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Terminal degree: Wikis


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In some countries, the highest degree in a given field of study is referred to as a terminal degree. This phrase is in common use in the United States, but is not universal in an international context: the concept is not in general use in the United Kingdom, for example, and the exact definition varies somewhat between those countries where the terminology is used.

An earned[1] academic (or research) doctorate such as a Doctor of Philosophy is considered the terminal degree in most academic fields of study in some countries. However professional doctorates may be considered terminal degrees within the professional degree tract even though they are prerequisites for research degrees. For example, the Juris Doctor, a professional doctorate, is the highest professional degree in law, but not the highest research degree in law. The highest research degree in law in the United States is the Doctor of Juridical Science, which requires a Master of Laws for admission, which LL.M. degree requires a first law degree for admission (either a LL.B. or J.D.). Thus, the Juris Doctor is terminal among professional law degrees while the Doctor of Juridical Science is terminal among academic (or research) degrees.[2] In addition, in some countries there are degrees which are more advanced than the Ph.D., such as the higher doctorates in the United Kingdom and Russia, and the habilitation degree awarded in Germany. Also, not all terminal degrees are doctorates, such as the terminal academic degree in applied arts is usually the M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts), the terminal academic degree in studio architecture is the M.Arch, and the terminal academic degree for a librarian is the M.L.S./M.L.I.S. (Master's degree in Library Science or Library and Information Sciences)[3].


Research degrees

In academic fields the typical terminal degree is the Ph.D., although others also exist. The first phase of the Ph.D. consists of coursework in the student's field of study and requires one to three years to complete. This often is followed by a preliminary or comprehensive examination and/or a series of cumulative examinations where the emphasis is on breadth rather than depth of knowledge. Finally, another two to four years is usually required for the composition of a substantial and original contribution to human knowledge embodied in a written dissertation that in the social sciences and humanities is typically 250 to 450 pages in length. Dissertations generally consist of (i) a comprehensive literature review, (ii) an outline of methodology, and (iii) several chapters of scientific, social, historical, philosophical, or literary analysis. Typically, upon completion, the candidate undergoes an oral examination, sometimes public, by his or her supervisory committee with expertise in the given discipline.


Typical terminal academic research degrees

Professional degrees

In some fields, especially those linked to a profession (e.g. medicine, nursing, dentistry, law, optometry, architecture, pharmacy, social work, religious ministry, engineering, accounting, education, etc.), a distinction is to be drawn between a first professional degree, an advanced professional degree, and a terminal academic degree. A first professional degree is generally required by law or custom to practice the profession without limitation. An advanced professional degree provides further training in a specialized area of the profession. A first professional degree is an academic degree designed to prepare the holder for a particular career or profession, fields where scholarly research and academic activity are not the work, but rather the practice of a profession. In many cases, the first professional degree is also the terminal degree because usually no further advanced degree is required for practice in that field even though more advanced academic degrees may exist.

Typical first professional

Advanced professional degrees

  • Education (MEd, EdD)
  • Teaching (MT) [4]
  • Landscape Architecture (MLA LArch)
  • Divinity (DD or DMin)
  • Social Science (DSocSci)
  • Social Work (MSW, DSW or PhD)
  • Medicine (MD, DM, DO) (advanced degree in countries that award a bachelor degree in medicine or surgery as first professional degree, usually awarded for outstanding research to a particular field of Medicine)
  • Dental Science (DDSc, Dr.Odont) (advanced degree in countries that award a bachelor degree in dental surgery as first professional degree, usually awarded for outstanding research to a particular field of Dentistry)
  • Surgery (MS, MSurg, MCh, ChM, or MChir) (Usually granted after completion of surgery training program in conjunction with a research thesis)
  • Dentistry (MDS, MSD, MDSc, or DClinDent) (these are usually granted at the culmination of a specialty training program in dentistry in those programs that also require research and a thesis to be completed)
  • Engineering (MEng, MASc, MMSc, PD [5])
  • Ministry (MTh, ThM, STM, STD, DThP, DPT, PrD, or DMin)
  • Worship Studies (DWS)
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN: CRNA, NP, CNM, CNS) (DNP, DNAP, DNS, DNSc)
  • Science (MS, MSc) (also offered in medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy)
  • Psychology (PsyD)
  • Computer Science (PD)[6]

See also


  1. ^ "Earned" in the sense that the degree is obtained through the completion of a program of study, as opposed to by receiving an honorary doctorate.
  2. ^ The LL.M. is a research degree (University of Wisconsin Law School. Master of Laws (LL.M.) Program. Accessed June 23, 2008.) as is the S.J.D. (San Diego County Bar Association. Ethics Opinion 1969-5. Accessed June 10, 2008.)
  3. ^ DePauw University Academic Handbook, Appendix 3: Terminal Degrees
  4. ^ MT :: Master of Teaching, CTL, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto
  5. ^ CVN - Columbia Video Network
  6. ^ CVN - Columbia Video Network


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