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What Is a Professional Degree?

In this article, you'll learn about professional degrees, how they differ from other Master's programs, and where they can lead your career.

May 28, 2024
  • Education
What is a professional degree?

✨5-second summary

  • Professional degree holders have the highest earning potential among all graduates – the average salary is around $115,000 per year.
  • A professional degree is a graduate-level degree you can pursue for careers requiring specific practical training and knowledge.
  • A professional Master's degree takes 2-3 years to complete and usually requires you to get a license to be a practicing specialist.

If you're planning to pursue a graduate degree education, you may have heard about professional degrees. In this article, we'll cover the basic information about professional degrees, provide a few professional degree examples, and explain what you can do with this kind of Master's degree.

What is a professional degree?

A professional degree is a specialized graduate-level degree for jobs that require specific knowledge and practical training. It's very common in architecture, medicine, law, and religion. Professional Master's often are a requirement for you to be able to get a license, and some are even considered terminal. These degrees focus mostly on hands-on skills to prepare you for work in the field.

Professional degree examples

Here are the most popular professional degrees:

  • Master of Architecture (MArch)
  • Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
  • Master of Education (MEd)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Food Science (MFS)
  • Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA)
  • Master of Religious Education (MRE)
  • Master of Theology (MTh or ThM)
  • Master of Divinity (MDiv)
  • Master of Sacred Theology (STM)

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How long does it take to get a professional degree?

Most professional degrees take 2-3 years to complete depending on the field and program of your choosing:

  • An MArch program usually takes 3 years to complete.
  • An MHA can be completed in 2 years but a residency can add an extra year if it's included in your program.
  • An MBA typically lasts for 2 years.
  • An MFA can take from 2 to 3 years depending on the program requirements.
  • An MSN usually takes 1-2 years based on the specialization you choose.
  • An MEd generally requires you to complete 2 years of studies.
  • An MSW can take you around 2 years to complete.
  • An MRE usually offers a 2-year curriculum.

Your degree may take significantly longer If you decide to enroll part-time.

Professional degree cost

Professional degrees are offered in many different fields so the costs range widely. For example, the tuition for an average year in a business school costs $56,850 for full-time students, according to the Education Data Initiative. In contrast, Master of Education degrees are among the cheapest Master's – about $42,010 annually.

Forbes reports that the total costs of an MSN degree range from $18,000 to $90,000 depending on the school type and student's residency. A Master of Architecture can cost you anywhere from $33,000 to $200,000, while a Religion Master's program at Harvard amounts to $39,000 on average.

A group of nurses walking

Professional degree vs Master's degree

The most notable difference between a professional degree and a Master's degree is in the intention of the curriculum:

  • A Master's degree generally aims to give you deep and advanced knowledge in the field and doesn't necessarily determine your career path
  • A professional degree teaches you practical skills for a specific job

Usually, you'd enroll in an academic Master's program as preparation for a PhD.

Moreover, professional Master's programs often don't require a thesis. Instead, you could choose to complete an applied project that focuses on showcasing your practical skills. Some programs don't have any graduation projects at all – you just have to complete all requirements or take a comprehensive exam.

Professional degree salary

The latest report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that professional degree holders have the highest median earnings – $2,206 per week (or roughly $115,000 annually). Workers with professional degrees even outearned PhDs in 2023 by 5%.

In addition to great salary prospects, getting a professional degree significantly increases the chance of finding a job. The unemployment rate for professional degree graduates is the lowest among all levels – only 1.2%.

Degree levelMedian annual earningsUnemployment rate
Professional degree$115,0001.2%
Master's degree$90,0002.0%
All workers$61,0003.0%

Professional degree jobs

Here are a few professional degree jobs examples you can pursue after a Master's:

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): APRNs coordinate patient care, perform physical exams, and provide healthcare. This position requires an MSN and is among the highest-paying jobs – nurses earn about $130,000 annually.
  • Architect: With an MArch or an MLA you can become an architect. They plan, design, and coordinate the development of different structures. On average, architects can earn $109,000 per year.
  • Product manager: You can use an MBA or an MPA degree and take on a product manager position to oversee finance, development, and marketing teams to create new products. Product managers' average annual salary is $120,000.
  • Dean of students: As a dean of students, you'd be responsible for coordinating student programs, usually at a college or university. This career is open to MEd and MAT graduates and pays around $71,000 per year.
  • Development director: Development directors typically work for non-profits and lead fundraising projects to meet the organization's needs. As an MRE or an MTh degree holder, you can earn $94,000 annually on average.

Source for salary statistics – indeed.com

Conclusion

A professional degree usually focuses on hands-on training and specific practical skills. These degrees are common in administration, architecture, medicine, and others. Also, it is typically a requirement to have a professional degree, and sometimes to complete a residency program or supervised training, for you to be able to get a license and work in fields that offer them.

Overall, a professional degree is a great investment of your time and money. This education equips you with practical skills that can help you become a valuable and qualified professional in your chosen field.

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