What is a Terminal Degree?

A terminal degree is the highest degree you can earn in a particular academic discipline. Read more about the degree types, careers, when to enroll in a terminal degree, and more.

TCM Staff

16th October 2020

A Terminal degree is the highest degree you can earn in that discipline. As you look ahead of your graduate school, you must be wondering ''what is a terminal degree and how can it affect your future?” Well, you found the right place for your answers.  

This blog will talk about all the aspects related to the terminal degree such as,  

  • What is a terminal degree? 

  • What are the benefits of a terminal degree?  

  • What are the career options after getting a terminal degree? 

All of the above questions will be answered in this article.

So, let’s start!

What is a Terminal Degree?

In simple terms, a terminal degree means what it sounds like - a degree that helps you to reach the 'end' of your education. 

If you receive a terminal degree, whether it’s a Master’s degree or a Doctorate degree, it is considered terminal if it is the last degree you can get in your field of study. 

In most scenarios, the definition of this degree is also called the Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy, and in some cases, it is considered as a professional degree, such as Doctor of Medicine or Law. 

These professional degrees are legally required by the person before practicing the profession.

What is a Terminal degree?source - entrepreneur.com

Types of terminal degrees by field 

Earning a terminal degree would require many years of learning, analysis work, internship experience, and at least four years of education beyond the Bachelor’s degree to perform at the highest level of the field. 

The list of terminal degrees of the various fields differ and some of them are given here. 

Doctorate level

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD) 

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)  

  • Doctor of Public Health (Dr.PH) 

  • Doctor of Theology (ThD or DTh)

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Master's level

  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)  

  • Master of Social Work (MSW) 

  • Master of Architecture (MArch)

  • Master of Graphic Design (MGraph)

  • Master of Design (MDes)

When to enroll for a Terminal Degree? 

If you know that you want a particular career that requires the highest level of degree, then you should start the program as soon as possible. Failure to do so could mean that you spend more time in college or graduate school than it is necessary. 

However, most colleges do not require that you declare a major right away. Take help, whether from your academic counselor or the professionals from the field to learn about the various aspects of your degree. It will help you to make the right decision about your area of study. 

Difference between Terminal and Non-Terminal degrees 

A Master’s degree or a Terminal degree is usually offered in academic programs that don’t lead to more advanced research in the discipline. Ex: An MBA is not considered as a terminal degree although it is a Master's Degree.

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 starting of a long scientific career.  

After the qualifications have been fulfilled for a non-terminal degree, most students at the master’s or doctoral level continue to build upon their knowledge in this area of study. 

What are the benefits of a Terminal Degree?

Benefits of earning a Terminal degree which can help you grow in your career are -

1. Financial Rewards

The primary benefit of earning a terminal degree is an increase in earning potential. A higher degree can earn you a better job in the end.

Although factors such as the cost of the educational program and the future salary of the career you hope to pursue should be taken into consideration. 

2. Personal Fulfilment

Let's say if you have a passion for the field of psychology and a genuine desire to contribute to that field in a particular way, obtaining a terminal degree may be the only way to see that dream come true.  

For example, if becoming a college professor is your goal, most institutions only hire professionals with both a Doctorate degree and an experience working within the industry.  

3. Career Versatility 

The terminal degrees can provide you with careers you didn't even know you could be in. For example, some advanced psychology degrees are quite specific in nature and may prepare you to work in a very limited number of jobs.  

However, with the knowledge and experience you acquire at the doctorate level, chances are pretty good that you can utilize your unique combination of skills and experience to find a job in a variety of fields. 

Career versatility after Terminal degreesource - pexels.com

What are the Terminal Degree careers?

The terminal degree for disciplines can offer careers in various fields, depending on your area of study. Let's explore some of the subjects and what kind of jobs you can get through them. 

Careers in Science and Research 

  • Computer Engineer or Computer & Information Research Scientist 

    If you want a career leading technology-related research and development, you’ll need a Ph.D. in Computer Science or a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering.  

  • Systems Engineer 

    Some of the highest-paying careers in engineering are for Systems Engineers. In a system engineering Ph.D. program, you’ll learn how to analyze and design the different pieces of engineering systems.  

  • Mathematician or Statistician 

    Advanced Math is the foundation for all other scientific fields - and most often the sciences merge with technology to improve the quality of people’s lives. If you want to contribute to the improved function of any technological device we use, you’ll need a Ph.D. in Mathematics. 

  • Biologist 

    Earning a Biology doctoral degree opens ways for a career in advanced research. If you’re interested in the biomedical field, you’ll need the Ph.D. in Bio-Medical Sciences to find the next vaccine, cure, or treatment for the thousands of ailments that both people and animals suffer from.

Careers in Health Care 

  • Healthcare Administrator 

    Gaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice will give you clinical practice-oriented leadership training. With your Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, you’ll become an expert practitioner who can provide the desired leadership in the hard healthcare environment.  

  • Speech, Language, and Audiology Clinician, Researcher, or Scientist 

    With your Ph.D. in Applied Language and Speech Sciences, educating the future speech-language pathologists and conduct the research that leads to breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating a range of speech, hearing, and language disorders will come in handy. 

Careers in Education 

  • Professor 

    Earning your Ph.D., EdD, or DNP is a critical part of becoming a professor or researcher at a college or university. Becoming a tenured professor is almost impossible without these terminal degrees. 

  • School or University Administrator 

    If you want an administrative role in schools, colleges, or universities, the Educational Leadership Doctoral degree will guide you for the job.

Careers after Terminal Degreesource - pexels.com


Keep in mind that as degree programs and their professional requirements change, so might the associated terminal degree. 

But, for now, it is the highest level of any degree and there will not be any changes in its importance in the near future. The people who have a terminal degree, for now, will be on top of the mountain and would experience more profit as compared to others.

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, a 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.

Recent Articles

How to get the highest possible ACT score: A complete guide

Do College Credits Expire ? : College Credit Guide [2024]

What Is a Good SAT Score?

How to Get a Scholarship in 6 Easy Steps?

Undergraduate vs Graduate: What Is the Difference?

Time Management for College Students: 8 Helpful Tips