Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate

Undergraduate vs Graduate

The difference between undergraduate and graduate is very easy to understand once you identify what each term stands for. The terms undergraduate and graduate are associated with higher studies. Undergraduate and graduate reflect the level at which a student is in his long and arduous journey to obtain the knowledge about a subject and also to carve out a career for himself in his chosen field of study. Normally, like in any other field, higher studies are a ladder where undergraduate courses come before graduate courses. As a result, one can go for master’s degree, which is a graduate degree programme, only after completing undergraduate courses. There are more differences between undergraduate and graduate courses that will be discussed in this article.

What does Undergraduate mean?

Courses at undergraduate level are usually taken after completing 10+2 level in most countries. These are called bachelor’s courses. These courses are classified as BSc, BA, etc. depending upon the subjects the student has taken up such as art subjects, science subjects, etc. Courses designed as undergraduate intend to provide knowledge in many subjects and are mostly academic in nature though science courses involve a lot of practical work done in laboratories. When a student is pursuing bachelor’s degree or the first degree, he is referred to as an undergraduate. So, the term undergraduate can be a reference to the course or the student who follows the course.

Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate

Princeton University offers undergraduate courses.

What is Graduate?

It is only after successful completion of undergraduate course known variously as BS, BSc, and BA, B.Tech, or BEng (bachelor of engineering) that a student can aspire to go for higher studies and enroll into a graduate course such as master’s degree programme. A bachelor’s degree is mostly of three to four years duration whereas graduate courses are of two years duration. Graduate courses are known as MA, MSc, MTech, MS, etc. It is only when a student completes his bachelor’s course and gets enrolment in a master’s degree course that he is referred to as a graduate student. The highest graduate degree that a student can follow is the doctoral degree. It involves research work too. Usually, you can study a doctoral degree only after you complete your master’s.

 Undergraduate vs Graduate

University of Columbia offers graduate courses.

What is the difference between Undergraduate and Graduate?

• Higher studies start with undergraduate courses and the next step in higher studies is graduate courses.

• One can go in for a graduate course only after successfully completing undergraduate courses.

• Undergraduate courses lay the basic foundation that is used as a foothold or springboard to pursue graduate courses later on.

• Undergraduate courses are of three years duration whereas graduate courses are of two years duration. Sometimes an undergraduate course can be more than three years.

• An undergraduate has to study several subjects in his chosen field of study while at graduate level in depth knowledge about a subject is provided.

• When a student is pursuing bachelor’s degree, he is referred to as an undergraduate. It is only when he completes his bachelor’s course that he is referred to as a graduate. After graduating and getting enrolled in a master’s degree course he is referred to as a graduate student.

• In general, those who wish quick employment prefer to stop after completing bachelor’s level degree course while those who wish to have a higher degree against their name so as to have better employment opportunities go for master’s degree courses. Higher studies do not end with master’s courses as those who wish to make teaching a profession need to complete their doctoral degree after graduation to become a lecturer and then professor in a college or a university.

• The previous achievement of an undergraduate is the secondary education. The previous achievement for a graduate can be a master’s (for someone following doctoral degree) or a bachelor’s (for someone following master’s degree).

• The lecturers guide the student more in undergraduate courses. However, when it comes to graduate courses, the student is expected to work more by himself or herself to achieve goals. Of course, a graduate can ask for help if there is a problem.

• Without undergraduate degree, one cannot go for a graduate degree.

So, an undergraduate becomes a graduate once he obtains his first degree, after completing the bachelor’s course. He becomes a graduate student when he starts to pursue a graduate degree. The conditions regarding each degree program can change from university to university.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Princeton University Chapel by Cocoloco (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Earl Hall, University of Columbia by  Urban (CC BY-SA 3.0)