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What Are the Different Types of Professional Degree Programs?

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  • Written By: Kenneth W. Michael Wills
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2018
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Professional degree programs most commonly refer to programs of study that are specific to a professional career, such as a medical doctor or an attorney. These types of degrees prepare students for a career in the chosen profession, where students learn to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world environments. Admissions to professional degree programs usually require a bachelor’s degree in almost any field of study, along with some coursework relevant to the professional degree pursued. The main types of professional degree programs students pursue are the Medical Doctorate, Juris Doctorate, Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Optometry Doctorate, Psychology Doctorate or Doctorate of Dental Surgery. Study at the doctorate level, however, is not the limit for professional degree programs with some professions preparing students at the master’s level and even at the undergraduate level, or utilizing a different academic model altogether.

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Characteristic to most professional careers is a high degree of regulation, and those careers require highly defined educational requirements. Usually, practice in a professional career will require a license from a regulatory authority, and those regulatory authorities will determine the amount of education required and the breadth of applicable subject matter. Students pursuing professional degree programs need to understand what the governing regulations require and ensure that their academic program meets those requirements. Additionally, as a condition to obtain licensure, students usually need to pass all relevant testing requirements or complete all required practicums in order to qualify for the relevant license to practice.

Aside from doctorate level professional degree programs, several types of programs require study at the master’s level. Programs at this level will require completion of a bachelor’s degree as well, sometimes in a study directly related to the professional degree, but not always. Some of these types of programs include a Master of Social Work, Master of Architecture, Master of Nursing Practice for nurse practitioners, Master of Counseling for counselors, Master of Business Administration and Master of Divinity for practicing clergy.

At the undergraduate level, there are several types of professional degree programs that prepare students for a vocation in specific fields of study. While many of the programs require licensure, some do not, but instead are expectations demanded by the job market. Common fields of study at this level include nursing, engineering, teaching or accounting, for examples. Important to note, however, is that some education systems, such as the model utilized in the United Kingdom or Australia, prepare students for virtually all professional vocations at the undergraduate level, usually requiring completion of a bachelor’s degree. These degree programs, however, usually require six years of study, as opposed to the standard three or four-year degree required of other bachelor programs.

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