Professional Qualifications vs. Academic Degrees: A Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 24 January 2023

Published 22 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

You may have seen job positions listing requirements relating to professional qualifications or academic degrees. These are some common requirements seen in many industries. Learning the difference between professional qualification and an academic degree may help you decide if you possess the required skill set for a job position. In this article, we explain what professional qualifications and academic degrees are, the differences between professional qualification and an academic degree and list some career options with professional qualification requirements.

Related: Diploma vs. Degree vs. Certificate: Key Differences

Professional qualifications vs. academic degrees

Here are the definitions of professional qualifications vs. academic degrees:

Academic degree

An academic degree is usually a bachelor's degree or equivalent indicating your expertise in a specific field of study. Academic degrees are more research-oriented and can usually apply to a variety of different careers. Here are some examples of common academic degrees in Singapore:

  • Aerospace engineering

  • Applied science

  • Bioengineering

  • Biological sciences

  • Business

  • Chemical engineering

  • Civil engineering

  • Communication studies

  • Dentistry

  • Economics

  • Electrical engineering

  • Environmental science

  • Information systems

  • Law

  • Maritime studies

  • Mathematical sciences

  • Medicine

  • Philosophy

  • Physics

  • Psychology

  • Public policy

  • Sociology

  • Sports science and management

Related: Anthropology vs. Sociology: Definitions and Differences

Professional qualification

Professional qualifications aim to train you for a specific profession. You may complete them after obtaining your academic degree. Some professional qualifications are the equivalent of pursuing a master's degree or higher, requiring candidates to complete extensive training and pass multiple exams. Some may require candidates to have specific amounts of relevant work experience. The length of a professional degree programme can vary depending on the field you're entering.

While not all professions require professional qualifications, the higher you advance in your career, the more likely it may be a preferred or even required qualification for a position. The time spent is generally worth the effort as professional qualifications can help to rapidly advance your career progression and your earning potential. Some professions require professional qualifications to legally hold the role, such as surgeons and lawyers.

Related: What Are Professional Qualifications in Singapore?

Key differences between professional qualifications and academic degrees

Here are some common differences between professional qualifications and academic degrees:

Order

Academic degrees usually precede professional qualifications. An academic degree gives you an introduction to the field of study, after which you may wish to pursue a more in-depth study by obtaining a professional qualification in a related area. Some professional qualifications may have academic degree requirements before you may enrol in the course.

Costs

Both academic degrees and professional qualifications may be costly but it may cost more to obtain a professional qualification than an academic degree. This could be due to the fact that professional qualifications may invite industry leaders for seminars and time may be more costly. Alternatively, you may view professional qualifications as an entryway to a higher earning potential which necessitates an upfront financial investment.

Duration

Academic degrees tend to last between 3 to 5 years, depending on the field of study and level of honours. On the other hand, professional qualifications may range from months to years depending on the field. Professional qualifications tend to be shorter in duration since the applicant already has a basic level of understanding of the field and the course may focus on more practical aspects or cultivate a deeper level of understanding of the subject matter.

Benefits of an academic degree

There are many benefits to obtaining an academic degree. Here are a few of the benefits that typically accompany an academic degree:

Increased employability

You may be an attractive new hire if you have an academic degree. An academic degree indicates that you have a basic set of skills and an understanding of your industry of choice. As it's competitive to get a place in a university, having an academic degree also indicates a certain level of capabilities. Hiring managers and employers may view this as transferrable to higher workplace productivity and output which benefits the company.

Better people skills

It's common for undergraduate courses to include group projects as part of the graduation requirements. Having gone through the process of working with many different people of different working styles and navigating interactions with others, you're likely to have developed good people skills. These people skills are helpful in the workplace as it's highly probable that your next job involves interaction with other members of your team and with other departments.

Related: 25 People Skills for the Workplace Including Definition

Increased earning potential

Another benefit of obtaining an academic degree is that your earning potential may increase. Jobs that stipulate academic degree requirements are usually white-collar jobs which tend to pay higher than manual labour or blue-collar jobs. Therefore, going through the process of obtaining an academic degree may be an investment in yourself to upgrade your skills and knowledge for future monetary and other benefits.

Related: Comparing Blue-Collar vs. White-Collar Jobs: An Overview

Benefits of a professional qualification

You may wish to go further and obtain a professional qualification on top of an academic degree to gain additional benefits. Here are a few of the benefits that typically accompany professional qualifications:

Expanded skill set

Professional qualifications allow you to expand on the skills you already know and gain new experience applying those skills. You may also gain a deeper understanding of your field of choice which is over and beyond the exposure from an academic degree. These skills could be useful in helping you specialise in a certain field or industry to carve a niche for yourself.

Related: Hard Skills Vs. Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Competitive advantage

Some fields may treat professional qualifications as a necessity and other fields may treat professional qualifications as a bonus. If the industry you're in falls into the latter category, obtaining such professional qualifications could set you apart from your competition. Employers may wish for you to join their team as you possess more knowledge and skills than the other candidates and may add more value to the team. This could translate to greater revenue and profit for the firm.

Self-fulfilment

Another important benefit of a professional qualification is self-fulfilment. It may be very satisfying and intellectually stimulating to complete further education after obtaining your basic academic degree. A professional qualification could be challenging to obtain and successfully completing it typically carries with it a strong sense of accomplishment. This is especially if you obtained your professional qualification while juggling a full-time job and other personal commitments.

Related: How to Find a Rewarding Career Path in 9 Steps

Examples of jobs with professional qualifications requirements

There're many jobs in Singapore with professional qualifications requirements which you may wish to consider if you enjoy furthering your studies. Due to the additional effort to obtain professional qualifications, these professionals may earn higher salaries. Here's a list of some jobs that require professional qualifications in Singapore:

1. Lawyer

National average salary: $10,088 per month

Primary duties: If you're a lawyer, you may assist with reviewing legal documents, drafting court submissions, taking meeting minutes, attending trials and writing legal advice pieces for your clients. You may also conduct legal research. Alternatively, you may attend continuing education courses to constantly improve your legal knowledge.

Law is a profession that requires professional qualifications on top of an academic law degree. If you wish to practise law, you may wish to take further education courses with the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) and join the Singapore Bar. The Bar courses often have entrance criteria, university or degree requirements and a minimum grade point average to meet.

Related: What Is a Lawyer Salary? Plus 13 Law Careers to Explore

2. Accountant

National average salary: $3,808 per month

Primary duties: If you're an accountant, you may be responsible for supervising audits, advising clients about tax, conducting analysis on financial information and ensuring that the client's books are in good order. If accountancy is your academic degree, you may also wish to pursue a professional qualification to be a Chartered Accountant (CA) of Singapore. This postgraduate accountancy curriculum equips you with the skills to undertake tax preparation and financial planning tasks for your clients.

Related:

  • How to Become a Freelance Accountant

  • Accountancy Skills: Definition, Examples and How to Improve

3. Surgeon

National average salary: $7,623 per month

Primary duties: If you're a surgeon, you may perform highly complicated surgeries on patients. Their duties may include meeting with patients, performing surgeries and providing post-operation care plans. Doctors and surgeons comply with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), which is a statutory board under the Ministry of Health.

Related:

  • 19 Fascinating Careers in Science (With Salaries and Duties)

  • Medical Degrees: Definition, Specialisations and Benefits

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed.

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