Although they may seem similar, the terms undergraduate and graduate are each linked to different facets of university education.
Let’s start with the basics: An undergraduate degree is a series of higher-level studies culminating in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, a graduate degree is any study after the undergraduate degree that trains professionals at a specialized level. An undergraduate degree is a prerequisite for a graduate degree.
If you are about to pursue your undergraduate degree, or better yet, start your graduate degree, you should be clear about the differences before you take on the challenge. Let’s look at what an undergraduate degree is, what this training consists of, and the main differences between an undergraduate and a graduate degree.
What are undergraduate programs?
Simply put, an undergraduate degree is your first step in higher education. This degree qualifies you as a professional in a particular career with a specialized focus.
Undergraduate education begins once students finish high school and start working towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Students can take their first two years to explore different majors and fulfill general education requirements in subjects like math, science, and humanities during undergrad.
By their third year, students will choose a major or two to focus on and may even add a minor. A minor offers a brief overview of an area of study and can be an excellent way to build their ideal course of study.
For example, a student interested in an international relations degree may add a minor in Arabic or Spanish. Alternatively, a student may consider majoring in journalism and political science to become a political journalist.
In general, undergraduate study usually lasts around four to five years, depending on the degree program. To graduate, students must pass a predetermined course plan for their major and complete a minimum number of credits. In general, students who want to graduate with distinction must earn at least a 3.5 GPA and complete a thesis.
What is a graduate degree?
A graduate degree refers to specialized studies completed after an undergraduate degree. The degrees associated with the graduate level are the master’s degree, doctoral degree, and professional degree.
Generally, these degrees offer a high degree of specialization in a more specific discipline than an undergraduate degree and also have a clear professional outcome. It is typical at the graduate level to perform your research culminating in a thesis for an academic track or to complete a capstone project for a professional track.
Now that we know a little about each one, let’s dive into their differences in greater detail:
Graduate academic programs are usually much more expensive than undergraduate ones because the teaching is more specialized. In addition, with a graduate degree, you will obtain better opportunities in your career.
Finally, undergraduate programs give you a more general overview of your career.
Meanwhile, a graduate degree follows a specific path that will allow you to become a specialist in a particular subject.
Differences between undergraduate and graduate
Many students wonder about the main differences between an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Graduate studies refer to the last phase of student life at the end of the university career. In summary, we can say that the main differences between these two degrees are:
- An undergraduate degree is the beginning of higher education, and a graduate degree is the highest level of education possible.
- Undergraduate studies provide general knowledge and may also provide an overview of a future profession depending on your major.
- Graduate studies are specializations in certain areas that strengthen your professional profile.
- Completing graduate studies opens up more job opportunities. A master’s or doctoral degree carries much more weight on a resume than just an undergraduate degree.
- To access a master’s degree, students must complete their undergraduate studies.
- It takes four years (or eight semesters) to complete undergraduate studies. In contrast, a graduate degree varies from six months for a graduate certificate to seven years for a doctoral degree.
- In graduate studies, attendance is not always essential. In fact, in the last phase of the program, students work on their thesis and generally do not attend classes to dedicate themselves to their research.
Until a few years ago, attending in-person classes for a degree program was typical. However, more universities, like Everglades University, have offered online undergraduate and master’s degrees in recent years. These programs allow students to receive an education from anywhere and provide greater flexibility to balance education with work or other personal responsibilities.