Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate [Undergrad vs Grad]

Pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies is an investment in your personal development. It widens your knowledge, prepares you for the real-word, and helps advance your career. But what is the difference between them? Undergraduate vs. graduate – what are their differences?

An undergraduate study is a post-high school education program where you pursue a bachelor’s degree that usually takes four years to complete. On the other hand, a graduate study refers to pursuing a program or higher degree after completing your bachelor’s degree. 

Read on to learn more about the difference between graduate and undergraduate. 

What Is the Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate? 

difference between undergraduate and graduate

From the length of study to the coursework, undergraduate and graduate programs are different in many ways. The undergrad vs. grad table below summarizes these differences, followed by a more detailed discussion.

 UNDERGRADUATEGRADUATE
Degree Associate or Bachelor’s DegreeMaster’s or Doctoral Degree
Requirements High School diploma, SAT/ACT ScoresCollege Diploma, letter of recommendation, GRE Score 
Time Commitment Two to four years Two to nine years 
Cost CheaperMore Expensive 
Coursework Five to seven courses with 15 to 21 credits every semester Four courses with 12 credits every semester 
Class SizeBig Small 
Teaching Methods More structured More flexible 
Student Profile 18 to 22 years old, many are still supported by parents 33 years old, most are working and self-reliant 
Difficulty Less demanding More difficult 
Outlook The expected annual salary of $63,589 after graduation The expected annual salary of $71,639 after graduation

1. Degrees 

If you decide to pursue an undergraduate program, you can choose from two degrees – an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, if you’re enrolled in a graduate program, you can either have a master’s or doctoral degree. 

2. Requirements 

The admission requirements are also different depending on the degree that you will take. For undergrad programs, a high school diploma is a must-have. Plus, you must pass standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) test. Your scores from these exams will influence the school you will be getting in. 

Meanwhile, in a graduate degree, the most important requirement is completing a bachelor’s degree. Different schools will have different requirements. In most cases, it will include a specific Grade Point Average (GPA). Applicants must also take standardized tests and submit a letter of recommendation. You also need to submit your GRE test score. 

3. Time Commitment 

An undergraduate program will take two to four years to complete. On the other hand, a graduate program will take two to nine years to complete. The exact time commitment will vary depending on the degree or course and the school-specific requirements.

4. Cost 

Financial resources limit access to education. While there are scholarship programs and school grants, not everyone has access to such. 

In public in-state colleges, the average tuition in an undergraduate program is $9,687. Meanwhile, for a public out-of-state college, the average tuition is $21,184. If you opt to enroll in a private school, on the other hand, the cost is $35,087. 

More so, in a graduate school, the cost is at a minimum of $40,000 in private colleges and universities. This is more expensive than an undergraduate program. 

5. Coursework 

Coursework is more difficult in graduate courses. In an undergraduate degree, coursework includes passive lectures, textbooks, and essays. In contrast, you will need more research, presentations, and field experiences in a graduate program. 

Undergraduate students will have five to seven courses per semester with 15 to 21 credits, while graduate studies students take four courses in a semester with 12 credits.

6. Class Size 

Class size is typically bigger in an undergraduate program. After having a bachelor’s degree, many people opt to work instead of pursuing further studies. With this, graduate classes are often smaller. This is also a way to provide individualized attention to the students. 

An undergraduate class can have over a hundred students, especially in general subjects. In contrast, graduate classes usually have no more than 20 students. 

7. Teaching Methods 

difference between graduate and undergraduate

In an undergrad classroom, teaching methods are usually more structured. The teaching practices are almost similar to high school students. Most teachings include textbooks and lectures.

On the other hand, teaching methods in graduate school are more flexible. It involves a lot of research, presentations, and open discussions, instead of relying on books. 

8. Student Profile 

In the United States, most people start with an undergraduate study at 18 years old and end when they are 22 years old. On the other hand, students of graduate programs have an average age of 33 years old. 

Many undergrad students are still living with their parents and enjoying their financial support. Some may already be working, but most are only in part-time jobs. Meanwhile, graduate students are often more self-reliant as they often already have full-time jobs and better means to support themselves financially. 

9. Difficulty 

Graduate programs are more difficult than undergraduate studies. They require more comprehensive coursework, extensive research, and active participation. With this, you will need grit, intelligence, and perseverance to survive grad school’s demands. 

10. Outlook 

Education is an investment for a brighter future. Ultimately, people study with high hopes that it will yield maximum returns, especially from a financial perspective. 

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for holders of a bachelor’s degree is $63,589. Meanwhile, for those with a post-grad diploma, the average yearly salary is $71,639. 

However, the specific numbers will differ depending on the course, school, qualifications, and credentials. 

Watch the short video below to learn more about the difference between graduate and undergraduate. 

So undergrad vs. grad- what is the difference between them? An undergraduate study is a post-high school education bachelor’s degree program that usually takes four years to complete. A graduate study refers to pursuing a program or higher degree after completing your bachelor’s degree. 

What Is an Undergraduate Program? 

An undergraduate program refers to a standard college education. This is what people pursue after high school. 

Associate vs Bachelor’s Degree

An associate degree is a perfect option for people who want to continue studying after high school without a long-term commitment. It takes two years to complete this degree. You can take it in technical schools and community colleges.

With an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science program, students are preparing to enter a four-year college. There is also an Associate of Applied Science program that prepares immediately for work instead of further studies. 

Meanwhile, a bachelor’s degree takes four years or longer to complete. With this program, you’re required to take general education courses and core curriculum requirements. The first two years include more general studies, while the last two years are often more specific to a chosen degree. 

You can take to bachelor programs. The first is Bachelor of Arts, which focuses on fine arts, humanities, and social sciences. Meanwhile, the second is a Bachelor of Science, which focuses on science, engineering, business, and mathematics. 

The Best Undergraduate Programs

undergrad vs grad

Thinking of the best undergraduate program to pursue? Below are some of your best choices. 

1. Petroleum Engineering 

From transport to energy, a petroleum engineer can work in different sectors. Students with this major can earn a mid-career average salary of $183,600. It is also great preparation for those who would like to venture into research and development concerning energy analysis. 

2. Pharmacology 

A study of drugs and interactions, this is one of the highest-paying college majors today. From pharmaceutical laboratories to hospitals, you can work in different environments. Projections show an increase in the employment rate of up to 25%. The median salary, on the other hand, is $105,000. 

3. Physician Assistant Studies 

For those who do not have the luxury of time to take a four-year college course, pursuing an associate degree is a great alternative. While you can take several courses, one of the most promising is physician assistant studies. This is a rigorous medical science program that requires a study of human anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry, and microbiology, among others. 

4. Computer Engineering 

With a median starting salary of $69,300, this is one of the highest-paying college majors for new employees. This program combines the fundamentals of computer science and electrical engineering. More so, the subjects you will take include operating systems, software design data structures, and data communications. 

5. Business Analytics 

The highest-paying undergraduate programs are dominated by courses in science, technology, engineering, and math. On the other hand, for business-minded people, a degree in business analytics can be rewarding, which has an annual salary of $129,800 on average. 

What Is a Graduate Program? 

Once you are done with your undergraduate study, you will be taking a graduate program to pursue higher education. 

Master’s vs Doctoral Degree 

To take a master’s degree, you need to complete a bachelor’s degree. If you are studying full-time, you can complete this program within two years. A thesis is one of the major requirements, although there are also non-thesis programs. 

Before taking a doctorate, you need to have a master’s degree. It takes five to nine years to complete, depending on the specific course, school, and requirements. This is also an advanced study that requires passing comprehensive exams and a dissertation.

The Best Graduate Programs

If you want to pursue further studies after your bachelor’s degree, below are some of the best graduate programs that are worth considering. 

1. Master of Business Administration 

With a median salary of $115,000, this is the most coveted graduate program. One reason for this is the diverse job opportunities you can take advantage of, including being an IT Manager, Marketing Manager, Business Operations Manager, and Sales Manager. 

2. Master of Science in Nursing 

If you plan to pursue a graduate program in the medical field, this is an excellent option. A good job you can land with this degree would be a nurse anesthetist. It has a median salary of $167,950 and will grow by 17% in 2028. This growth is faster than the average, presenting a better job outlook. 

3. Master of Engineering Management 

For those with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, pursuing further studies is an excellent way to land a leadership role. You can become an Architectural and Engineering Manager with a median salary of $144,830, although its growth is only 3% by 2028, which is slower than the average. 

4. Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering 

A petroleum engineering degree is amongst the highest-paying undergraduate programs. If you want to earn even more, take a master’s program, and you can have a median salary of up to $137,720. Your studies will focus on gas and oil, including extraction methods. 

5. Master of Science in Finance 

With job outlooks, including being a financial manager and financial advisor, this is another potentially rewarding graduate degree. As a financial manager, you can have a median annual salary of up to $129,890. 

Conclusion – Difference Between Graduate and Undergraduate

What is the difference between undergraduate and graduate? It has to do with a lot of things, including the following: 

  • Degree: With an undergraduate study, you will have either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, with a graduate program, you will have a master’s or doctoral degree. 
  • Requirements: You need a high school diploma to start undergraduate study while having a bachelor’s degree before a graduate program. 
  • Time Commitment: It takes two to four years to finish an undergraduate study. On the other hand, it takes two to nine years to finish a graduate study. 
  • Cost: Overall, it is cheaper to enroll in an undergraduate program. 
  • Coursework: You will take more courses and credits in undergraduate study. 
  • Class Size: An undergraduate program has more students compared to a graduate program. 
  • Teaching Methods: In an undergraduate school, teaching methods are more structured, usually based on textbooks and lectures. Meanwhile, in a graduate school, teaching methods are more flexible, usually involving research and presentations. 
  • Student Profile: Undergraduate students are 18 to 22 years old, most of which are still dependent on their parents, and some are working full time. On the other hand, graduate students are 33 years old, with many already working full-time. 
  • Difficulty: With more comprehensive courses and extensive research, graduate programs are more difficult. 
  • Outlook: Looking at the numbers, those with a graduate degree earn more than those who have an undergraduate program.