I have previously been involved with mentoring high school students as well as undergraduates, who typically don't have a clear understanding of all of the career possibilities available to them and how they might pursue them.

One of the distinctions I typically make is that "Professional School" (e.g. medical, law, physicians assistant, nurse practitioner, dental) is further training past undergraduate studies that prepares you for entry into a very specific profession/job with a terminal degree. "Graduate School" is additional training that prepares you to be an expert in a particular field, but the job opportunities are much more diverse and you may or may not be working toward a terminal degree. One of my college advisors made this distinction to me, and I have carried it forward.

Is making this distinction between graduate and professional school correct? Is there another more specific or subtle difference that I am missing?

What is the true distinction between graduate and professional school? - Or is there not one?

  • 1
    Given the professions you listed for "professional school", a very cynical part of me wants to say "salary prospects" ;-)
    – tonysdg
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 15:22
  • nice comment @tonysdg... I wonder where individuals would place MBA programs or other specialized masters programs? Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 16:18

1 Answer 1


At least in my geographic region (Texas, or the US southern states), a professional school implies a curriculum that targets specific skills for a particular vocation. In effect, this is akin to my awkward bastardization of several concepts:

"Teach a man to fish and he can become a fisherman ... help him learn how to think and he can pursue a career in whatever he wants."

The former refers to a professional/vocational school. The latter refers to accredited universities with broader range of curriculum missions. Granted, this reflects my biased perspective: admittedly, vocational schools have a (usually) noble and useful purpose, but proper universities can offer so much more to enrich the whole student, and potentially brighten the intellectual and career outlook for years to come.

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