What is a Professional Student?

The term “professional student” has two distinct meanings. A professional student, in one sense, is a student pursuing a degree, usually at the graduate level, that leads to a specific profession. Professional students, for example, are those in medical school, law school, or nursing school.

The term is more commonly used in slang to refer to students who stay in school past their fourth year, when most students are expected to graduate. Professional students may choose to stay at the senior level for a number of years instead of continuing on to graduate school, and are referred to as superseniors. They usually haven’t graduated because they didn’t meet one or more of the graduation requirements.

A situation like this could arise if a student decides to change majors in his or her third or fourth year of college. Changing one’s major and being accepted into another “school” at a university may entail a significant increase in the number of classes and training required. This could allow the student to stay in school for an additional two to three years. A professional student might enroll in an additional year of elective courses to gain a deeper understanding of their field.

Due to the high cost of college, some students will continue to attend at least half-time in order to defer their student loans. Many student loans and, in some cases, interest accrual can be deferred a student who works while still taking two classes per semester. Continuing to attend college may be far less expensive than attempting to repay large loans. Of course, if a person continues to take out loans while attending college as a professional student, the debt problem will only get worse.

If a professional student is attempting to complete double or triple majors at a school, completing degree requirements may take a long time. Junior and senior requirements for each major typically account for 70-90 percent of junior and senior classes, and it is unlikely that students will be able to complete degree requirements for more than one major in two upper class years. A four-year college degree with multiple majors may require four to six years of upper-division work to complete.

The professional student is occasionally a person who does not want to leave the university setting. They may take a variety of unrelated classes instead of fulfilling graduation requirements. They might enjoy the intellectual stimulation of a university setting and not want to leave it for the workplace. Because students are expected to graduate from college after four to five years of work, this can pose a problem for universities. Staying in college causes problems for incoming students because it frees up class space for those who want to finish their requirements and move on.

Some colleges try to discourage the last type of professional student imposing time limits on college attendance or on the amount of time allowed to graduate. In order to continue as a professional student, the true master of staying in university may switch majors or colleges at this point.