What is a Terminal Degree?

The phrase “terminal degree” is used frequently in the world of American post-secondary education. It stands at the highest level of education provided in a specific academic discipline. In most cases, it’s used to distinguish the level achieved by post-graduate students who study in the chosen area for advanced work. This type of degree is considered the maximum level of education in a specific area, so it’s not required for entry-level work in any particular field. If you’re considering postgraduate education, there are a few points to bear in mind when aiming for this designation in your field of interest.

The Difference Between Terminal and Non-Terminal Degrees

A master’s degree is usually offered in academic programs that don’t lead to more advanced research in the discipline. While this does not necessarily mean that it’s impossible to continue studying for a doctorate or professional degree, it’s unusual for students to pursue a higher level of education. Non-terminal degrees are offered to undergraduate or graduate students, and if this course plan is pursued, these programs are often just the beginning of a long scientific career. After the qualifications have been satisfied for a non-terminal degree, most students at the master’s or doctoral level continue to build upon their knowledge in this area.

Various Types of Terminal Degrees

At the post-graduate level, there are several examples of degrees that can be considered terminal, such as a Master of Business Administration, Master of Library Science, Master of Fine Arts and Master of Social Work. At the professional and doctoral level, the Doctor of Education, Doctor of Health, Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Psychology and Doctor of Philosophy programs are available for students to achieve the highest levels of education in their subjects.

Earning this type of degree usually requires eight or more years of study, research and training as well as at least four years of education beyond the bachelor’s degree.

The Benefits of Earning a Professional Degree

Although a successful career doesn’t require an advanced degree in most industries, the terminal degree is often recommended for students who pursue leadership and management positions in their respective areas. Reaching the highest level in your field offers a number of advantages, including higher pay, increased responsibilities, more professional prestige, opportunity for advancement and potential professorships at the universities where students conduct research. An excess of professionals with terminal degrees in the coming years is expected to make the competition quite strong, so many students may be turned off from pursuing them.

Considerations to Make Before You Begin

Although it sounds final and absolute, this type of degree doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your academic career, and it’s still possible to complete a doctorate or a refresher course in the future after graduating. If you decide to get a master’s, professional or doctoral degree, keep in mind that credit from the degree-granting institution may or may not be transferred to the next program, so you may end up repeating coursework in order to complete your education.

In today’s increasingly competitive job market, college education is becoming more of an expectation and a requirement. If you’re considering work in academia or healthcare, a terminal degree is probably the right way to go.