11 Different Professional Degree Types (With Jobs List)

Updated February 3, 2023

Many individuals seek a professional degree to find a fulfilling and well-paying role or to continue advancing in their current field. You can earn this type of degree right after receiving your undergraduate degree or several years later. Understanding the different degrees available can help you determine which is right for your career path.

In this article, we discuss what a professional degree is, how to obtain it, various professional degree types to pursue and a list of example jobs you can earn with an advanced degree.

What is a professional degree?

A professional degree is a program you can enroll in at a college or university to prepare you to work in a specific industry or career. This degree can make you eligible for licenses, accreditations and certifications in your field. Some careers don't allow you to practice without a professional degree, so you might find it beneficial to research your career path to understand the specific requirements for it. Professional degrees can have various titles, but each has the goal of providing you with specific skills to succeed in your occupation.

Additionally, professional degrees and first professional degrees are the same. Individuals use the term first professional degree less often for a professional degree, although some still use it. While many industries have roles with qualifications requiring a bachelor's degree or less, other positions may require additional education and training. Professional degrees are also required to teach you how to do a chosen job, which separates them from academic degrees, which focus on research over learning a profession. Here are some industries that have jobs requiring a professional degree:

  • Architecture

  • Business

  • Dentistry

  • Education

  • Engineering

  • Law

  • Medicine

  • Pharmacy

  • Social work

The U.S. Department of Education has a list of criteria that it requires a program to follow to qualify as a professional degree, which includes:

  1. Completing the academic program to practice in the profession and passing a final exam

  2. Having a minimum of two years of college or university work before starting the program

  3. Lasting at least six years, including previous college or university experiences

11 professional degree types to pursue

Many professional degrees apply to various fields and industries. Here are some common professional degree types:

1. Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

A Doctor of Medicine is helpful for pursuing a career in the medical field. Holders of an M.D. have a high salary based on their specialization. Often, general surgeons and anesthesiologists are the top earners in the medical profession. This degree can take about four years to finish, but the program may also require you to complete a residency, which may take about seven years, depending on your field of interest.

Related: M.D. vs. Ph.D. Degrees: What Are the Key Differences?

2. Juris Doctor (J.D.)

Students who intend to practice law earn a Juris Doctor degree. The program trains lawyers to specialize in one or more areas of law, such as criminal, constitutional, civil, administrative or corporate law. If you wish to pursue a career in the legal field without practicing law, a Master of Legal Studies might be a better fit for you. This degree takes about three years to finish.

3. Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)

A Doctor of Pharmacy is ideal for professionals pursuing a pharmacy role. In this program, you can learn scientific and clinical skills to apply in the role. On average, it takes about six years to complete.

4. Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

A Doctor of Education program involves intensive coursework and exploratory research. Ed.D. holders can pursue a career as education administrators in the elementary, secondary and post-secondary sectors. They can also be instructional coordinators and hold other positions in the education sector. You may complete this degree in about three years.

5. Doctor of Dental Medicine or Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.M.D. or D.D.S.)

To be a dentist, earn your D.M.D. or D.D.S. The degrees are the same, and you go through identical training and courses. It's up to the school to decide whether they choose to award a D.M.D. or D.D.S. to you. On average, this degree may take you about two to six years to finish based on your interest area.

6. Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

An optometrist diagnoses and treats visual challenges and prescribes corrective eyewear to patients. Optometrists also guide their patients on the right surgical and non-surgical options to improve their visual health, depending on their career paths, hobbies and lifestyle choices. This degree may take about four years to complete.

7. Doctor of Podiatry (D.P.M., D.P., Pod.D.)

A podiatrist diagnoses and treats challenges related to the ankle and foot. Podiatrists are responsible for addressing pain, prescribing medication, scheduling surgery and explaining all alternative options for the health of their patients. This degree may take about three to four years to finish.

8. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M, V.M.D.)

A professional degree in veterinary medicine trains you in the clinical, research and treatment aspects of animal care. Veterinarians are often in high demand and have high earning potential with experience and education. On average, this degree may take about four years to complete.

9. Master of Health Administration (MHA)

To work in the health care industry, a Master's Degree in Health Administration can provide you with opportunities for many high-paying positions in the public and private sectors. This program can last about two to three years. You may also complete an internship, residency or fellowship while attending the program.

Related: 25 Jobs You Can Do With an MHA

10. Master of Business Administration (MBA)

The MBA degree educates students from diverse business backgrounds, including financial management techniques, financial analysis, taxes and investments. This degree is widely applicable for individuals in various business positions, from marketing to management. Depending on the school you choose and the program it offers, it can take about one to two years.

Related: FAQ: What Is a 1-Year MBA? (Plus Benefits and Pros and Cons)

11. Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Individuals in the public sector can obtain a professional degree called Master of Public Administration. These programs provide skills in areas, such as public affairs, governance, political science and management. Many schools also have professional degree programs for those in fields like architecture, engineering and accounting. On average, this degree may take about two years to complete.

Related: FAQ: What Is an MPA Degree? (With Benefits and Uses)

How to get a professional degree in 4 steps

Here are some steps you can follow to obtain a professional degree:

1. Get your undergraduate degree

Typically, getting your bachelor's degree takes four years. Most schools require you to select a major by the end of your second year. If you know the career you wish to pursue, choose a major that can teach you the skills and prepare you for the next steps in the professional degree path.

Related: What is an Undergraduate Degree? (With Steps and Comparison)

2. Take a professional degree admissions exam

The specific professional admissions exam you take depends on the degree you're pursuing. There are different entrance tests based on each degree type, including the following:

  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)

  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Related: What Is the GMAT?

3. Get your master's degree

Many careers require or have higher earning potential with the completion of a master's program. If you're pursuing a doctoral degree, you may bypass or earn your master's degree during your doctoral or Ph.D. program, depending on the school. Master's programs usually take one to two years to complete.

Related: Tips for Choosing the Right Master's Degree Program

4. Get your doctoral degree

While some professionals obtain a doctoral degree to practice in the health care field, others may pursue this degree to continue advancing or be an expert in their field. Doctoral programs can take up to eight years to complete. You may also earn the honorary title of doctor as a distinguished professional in your industry or craft. An educational institution's board of trustees, the school's president and the honors and awards committee vote on who to give the honor to and why.

Related: What Is a Doctorate Degree? (With Requirements and Tips)

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Jobs that require a professional degree

Here are a few example positions you can earn after you've obtained a professional degree. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.

1. Health services administrator

National average salary: $68,671 per year
Primary job duties: Health service administrators are health care professionals who oversee the daily functions of a clinic, hospital or other medical institution. They can monitor the facility's budget and plan the various services the organization offers its patients. These professionals are also responsible for updating patients' records to ensure they have the most up-to-date information for other health care professionals to provide the right treatments for them.

Read more: Learn About Being a Health Administrator

2. Superintendent

National average salary: $80,901 per year

Primary job duties: A school superintendent can plan and direct the functions and activities of a school district. These professionals make executive decisions on the school district's budget, staff and educational plans. They may also conduct on-site visits to the district's schools to see how they're operating during the school day, and these professionals can address questions and comments from the student's parents and guardians.

3. Veterinarian

National average salary: $113,615 per year

Primary job duties: A veterinarian is a skilled professional who examines and treats various animals. They can perform wellness checks, x-rays and routine surgeries for the animals. These professionals may also administer emergency medicine to the animals when they require it.

Read more: Learn About Being a Veterinarian

4. Pharmacist

National average salary: $127,152 per year

Primary job duties: A pharmacist is a health care professional who completes drug reviews of all new prescriptions ordered. They can supply patients with medication counseling before distributing the prescriptions. These professionals can also help monitor the supply and order replacement stock as needed.

Read more: Learn About Being a Pharmacist

5. Anesthesiologist

National average salary: $239,829 per year

Primary job duties: An anesthesiologist is a health care professional who sedates patients before surgery. These professionals also handle pain relief for patients during and after surgery. They can monitor the patient's vitals during surgery and provide emergency medical attention as needed.

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