After the long battle which is a bachelors degree program has finally ended, going for a professional degree can seem just plain masochistic. The length of medical school, for instance, has been the subject of many a joke, as is the case with this great exchange from the 1995 comedy Tommy Boy:

But seriously, professional degrees can take a really long time to complete. In fact, they can easily double the length of your post-secondary education. Naturally, some professional degree programs are longer than others and some stretch beyond just getting the degree itself.

The Longest Professional Degree Program

medical school professional degree MDTechnically, Dentistry, Medicine, Optometry, Pharmacy, Podiatric Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Chiropracty, and Osteopathic Medicine are all tied at four year. But that’s just for the degree itself, not including the years for specialization and training that might follow. If you take into account all the additional training that must happen before the degree actually turns into a career, medical school takes the cake.

After completing the typical four-year medical program, graduates must then go into residency for three to eight years, gaining experience tending to patients and becoming immersed in whatever their area of specialization will be. The actual length depends on the specialization they choose. That takes the graduate anywhere from seven to 12 years beyond their undergraduate years. But that’s not all.

Because 12 years of extra education and training just aren’t enough, some physicians elect to participate in fellowship programs, which can mean one to three more years of training.

If you were just thinking that med school graduates are gluttons for punishment, we agree with you.

The Shortest Professional Degree Program

Earning a Juris Doctor seems wimpy in comparison to med school at a mere three years, but an LLM is even more brief. One year of full-time study will earn you a Master of Laws designation, but this can also be deceiving. You see, the LLM is designed to give new lawyers specialized knowledge after they complete the three-year JD program. Put them both together and you have four years of post-bachelor’s study. Yep, there’s that magic number four again.

In terms of the shortest standalone professional degree, Theology wins the prize at three years, without any strings attached.

The Payoff

While these degree programs and their subsequent training can seem ridiculously overwrought, most of these degrees introduce graduates into a new level of earning power for the most part.

For dentists, the median salary is $146,920, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For optometrists, annual median salary is a humble $94,990. Attorneys enjoy a comfy salary at $112,760.

Finally, those hard-working physicians and surgeons sit high on the hog with a median annual salary of over $166,400. Once they pay off all those student loans, life is pretty good.

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