for jobs in some community colleges, it may be difficult to get more than part-time employment without a PhD.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon219738 — On Oct 04, 2011

I agree that the professional degree is important in most situations. What subway 11 posted is an exception to the rule. I am a manager at a large institution and no matter how much experience you have if you don't have the minimum education it won't even let you apply on our system. Education, in most cases, is more important than skills. It is second only to networking, but even with a good network, without the education you won't get far.

By anon140271 — On Jan 07, 2011

I have a bachelor degree in Business Administration then worked with a brewery organization before resigning and going for my masters in Engineering Management. what job prospects do I have after the study.

By anon129128 — On Nov 22, 2010

very nice discussion going on, like professional degree holder or non professional degree holder. I have worked in a government organization (gas sector) for the last 13 years as a assistant manager. I am a law (LLB) graduate along with having a masters degree in economics.

In my organization the concept of professional degree is only BE, MBBS, MBA, CA, but the management is not ready to consider LLB degree as a professional degree. I would like to thank the person who provided me authentic proof regarding LLB degree as a professional degree. thanks. --Manzoor, Pakistan

By anon119966 — On Oct 19, 2010

A professional degree is a particularly vacuous designation, one that is designed effectively to impress people in a society that holds official designations of all types to be mandatory for survival.

By subway11 — On Jul 08, 2010

Sunny27- I agree. I have one sister how went on to get her J.D and became an attorney who works for a non-profit organization, while the other sister only has an Associates degree yet earns a substantially higher salary due to her business acumen. For her the B.A. or even the M.B.A. was unnecessary.

Her business knowledge and work ethic made her go straight to the top. I think that your drive matters more than an advanced degree does. Because if you have an M.B.A. but no practical business experience the degree is not going to get you a high paying job.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 08, 2010

Great article- I just want to add that for some fields a professional degree is required for entry to the field, while for other fields it simply enhances job prospects.

For example, to be an attorney you have to have a J.D. degree and pass the bar exam. But to obtain a job as a teacher, a B.A. and licensing is all that is needed. An advanced degree such as a Masters or Doctorate will enhance the educator’s job prospects as well as salary, but the additional education is not a requirement in order to gain entry in the field like it is for an attorney.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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