Professional Schools vs Graduate Schools: Which Is Best For Me?

If you want to advance your career in any industry, earning an advanced degree could help you reach your goals. So, going to a professional school or graduate school is a sure way to go.

However, when deciding whether or not to pursue an advanced degree, you should know which kind of degree will help you meet your personal and professional goals: a professional degree or an academic degree.

So, in this article, we look at the overview of a Professional School and Graduate school. From there, we’ll check out their similarities and then their differences.

What is a Professional school?

A professional school is a graduate institution that prepares students for careers in specific fields. Some of the schools also offer undergraduate degrees in specific professions.

Examples of this type of school include architecture school, business school, divinity school, engineering school, journalism school, law school, library school, schools of education (normal school), public policy school, and social work school.

The healthcare field has many professional schools, including medical school, chiropractic school, dental school, pharmacy school, physician assistant school, physiotherapy school, podiatric medical school, public health school, speech-language pathology school, occupational therapy school, nursing school, veterinary school, and optometry school.

What is the Graduate School?

Graduate school constitutes an advanced program of study focused on a particular academic discipline or profession. Traditionally, graduate school has been “academic” (centred on generating original research in a particular discipline), but it may be “professional” or a combination of both.

“Graduate school” is the general term for academic programs that provide training in a specific academic discipline or field beyond the undergraduate level.

According to Wikipedia, a graduate school (sometimes shortened to grad school) is a school that awards advanced academic degrees (e.g., master’s and doctoral degrees) with the general requirement that students must have earned a previous undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree.

So, a distinction can be made between graduate schools (where courses of study vary in the degree to which they provide training for a particular profession) and professional schools, which offer specialized advanced degrees in professional fields such as medicine, nursing, business, engineering, law, or speech-language pathology.

The distinction between graduate and professional schools is not absolute since various professional schools offer graduate degrees and vice versa.

What Are the Primary Similarities?

Both graduate and professional schools offer students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree the opportunity to study advanced curriculum. To apply to both schools you must meet admissions requirements and be able to fund your tuition.

While the two types of schools are similar in that they offer advanced programs for graduate students, this is where their similarities end.

What Are the Primary Differences between a Professional School and a Graduate School?

You might be curious to determine what differentiates professional school from graduate school. The distinction between graduate school and professional school can often be blurred, with professional school being brought into the graduate school fold, but there is a difference between the two. 

Many undergraduate students do not know the difference between graduate school and professional school until they research advanced studies options.

Suppose you are attending school or planning to return to school. In that case, it is important to know how graduate and professional schools differ and which school you need to attend to pursue your dreams. 

Focus and Curriculum

The major difference between the two institutions is where the focus lies.

If you apply to graduate school and enrol on classes, you will study for your Master’s degree in a specific study area. The courses that you take will all be designed to help you master the field of study that you major in.

These courses will build your technical knowledge but don’t focus on applying it as intently. Graduate schools are more likely to require a thesis before graduation.

Professional schools, such as law schools and business schools, teach a much broader curriculum, and courses are delivered to prepare students for a career.

While the traditional theory is taught through lectures, there is a much greater focus on the real-world application of the knowledge gained. Most professional schools also require students to complete professional internships before graduation.

Admissions Requirements

Prerequisites and other admissions requirements also differ. When you decide to earn your Master’s at a graduate school, you must show that you have a foundation of knowledge in the chosen field. You may not need a BA or BS within the exact field, but a related one is necessary because you need the proper prerequisites before starting advanced coursework.

Professional schools focus more on work experience than reviewing your major. You need to have an accredited Bachelor’s degree and an acceptable GPA, but your chosen undergraduate major is not as important.

It can be overwhelming to decide which program to attend if you do not know which program is right. If you want to study a very specific field or you need to earn your Master’s before getting licensed to practice in your state, a graduate institution is right.

A professional school is best for you if you want to work professionally and get hands-on experience. Be sure to research and visit any graduate school or professional school you are interested in attending and do not rush your decision.

SEE ALSO: 10 Top Value Affordable Online Health Care Administration/Management Bachelor Degree Programs, 2023

Careers / Employment Opportunities

Professional Degree

There are several different types of professional degrees. And each of these professional degrees is designed to prepare you for a different career.

So here are some of the common professional degrees:

Juris Doctor (JD)

A Juris Doctor is a professional degree that prepares you for a career practising law. As a lawyer, you can specialize in administrative, constitutional, criminal, or other forms of law. You can expect to earn a median salary of $119,250, with employment projected to grow eight percent by 2026.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

A Doctor of Medicine is issued to those wanting to pursue a medical or surgery career. Those who receive an MD typically earn a very robust salary, which varies depending on the specialization. Average earnings are:

  • Primary Care Physician: $201,541
  • Ophthalmologist: $286,574
  • Dermatologist: $293,610
  • Pediatric Surgeon: $290,104
  • Anesthesiologist: $371,527
  • General Surgeon: $382,121

Doctor of Education (EdD)

A Doctor of Education is a degree for educators and professionals who want to direct and implement change within their organizations. EdD programs typically combine exploratory research with comprehensive coursework. Common career paths for EdD holders include: Postsecondary Education Administrator $92,360, Elementary and Secondary School Education Administrator $94,390, Instructional Coordinator $63,750

Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)

A Doctor of Pharmacy is a degree for individuals interested in working in the pharmaceutical industry. PharmD programs typically provide opportunities in research, teaching, clinical practice, and other key areas within the pharmacy industry. Graduates with this degree typically become:

  • Pharmacists: $130,205
  • Pharmacy Directors: $170,390
  • Clinical Managers: $102,283

Graduate School

Many degrees can be classified as graduate degree programs. Depending on your industry, earning one can help enhance your career by teaching you the knowledge and skills you need to advance within your organization.

Duration Of Study

Graduate School

In truth, the number of credit hours you must complete to graduate will affect the time it takes to earn your degree. These credit hour requirements can vary between 30 and 60 semester hours. And, if you are returning to school to earn your MBA, you can expect to complete about 45 credit hours.

Most classes are 3 credit hours, with some being 4. If you are enrolled in school part-time, you will complete 6 credit hours per semester. If you are enrolled full-time, you will complete 9 to 12 hours. You may also be able to complete hours in the summer between semesters.

So, the average full-time student will earn their Master’s degree in 1.5 to 2 years. But, some students take longer due to their schedule restrictions.

Professional School

Depending on the course of study, it takes about 1-3 years to graduate from a professional school. Interestingly, professional degrees can be at different levels based on the standards in a specific field; in the United States, most of our professional degrees are doctorate degrees.

Admission Requirements

Even if you are yet to decide to go for professional school vs graduate school, find out the prerequisites you need to apply for them.

Graduate School

Applying to grad school is quite a lengthy process that requires time, effort, and tons of application materials. However, here are the six major grad school admission requirements that make them stand out:

#1: Transcripts

This is one of the biggest requirements for graduate school. These are usually transcripts from all undergrad and grad institutions where you received your bachelor’s degree.

Not everyone will have grad transcripts to send, but you will almost always have to submit undergrad transcripts.

#2: Standardized Test Scores

Standardized test scores are also important in graduate schools, depending on the field and program. The most common standardized test for grad school admissions is the GRE.

For some programs, GRE scores are a basic requirement; for others, they’re optional.

#3: Letters of Recommendation

Grad school requirements probably wouldn’t be as stressful without letters of recommendation. You must submit anywhere from two to four letters of recommendation for most graduate programs.

#4: Curriculum Vitae/Resume

Your curriculum vitae (CV)/resume summarises your education, employment history, research experience, publications, and other relevant achievements and activities.

However, it is important to note that CVs and resumes are generally different documents.

Resumes are specifically a single page that focuses predominantly on employment, while CVs contain multiple pages and concentrate more on your academic history and field-specific experiences. 

#5: Personal Statement

The personal statement is generally one of the most important requirements while applying to graduate school. Your statement is an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you truly are and explain why the program fits you and your interests. These are usually one to three double-spaced pages long.

#6: Portfolio

Most programs don’t necessarily require portfolios. But, if you’re applying to an artistically oriented program, like any M.F.A. program, the portfolio will probably be the most important piece of your application.

Portfolios can range wildly in content depending on the field and program you’re applying to.

Professional School

Similar to the prerequisites to apply to graduate school, professional schools also require the following: a personal statement,

  • High school diploma (certificate)
  • Good marks in selected majors
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Letter of motivation
  • Voluntary or work experience related to healthcare (for medical school)
  • Minimum TOEFL and IELTS results

However, for courses like law, you only need an undergraduate degree from an accredited university, admission tests, a letter of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Cost of Study

Generally, the cost of studying in a professional school like medical school is higher than that of a graduate school. However, the cost of study can differ dramatically across the subject areas within one institution, not just across sectors and degree types.

Moreover, tuition and fees do not apply to most research doctoral students, and many master’s and professional students also receive institutional grant aid.

But, many graduate and professional students must pay a considerable amount for their tuition and cover their living expenses while in school.


Generally, professional school prepares students for a service profession rather than a research or academic career. In contrast, graduate school is for students interested in earning a master’s or doctoral degree.

Graduate study can lead to academic careers as a faculty member and professor, or even as a full-time researcher. However, it is important to know which kind of degree will help you meet your personal and professional goals.


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