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How to choose between a liberal or professional degree

22 September 2017
Get to know the types of courses available to you

Whether you’ve had your career path mapped out since childhood, or you’re convinced that your dream job doesn’t exist yet, we’re giving you the tools you need to future-proof your learning.

So you’ve put in the hard yards. Thirteen years of schooling is finally coming to an end and you’re on the homestretch… but where to next? You’re left with a decision: do you choose a professional degree that will lead you down a specific career path, or do you cultivate your passions with a flexible liberal degree and be prepared for a range of possibilities?

What is a liberal degree?

Liberal studies degrees are highly flexible degrees which allow you to pursue an area of your choosing from a broad range of disciplines, including across disciplines. Our liberal studies degrees are in Arts, Science, and Commerce, and there are several degrees offered with specialist streams such as media and communications or medical science, as well as with the combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies. These degrees expose you to a wide variety of ideas, giving you the opportunity to develop both generalist knowledge as well as disciplinary expertise through your major and minor (or double major). 

Liberal studies degrees can help you:

With over 100 major and minor subjects ranging from architecture, sociology and marketing to neuroscience, nutrition and software development, the possibilities of a liberal studies degree are endless. Being able to design your own course based on your personal interests could be an empowering step forward into the professional job market. By completing a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Advanced Studies, for example, you would gain essential knowledge in fundamental sciences without having to give up your interest in marketing. Expanding your education with a second field of study will prepare you for a range of opportunities in a variety of industries. The choice is completely yours. 

There’s a lot of pressure on school leavers to make significant decisions about your future. However, the idea that what you decide to study now will set your career path in stone isn’t necessarily true. In fact, many of our liberal degrees offer the flexibility you need to follow your interests and gain real world experiences. They are designed to prepare you for a versatile and agile career, so you can be ready for your dream job - and dream jobs to come - whatever they may be.

The combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies is an opportunity to enhance your degree - enabling you to graduate with two degrees in just four years. Not only will you have the flexibility to take majors from two different faculties, but the time within your degree to take full advantage of international exchange and real-world industry, community and research projects - including the option to complete advanced coursework or an honours year within your fourth year. These programs enable you to gain critical workplace experience and cultivate global perspectives, ensuring you’re prepared for a wide range of dynamic and challenging careers.

What is a professional degree?

Professional degrees are accredited degrees which lead to professional registration. These are generally much more structured in comparison to liberal degrees, often with compulsory placements which develop the knowledge and skillset necessary to prepare you for a career in a specific field and to gain registration with the industry’s accrediting body.

Professional degrees can help you:

You might already be confident that your interests and motivations match up with a specific career path, so you want to feel equally confident that your first steps out of school and into university are going to help you get there. A professional degree is a means to professional accreditation - so that the outcome of your study is that you are recognised and able to practice in a given industry. For the main, a professional degree encompasses specific core units of study that through completion will lead to this accreditation. This is where it differs from a specialist degree such as music or economics - as while these degrees have core units that need to be completed, the end result is not linked to a specific profession or accreditation. 

You may know you want to help people, to improve the way things work, to give voice to the people who might not have one etc, but maybe you don't know which degree you'd like to do. Combined with considering your strengths and interests, professional degrees can be a catalyst to help you pursue what you'd like to achieve through your career in a more defined way. That's not to say what professional degrees offer is always black and white, or that degree 'x' leads to, and only leads to, career 'y', but you might find that they offer you a course of action to get to where you want to go careerwise even in ways you may not have considered before. For example you may want to give a voice to people who can't speak for themselves through a law degree, but you could also do that with a speech pathology degree. You may want to help improve the quality of lives in impoverished areas by becoming a nurse for a humanitarian organisation, or by creating low-cost housing solutions with your architecture degree. Professional degrees, just like liberal degrees, can offer so much more than what appears at face value, and sometimes this may be helping you find the path to a broader outcome. 

Why not do both?

If you know you want to pursue your interests in greater depth while still developing professional expertise, you might consider combining a professional degree with a liberal studies degree. This pathway can prepare you for a wide-range range of careers by cultivating a diverse skillset and breadth of knowledge alongside a professionally accredited field. Combinations include combined law, combined engineering degrees, as well as double degree nursing. If the combination of your areas of interest with a professional degree aren't available at an undergraduate level, or you aren't competitive for admission, you may also consider pursuing a vocational postgraduate degree. These are typically a one to two year degree that require completion of an undergraduate degree. If this interests you, be sure to check the admission requirements of the postgraduate course in question as it may require a certain level of achievement or prerequisite knowledge. 

The bottom line

The first step to knowing whether a liberal or professional degree is for you is to assess your interests, your strengths and your motivations. So long as you follow those, you'll be on the right track, and if you decide this changes along the way - rest assured there is always a pathway to get to where you want to go and a future full of possibilities. 

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