What is a terminal degree?

A terminal degree can signify one of two outcomes. One is that it is the highest degree that can be awarded in a specific academic or professional track. The other is that it is a degree that is awarded when a candidate completes a certain amount of coursework but does not go on to doctoral work.

Posted by Akshay Nair P R on 22nd May 2018

What is a terminal degree?

  • When a student is considering a bachelors degree, the terminal degree is the one that is been referred to more often in the American post-secondary education.

  • It is the highest degree awarded in the given field.

  • In most cases, this degree is also called the Ph.D. or doctor of philosophy, and in some fields, 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.

Different Terminal Degree by field

  • Doctorate level: Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Public Health (Dr. PH), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), etc.

  • Master's level: Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Business Administration (MBA), etc.

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

Benefits of Terminal Degree

Although it is not required in most fields for a successful career, the only field where terminal degree comes into play a lot often is healthcare.

Obtaining the highest degree in your field can be a bit time consuming and involves a lot of effort, but choosing the highest degree comes with numerous benefits such as higher salary, more professional prestige, enhanced responsibility.

It also includes the opportunity for promotion and in due course of time, you can also apply for a faculty position in a university. 

The scope of Terminal Degree

There are different scopes for different fields. Some of them are:

  • Training officer:

Involves personnel.

Does different administrative duties.

  • Personal Banker:

For building meaningful, lasting relationships.

Providing exceptional service to new and existing clients

  • Quality assurance officer:

Reviews contract and technical data packages.

Performs risk planning

  • Information technologist:

Supporting the tier 1 tier 2 team as a help desk.

Helps in human resources application.

The future of Terminal Degree

If you are planning to a Terminal Degree the one thing that would come to your mind might be what is the future of this, or what I might do after getting a master degree in the near future.

As a result of that you would start questioning whether you need a terminal degree, the explanation depends on both your particular field of study and on your professional goals.

A terminal degree indicates mastery of your discipline, in terms of breadth and depth. 


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

But, as per now it is the highest form 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.


Q.1) What is the difference between a Terminal and a Non-Terminal degree?

A.1) Terminal Degree:- It refers to the last stage of the studies as in most cases this is the most advanced degree.

Non-Terminal degree refers to the degree that can be found at the undergraduate or graduate level when referring to programs that are just the beginning of an academic journey.

Q.2) How long does a terminal degree course last?

A.2) The exact time may vary according to various programs while comparing it with the non-terminal degree. The terminal degree takes more time for completion. The least amount of time that a terminal degree would take for completion is 2 years. 

Q.3) Is it necessary to take a terminal degree for a good career growth?

A.3) It's not; there are some exceptions where if you want to go in a research field or as a professor then for some courses it might come in handy. But, mostly it acts just as an added advantage.


  What is the difference between a Terminal and a Non-Terminal degree?

Terminal Degree:- It refers to the last stage of the studies as in most cases this is the most advanced degree.