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The term "professional student" can refer to more than one type of student at a college or university. The first type is a student who is working toward a degree that will help them enter a certain profession, such as a medical degree or law degree. The second, more common definition of a professional student is a person who continues his or her education beyond the normal four years most students will take to complete an undergraduate degree. The reasons for continuing one's education can vary, and therefore the advantages and disadvantages of this path can vary, but in many cases, a student may be working toward multiple degrees at once or he or she may have changed majors at some point.
The professional student essentially continues his or her education beyond the normal time frame instead of entering the workforce. Sometimes a person may choose to be a professional student to avoid entering a weak job market or to prevent being unemployed. In other cases, that student may choose a schedule that accommodates other activities, such as working full- or part-time concurrently while taking classes. This is a significant advantage for students who cannot support themselves without working during their education, and colleges and universities often accommodate such students.
One disadvantage of being a professional student is often the fiscal standing of that student. It can be difficult to earn enough money to live during one's education without taking out loans and other financial debt, and this debt can accrue quickly over the course of many years. As college tuition rises, the amount of debt a professional student will take on will rise as well; once the student finally enters the workforce, he or she will be saddled with debt that can be crippling to a normal life. A student who stays in school beyond the normal period of time will need to budget carefully to ensure he or she does not get buried in debt.
Of course, obtaining more education is often considered an advantage in itself. This assumes, of course, that the professional student has chosen to stay in school because he or she is a strong student, rather than because of some shortcoming in his or her performance within the degree program. Many schools discourage students from staying enrolled for too long, as those slots can be freed up for new students applying to the college or university.