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What Is a Professional Student?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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There are two recognized uses for the term professional student. In one sense, a professional student may be a person in school pursuing a degree, usually at a graduate level that leads to a specific profession. For instance people in med school, law school, or those training to be nurses are professional students.

More commonly the term is used in slang to refer to students who continue to stay in school, well beyond the fourth year, when most students would be expected to graduate. Instead of moving on to graduate school, professional students may stay at the senior level for a number of years, and may be called superseniors. They generally have not yet graduated, since they have failed to meet one or more graduation requirements.

Such a situation might occur if a student decides to change his or her major in the third or fourth year of college. Changing a major and being accepted to another “school” at a university may mean taking many more classes and training. This could extend the student’s school life for two to three more years. A professional student might take on an extra year of elective courses in order to have greater knowledge in their field.

Sometimes, since college is expensive, people will continue to attend at least halftime so they can defer their student loans. A student who works but still takes two classes a semester can defer many student loans and in some cases accrual of interest. It may be far cheaper to continue to attend college than it is to try paying off huge loans. Of course, if a person continues to get loans while continuing to attend college as a professional student, the problem of repaying loans only snowballs.

The professional student may also take extensive time finishing degree requirements if he or she is trying to fulfill double or triple majors at a school. The junior and senior requirements for each major generally comprise about 70-90% of classes juniors and seniors take, and there simply may not be time to fulfill degree requirements for more than one major in two upper class years. A four-year college degree with several majors might take four to six years of upper class work in order to complete degrees.

Occasionally, the professional student is a person who doesn’t want to leave the university environment. Instead of fulfilling graduation requirements they may take various unrelated classes. They may like the intellectual stimulation of the university setting and not want to leave it for the professional world. This can create problems for universities, since students are expected to move on from college after four to five years of work. Staying in college creates issues for incoming students since it fills up class space for others who are interested in fulfilling their requirements and then moving on.

Some colleges attempt to put a stop to the professional student of the last type by placing time limits on college attendance, or on time allowed in order to graduate. The true master at staying in the university may either switch majors at this point, or switch colleges in order to continue being a professional student.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
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 BrickBack — On Apr 11, 2011

@SauteePan- I totally agree. When I used to be a recruiter for a technical staffing firm, I would always spot the professional student resume a mile away. They often had MBA’s and advanced degrees and always wanted to take on project manager positions but they had no working experience.

They would have been more marketable if they had gotten the bachelor’s degree and some experience in the information technology field before getting a master’s in business because in the technology field experience along with certifications is what is marketable.

I had to tell these applicants that despite their advance degree they would have to start at an entry level position, and we really didn’t have too many of those because our clients wanted contractors with experience.

By SauteePan — On Apr 08, 2011

@Moldova - Wow that is a lot of schooling. I love school myself but don’t have the luxury of having my lifestyle paid for like that. I think that sometimes a professional student might get that label because they took a little longer to get their degree because they were financing it themselves.

This is what happened to my cousin. She had a full scholarship but blew it after her first year because her grades were so bad. Her parents had no money so she had to work full time to pay for her classes and went to school part time.

It took her six and a half years to get her bachelor’s degree but at least she got it. I think when a person has to work for their degree they value it more.

By Moldova — On Apr 06, 2011

I have to say that my sister in law fits this description. She had received a bachelor’s degree with a double major and then received two different master’s degrees and a completed a certificate program before her father forced her to get a job.

The problem was that her father was not only financing her education but her lifestyle as well. Although my sister in law is very smart she was avoiding taking on a job because she did not want to deal with the responsibilities of an employer.

At school everyone thought she was brilliant but in the workforce she would be starting at the bottom and have to answer to a number of people. I think that some students have a fear of commitment and think that if they commit to a company and actually find a job then what will happen if they become increasingly unhappy.

My sister in law had everything paid for including her apartment. I can understand how she felt a little, but it was time for her to get a job and she did and is now doing very well. I am very proud of her.

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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