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What are professional degrees?

You've probably heard of professional degrees but might not be sure what they are, what they involve and how they relate to your possible career path. We've got the answers.

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When evaluating your study options and doing your research you’ll probably have come across qualifications that are categorised as professional degrees. Perhaps you’re not entirely sure what this means or what differentiates such programmes and courses from academic degrees. You may also be asking yourself if they have a particular impact on your career trajectory. We take a closer look at professional degrees for you and examine what they’re all about.

 

What is the definition of a professional degree?

 

Professional degrees are generally defined as qualifications that have a primary focus on a particular specialisation or area. These degrees are geared towards preparing students for professional careers in a given field, such as law or education. What you will find is that the curriculum has a practical orientation and incorporates real-world scenarios.

 

The aim is to get you up to speed with some of the more common tasks and activities you will have to take on in the course of your work. Often professional degrees include the work-based learning modules or components in the form of internships or work placements. This allows you to practically apply your learning and knowledge.

 

How is a professional degree different from an academic degree?

 

The main difference between the two types of qualifications is that an academic degree will focus more on theory and research than a professional degree does. In most cases, an academic degree will not stress the need to find a real-world or practical application of knowledge in a particular field.

 

This does not however mean that you can simply define an academic degree as a generalist pursuit, as many focus on a dedicated subject or field of enquiry. This is especially true if you move to an advanced level of study such as a master’s degree or PhD. An academic degree will usually require you to refine your writing, research and independent thinking.

 

How do I choose between a professional or academic degree?

 

Your decision can be informed by several factors. Firstly, you need to evaluate your interests and abilities. It’s best to try and align these with a complementary field of study, by mapping your career and study ambitions. A lot will also depend on what sort of career you wish to pursue, which may be influenced by your personality or your skills set. If you have a particular career in mind it’s a good idea to check if you’ll need a professional qualification to work in the field.  

 

Don’t forget that a degree may only be the first step in your path towards a career, with many fields requiring you to pass professional and accreditation exams or study further courses to work professionally and meet the necessary regulations.

 

 

Are professional degrees different to master’s degrees or PhD qualifications?

 

The short answer is yes. Professional degrees aim to get you ready to enter the world of work with the requisite knowledge and skills. A master’s or PhD postgraduate qualification places more focus on research and academic study. However, (here’s where it gets a bit tricky), there are some master’s degrees that do count or stand as professional qualifications, as they can be endorsed by industry-standard and accreditation bodies or organisations.  This is particularly true of fields like engineering, architecture, town planning and medicine.

 

What are some of the careers that require a professional degree?

 

There several careers that will need you to be professionally qualified, however, we’re focusing on some of the more popular choices pursued by students and graduates alike. You’ll need to study for a professional degree if you wish to work as a:

 

 

Don’t be too discouraged if you have a degree in another area, it is always possible to re-skill or to enter into specially designed professional qualifications that consider your previous academic experience.

 

Are professional degrees transferable to other fields?

 

You may be a little anxious that you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket when pursuing a professional degree and that it means you’ll work in a single field for the rest of your life. This isn’t necessarily the case though as the world of work is constantly changing. Many professional degrees allow you to pursue other areas of interest or change careers as there are core competencies that can be applied in different contexts. Selecting a professional degree is not a career-limiting move.

 

How long do professional degrees usually take?

 

For most professional degrees you will spend a minimum of four years qualifying. This may vary depending on the field and if you wish to specialise further in the field, for example in medicine. If you’re required to undertake further study for a master’s degree, this can add another two years to your qualification timeline.

 

As with all decisions related to your future and the academic journey, it’s always a good thing to take some time to evaluate your options. It’s certainly worthwhile speaking to professionals in a field/s you may be interested in. This goes for current students, graduates, universities, professional bodies and of course education counsellors. They can all help advise and inform your choices and decision-making process.  You can also take time to explore some possible courses, qualifications and universities using our course matcher tool and read about the key skills employers are looking for.

 

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