A terminal degree is a university degree that can signify one of two outcomes. In some cases, it is the highest degree that can be awarded in a specific academic or professional track. In other cases, it is a degree that is awarded when a candidate completes a certain amount of coursework but does not go on to doctoral work. Some students enroll in a terminal Master's program with the goal of preparing to enter a PhD program. For certain professions and research grants it means the lowest degree to be considered qualified.
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An earned academic (or research) doctorate such as a Ph.D. is considered the terminal degree in most academic fields, as well as the most advanced degree possible, advancing the boundaries of human knowledge through research and dissertation defense, in the United States. However, professional doctorates may be considered terminal degrees within the professional degree track, even though they are prerequisites for research degrees, for example, "Doctor" of Medicine (MD) or Jurisprudence (JD or Juris Doctor). The phrase "terminal degree" is used heavily in the United States, but is used less in other countries. The term is not generally used in the United Kingdom or Canada, for example, and its exact meaning varies somewhat between those areas and disciplines in which the term is used. In some countries there are degrees which are more advanced than the PhD, such as the higher doctorates in the United Kingdom and Russia, and the habilitation degree awarded in Germany and Austria.
Not all terminal degrees are doctorates. For example, in professional practice fields there are often terminal master-level degrees, some which are called doctorates e.g. MEng (Master of Engineering), MLArch standing for Master Landscape Architect or BEng for Engineers, MB (Bachelor of Medicine - UK). Architecture was a discipline where the M.Arch was considered terminal as a professionally oriented degree, but a Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch) that is recognized by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) establishes the Doctoral level as the highest level of "professional degree" in Architecture in the United States. For the same discipline of Architecture, the "Laurea di Dottore" is the terminal degree in Italy. Interior design and Interior Architecture have terminal master-level degrees such as MID, MA, MS Interior design education. Most non-doctoral degrees are not terminal in academic terms, with the exception of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The MFA is an academically recognized terminal degree and is given to practitioners in the fine arts and performing arts. The MBA, and the MAT are also considered terminal professional degrees.