Help! What type of degree is right for me?

Confused about all the different types of degrees? Here is a breakdown of each type of degree, from academic to professional, to help you make the right choice.  

Are you looking to advance your career, earn more money, or take on more responsibility within your organization? Then earning an advanced degree could help you reach your goals. A U.S. based study showed that there will be a 14 percent growth in jobs requiring a master’s degree by 2024. Your degree choice might also be determined by your career aims. For example, you might want to choose a particular degree so you can pursue a certain career and improve your employability skills in a particular industry. As for executive education, no matter how seasoned an executive you are, the ever-changing business world requires even the most experienced leaders to adapt by learning both new skills and new ways of thinking.  

Many people seek a professional degree to find a fulfilling job that pays well or to continue advancing in their current field. It can be difficult to determine which degree is right for you with so many choices to choose from. Whether you are working toward your bachelor's degree or well into your career, it is worthwhile to consider the best degree for your professional goals and the investment you will need to make.   

Not sure which degree is right for you and will help you meet your personal and professional goals? Below are the key similarities and differences to consider when deciding between a professional and academic degree. 


What’s an Academic Degree? 

An academic or research degree focuses on a specific field of study and is often more research-oriented than professional programs. Students are often required to complete a thesis or capstone project in order to graduate. Academic degrees can be applied to a wide variety of potential careers. Professional degrees, on the other hand, are designed to directly prepare students for a particular career. 

Many degrees can be classified as academic degrees. Depending on the industry you work in, earning one can help enhance your career by teaching you the knowledge and skills you need to advance within your organization. 

Check out the diverse list of academic degrees at CEU. 

Professional Degree Programs 

Professional degrees are designed to prepare you for a practice-oriented occupation in a specific field, such as law, medicine, and education. The length of the programs vary and can span anywhere from one to five years, depending on the institution you attend.  The coursework teaches students about everyday situations in their field and often requires a significant amount of real world experience. 

This distinguishes them from academic degrees, which encourage students to focus on theory and philosophy within their chosen field – though practical matters are certainly not absent in such programs. 

Generally speaking, professional degrees are found in fields where very specific knowledge and skills are required to perform a certain job – abilities everyone in the profession must master, even in entry-level positions. To use medicine as an example, a medical doctor needs to gain a certain amount of hands-on, practical knowledge, before they can practice medicine professionally.  

A professional degree can also make you eligible for certain licenses, accreditations and certifications in your field. Some careers do not allow you to practice without a professional degree.  

The following industries have a high number of jobs that require a professional degree: 

  • Architecture 

  • Business 

  • Dentistry 

  • Education 

  • Engineering 

  • Law 

  • Medicine 

  • Pharmacy 

  • Social work 

Professional degrees must teach you how to do your chosen job, which separates them from academic degrees that focus on research over learning a profession. 

Does that mean I’m limited in what I can do for work? 

While professional degrees get their name because they typically have you enter a specific profession, people with graduate degrees in law or medicine will often go on to have diverse, interesting career paths. Just because you became a doctor with your M.D. or D.O. degree doesn't mean that's the only thing you can do! Many medical doctors go on to become managers, entrepreneurs, public health experts, advocates, policymakers, consultants, and more. The same goes for lawyers: Many will become scholars, federal employees, thought leaders, professors, and more. 

What professional degrees does CEU offer? You can apply for CEU’s professional degree programs here. 

Executive Degree Programs 

Executives frequently join executive education programs, particularly those focusing on leadership or general management, for reasons that go beyond the obvious ones of gaining additional knowledge and insights about the effective operation of organizations: They often look for support or a push in order to make a change in their behavior that allows them to be more effective in their work and life.  

An executive master’s degree is a graduate business degree that is designed for the modern, working professional. It offers more flexibility and convenience than a traditional master’s program, particularly in terms of enrollment and scheduling options. Usually, executive master’s degrees also cover a specialized area of study, versus more general MBA programs which cover a variety of topics. 

An executive master’s degree is a great option for those who wish to accelerate their career, expand their role, and take on more leadership opportunities. By pursuing a leadership degree at the master’s level, you will tackle strategic topics and take courses that will prepare you for real-life experience as a chief or manager. 


Is an executive master’s degree right for you? 

If you want to set yourself up for the next role or rank at your current organization, or find something new and different with freshly marketable skills, and you need a flexible program that will fit your work schedule in order to do so, then this type of degree is right for you 

People who pursue executive degrees typically need to keep working while they study. They already have several years of work experience, and want (if not need) to continue working and saving money. This makes flexibility a must-have component in a master’s program.  

You can apply for our executive degree programs here 


Would you prefer to develop your skills in a specific course without bearing the time and financial burden of an entire degree? That is possible with non-degree programs.  

Non-degree programs typically refer to programs in which students are not following classes to earn a degree. People who decide to follow non-degree programs usually do it out of personal or professional interests next to a degree program or a job. 

The classes that they follow enable them to acquire more knowledge and skills in a specific area without bearing the weight of all the requirements of an entire degree. 

As a non-degree student, you are still following classes that others might be following as a part of their degree requirements. Hence when seats are limited for a course, priority is given to degree students. 

Non-degree students are not awarded a degree by CEU but may be issued a transcript for any official assessments they undertake. Often the outcomes of the study they undertake at CEU contribute to a degree awarded by another institution. 


The term “non-degree program” is also commonly used to refer to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and Micromasters and certificate courses. These types of non-degree-programs are most often accessible to everyone (no selection or application necessary, simply register, pay and attend). These programs enable students to focus on specific areas of knowledge and include a more practical component leading to greater skills development. 

The main difference to take into consideration regarding professional development certificates is that they take less time and are usually focused on a more narrow set of skills. 

OSUN ExEd Hub offers a strong portfolio of comprehensive leadership programs, short topic-focused programs and workshops covering topics ranging from leadership, change management, higher education leadership, business, NGO management to public policy and higher education administration, to name a few. Participants enrolled in our certificate programs can choose to earn credits that can be applied to other degree programs at CEU. Upon successful completion of the program, participants obtain a certificate from the OSUN ExEd Hub with comprehensive course details. 

If you have questions about which type of program best fits your needs, feel free to reach out for more personalized help from one of our expert advisors!