What is a professional student, in the context of a "Graduate and Professional Student Organization" in the United States (cf. this one)? How are they different than or similar to post-docs?

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    Sometimes this refers to a graduate student in a program leading to a "professional" degree, such as law, dentistry, etc. – Nate Eldredge Apr 18 '15 at 13:17
  • @NateEldredge Yes, that could be what they meant. – Geremia Apr 18 '15 at 18:27
  • One of my former bosses (who resented educated people), referred to professional students to those who enroll in continuing education, and get degree after degree, even while remaining employed. Turns out, the head of our government organization had FOUR Masters degrees :-) – Glowie Apr 18 '15 at 20:18
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    As in other comments and answers, there are two distinct uses, distinguished by emphasis, described in standard-ish U.S. English as: "professional student" (informal pejorative), and "professional student" (professional(=non-academic-goal)-program student). – paul garrett Apr 18 '15 at 22:53
  • @paulgarrett Now that the question has been clarified, it's clear that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the pejorative meaning (after all, such people wouldn't have an association). – David Richerby Apr 18 '15 at 22:57

While Bill Barth's description of "professional student" as someone whose sheltering in academia and trying not to graduate is one I have heard, there's also a more formal designation for the term.

Mainly, post-graduate students who are in professional degree programs. For example, medical and dental students, law students, many students pursuing Masters of Public Health degrees, or MBAs, etc. are all pursuing degrees that are intended to be applied to a profession, rather than going further into academia. They often have somewhat different concerns than graduate students, hence the different term.

  • Could you clarify, please? It seems you are listing a somewhat restricted class of fields (law, medicine and health-related), and I somehow see a pattern there (in that those are typically fields where you need some official (read: national) permit to work in the field, so there usually is some kind of a nationally standardized exam), but I don't understand yet what is meant by being "applied to a profession". I take it someone whose profession is designing car technology would apply his or her degree of a Master in Engineering (or whatever degree they have) to their profession just as well? – O. R. Mapper Apr 18 '15 at 19:26
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    +1. Now that the context has been clarified, I'm certain this is what is meant here. – Nate Eldredge Apr 18 '15 at 19:28
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    The important distinction here is that these professional degres are not research oriented but are oriented towards training in the practice of a particular profession. Students in professional programs in business, law, medicine, pharmacy, etc. take courses and participate in various kinds of internships, but seldom are involved in academic research. Compare this with students in research oriented MS and PhD programs, where the research component of the degree is substantial. – Brian Borchers Apr 18 '15 at 19:38
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    An MBA student would be another good example of a professional student whose field has no professional licensing system. – cpast Apr 19 '15 at 0:05
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    @Geremia "Vocational Student" in the U.S. often implies a non-degree (or at least non-Masters/Doctoral degree) student pursuing things like automotive repair, etc. – Fomite Feb 6 '18 at 0:26

My experience with the term is frequently derogatory. It is usually applied to a person who either doesn't know what they want to study, switches their major every year or two, refuses to graduate, and spends many more years than the average in school before graduating. Or, slightly less bad, is someone who likes school so much that they keep finding ways to get degree after degree after degree, never getting a job related to one of their majors, and typically working menial jobs to keep funding their education habit.

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    Given the clarification of the OP, I would suggest you may wish to delete this answer, since it is answering a different question. – jakebeal Apr 18 '15 at 19:19
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    @jakebeal I think that this answer needs an explanation that this meaning belongs to another context, but this is still valuable for future searches on the site. – svavil Feb 5 '18 at 19:09

Without knowing the exact details (e.g. country, university, link to that organization's website), I would wager the following presumption:

This is an organization of those students who are more experienced, mature or advanced relative to the regular/typical undergraduate students. One category of these are graduate students, another is students who are established professionals outside academia - either due to work experience or a non-academic qualification - and are engaged in some kind of supplementary or advanced study programs.

Examples of potential such "professional students":

  • Electricians
  • Woodworkers
  • Mechanics
  • Performance artists
  • School teachers
  • Accountants
  • Nurses

in some countries these might fall under the "graduate student" category, but in others the qualifications for these professions are not undergraduate academic degrees.

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