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Careers that require a professional degree

Published April 1, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Earning a professional degree can open certain career possibilities. For instance, you’ll need a professional degree to become a dentist, lawyer, optometrist, physician, pharmacist, veterinarian, and more.

    Here's a sampling of careers that do require a professional degree – something to keep in mind as you pursue higher education and lay out a road map for your future.


    Dentists diagnose and treat issues with the teeth and gums. They’re responsible for keeping patients’ oral health in excellent shape. Along with removing decay from patients’ teeth, they fill cavities and repair teeth that have been injured. Dentists are also responsible for educating patients about dental health, including demonstrating proper brushing and flossing techniques.

    To become a dentist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, typically in biology or another science. Then, you’ll need to complete dental school and earn one of three professional degrees: Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM), Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD).

    You’ll also need a dental license from your state to practice as a dentist.


    Lawyers provide experienced legal counsel to individuals, families, and organizations of all types and sizes. Many lawyers perform legal research, build complex and compelling legal cases, and interpret regulations and rulings. Along with filing legal documents, many also represent clients in courtroom settings, where they present cases and argue on behalf of clients.

    Many lawyers specialize in specific areas, such as family law or intellectual property law.

    To become a lawyer, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, typically in a subject such as government, history, English, or philosophy. Then, you’ll need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and complete three years of law school. After earning your Juris Doctor (JD) degree, you’ll need to pass the bar exam to practice in your state.


    Optometrists examine patients’ eyes and diagnose and treat eye-related problems. They’re experts in eye injuries and eye diseases and can also prescribe glasses and corrective lenses. Optometrists may also perform eye surgery and provide post-operative care, and they offer educational services to help patients maintain healthy vision.

    To become an optometrist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, typically in biology or pre-medical science. After taking the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT), you can enroll in a professional program to earn your Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Many optometrists also choose to participate in a one-year residency before getting their optometry license.


    Doctors and physicians diagnose patients’ illnesses and injuries. They record and monitor patients’ medical histories, develop treatment plans, prescribe essential medications, and help prevent serious medical issues. While many doctors serve as family or general physicians, some specialize in pediatrics, geriatrics, or other areas.

    To become a doctor or physician, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in pre-medical science or a related subject. Next, you’ll take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and complete a professional program to earn your Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. You’ll also need a license to practice in your state.


    Pharmacists are responsible for filling prescriptions and dispensing medications. They provide instructions for taking medications, and they monitor patients’ prescriptions for potentially harmful interactions. Pharmacists also counsel patients on taking medications safely and provide general health information.

    Not all pharmacy programs require a bachelor’s degree for admission, but it's usually recommended (and some pharmacy programs require it). Regardless, you'll need to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). Most professional pharmacy degree programs take four years, and you’ll earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree upon completion. You’ll need a state pharmacist license to practice professionally, too.


    Veterinarians examine, diagnose, and treat animals. They address injuries, provide vaccinations against diseases, conduct surgery, prescribe medications, and even euthanize terminally ill or seriously injured animals. Veterinarians also educate animal owners about maintaining their pet’s health and treating their medical conditions.

    Veterinarians work everywhere, from animal hospitals to farms to laboratories and research centers. They typically need a bachelor’s degree before completing veterinary school and earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which usually takes four years. To practice, veterinarians must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination and earn a license in their state.

    Many also opt to earn one of the specialty certifications from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

    Final thoughts

    As you weigh careers that require professional degrees, consider how long the professional degrees take, how much they cost, and if there are scholarships available or employers willing to cover the degrees. This may help you decide if it’s the right path for you.