The Difference Between Graduate and Undergraduate Degrees: 10 Things That Matter


While both achieve the same goal, to prepare you for something new, and to push your academics further, graduate and undergraduate studies have some very important differences. Most notably, they both have very different possible outcomes, have varying levels of difficulty and commitment, and students’ reasoning for entering programs will vary quite a bit. Some of these are minor, but some matter quite a bit. Read on to learn all about degree levels and the difference between graduate and undergraduate studies.



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10 Differences Between Graduate and Undergraduate School that Matter


1. Time Commitment


One of the first things you will realize as a grad student, is where did your life go? In undergraduate school, there is time to split between sports, social activities, volunteering, the list goes on. You’re always busy, but it might not always be school-related.


In graduate school, it can seem like you are always working on school-related tasks, but at least they will be interesting tasks! You’ve thought long and hard about going to graduate school, therefore it’s likely that you are studying something that you love, so the extra time commitment won’t seem so bad. Finally, graduate courses are much more research intense, so the work you do will inevitably take more time. But at least you are working towards something for you as well.



2. Professor-Student Relationship


The relationships between you and your professors are likely to be different than when you were an undergrad. As an undergraduate, you might find yourself in a class of over 300 students! Graduate courses are much more intimate, including online degrees.


Professors can also be more invested in their graduate students, especially if you are doing research together. Make that relationship work for you — learn all you can from your professors, and don’t forget to network towards the end of your studies. You never know who might be a great connection for a job.



3. Entrance Requirements


Requirements to get into graduate school are very different from that of undergraduate school. All undergraduate programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, and graduate programs require undergraduate degrees.


When it comes to standardized testing, requirements also change. To get into most undergraduate programs, especially four-year institutions, standardized tests are usually needed. For graduate school, the same might be true, but you will also find variance on which tests are required depending on the program. Some schools, such as University of the People, do not require entrance exams at all! See here what requirements you’d need in order to study at UoPeople.


Letters of recommendation will vary by school and program but are much more common for graduate school. Most public, four-year universities will not require recommendations for undergrad applications.



4. Post Grad Opportunities


Now here’s a difference between graduate and undergraduate that really matters: What you will do after. Both can lead to further education — undergrad degrees lead to graduate programs, and from there, you can complete post-graduate education such as a PhD.


School programs aside, the doors are much more open if you have completed a graduate degree. You are likely to get paid more with a graduate degree, and more management and upper level positions will be open to you, compared to applicants with undergraduate education.



5. Research


Graduate school is all about research. And while it is still possible to find research opportunities in undergrad, they are seen more as side projects or extracurriculars, instead of a culmination of your graduate education.


In your graduate studies, you will also have opportunities to research something that really matters to you, whereas in undergrad, you might have less of a say in research content.



6. Course Content


Course content as well as course structure is different in graduate school. Content and material is likely to be more challenging in graduate courses. You will also be expected to produce more materials such as papers, presentations, projects, and discussions during your graduate courses when compared to undergraduate courses that may rely on textbooks and passive lectures.



7. Evaluation


How you are graded will depend on programs and schools regardless of graduate or undergraduate status, but there are still some important differences between the two. First of all, when it comes to curving grades, or adjusting grades based on the class’ performance, undergraduate courses are much more likely to implement it. Here’s a little known fact — you can’t graduate with honors in graduate school!



8. Change of Majors


In your undergraduate studies, a change of majors requires little more than a trip and a form signature from an academic counselor. It might mean taking a few extra classes than anticipated, but it is still relatively easy to. In graduate school, however, changing majors or study tracks is extremely difficult because you are admitted into your program as part of the application process.



9. Older & Wiser?


Graduate students already know the ropes. They have learned their best study habits, the subjects they do well on, and the ones they may need extra help in, compared to undergraduate students, who may need some adjustment period to get used to higher education.


Graduate students might, however, also have spent considerable time away from school and may need extra help getting back in the mindset of studying, while undergrad students often come straight from high school and are ready to learn.



10. Interactive Classes


Undergrad classes might be all about reviewing materials, turning in assignments and taking exams. This isn’t always the case, but it is much more likely when compared to graduate school, where classes might have more discussions, require more participation and project-based assignments.



The Undergraduate vs Graduate Student


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Undergrads are usually younger and full of energy. They are likely using a degree to find out what they want to do, take the next step in life, and have a fun social atmosphere. Graduate students have a different outlook. Some will have more work experience, and all have more school experience. Grad students may already have established their lives, families, and social groups and are more looking to school for just academics.



How Hard is Graduate School Compared to Undergraduate?

It’s harder! We can’t lie to you — graduate school is another ball game when it comes to academics. There is much more of an expectation to use your mind to make inferences and intelligent contributions to your work, compared to recall and memory exercises in undergrad. Graduate school requires much more applied skills and knowledge, and be prepared for a larger time commitment for graduate courses.


Admissions requirements can be harder as well for graduate school. While you might not be required to take a standardized test, if you do, the GMAT and the GRE are much more challenging than undergrad entrance exams.


You may also be asked to submit a portfolio for graduate school admissions, which takes lots of time and effort. On the positive side, however, you will get to show your best work and explain in your own way what makes you a great candidate, instead of relying on test scores.



What is an Undergraduate Student?

Undergraduate studies include Associate’s degrees, such as University of the People’s Associate’s in Health Studies, Associate’s in Computer Science, and Associate’s in Business Administration. Associate’s degrees are shorter and can offer an introduction into a field.


Bachelor’s degrees are also undergraduate programs. There are several types of Bachelor’s degrees, including Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Fine Arts. University of the People offers three Bachelor of Science degrees in Health Studies, Computer Science, and Business Administration.



What is a Graduate Student?


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Graduate studies include Master’s degrees such as Master of Art, Master of Education, Master of Science, Master in Business Administration, Master in Social Work, Master in Fine Arts, and Master in Law (LLM).


University of the People offers flexible online graduate degree programs in Education (M.Ed) and Business (MBA).


Doctorate students are also graduate students. The most common types of degrees you can earn post graduate are PhD, Doctor of Law, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Doctor of Medicine.


All in all, while there are many very important differences between undergraduate and graduate school, both have amazing pluses and incredible, yet different, opportunities from each one.



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