Difference's Between Undergraduate and Graduate (Cost and Pay)

Undergraduate vs. graduate? What are the differences? You can pursue a variety of higher education options that will give you fundamental knowledge in an area of study and prepare you for your desired job. An undergraduate degree can provide you with broad knowledge and prepare you to work in a variety of professions. A graduate degree can test your present knowledge and help you become an expert in a certain subject.

Undergraduate vs. graduate study: key differences between undergraduate and graduate degrees

The main distinctions between undergraduate and graduate studies are as follows:

Undergraduate study in the United States refers to the period students spend getting a degree after graduating from high school. Graduate study in the United States refers to the time spent after obtaining a bachelor's degree by students seeking another, higher degree. The words "graduate" and "postgraduate" are used instead of "undergraduate" and "graduate" in other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Australia.

Types of degrees offered

Associate degree

A community college or technical school generally offers an associate degree as the first level of higher education. This degree allows students to study basic education subjects as well as a few specialty courses in fields relevant to their career aspirations. After finishing this degree type, you can work in a number of professions or continue your education at a four-year college or university. Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, and Associate of Applied Science is the most popular associate degrees.

Bachelor's degree

Bachelor's degrees, which are provided by four-year colleges and universities, are the second level of higher education. Students focus their studies by picking a major in a topic pertinent to their professional aspirations, even if general education classes are needed. The most popular form of a college degree is a bachelor's degree, which can enable you to enter the workforce as an entry-level employee or to continue your education at the graduate level. Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Applied Science are all examples of bachelor's degrees.

Master's degree

A master's degree is generally career-specific and focuses on a certain field of research. It can allow you to enter the workforce at a higher level or seek a doctorate. Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Business Administration, and Master of Fine Arts are the most popular master's degrees.

undergraduate vs graduate

Doctoral degree

A doctorate degree or "doctoral degree" is the highest level of education available. These degrees qualify graduates to be specialists in their disciplines. A Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., is an academic doctorate degree. These degrees are largely focused on research in a certain subject, and graduates are frequently hired as professors or researchers.

Professional degree

A professional degree is similar to a doctorate, however it is only necessary for certain professions. A Juris Doctor is required to practice law, a Doctor of Medicine is required to become a physician, a Doctor of Education is required for educational leadership roles, and a Doctor of Pharmacy is required to work in the pharmaceutical sector.

Admission requirements

You must have a high school diploma, GED, or other secondary education equivalent to join an undergraduate program. Specific admission criteria vary per institution or university, but they typically include standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT, a personal essay, letters of reference, and high school transcripts.

A bachelor's degree is required to enroll in a graduate program. In addition to undergraduate transcripts, graduate programs can need GRE standardized test results, writing samples, statements of philosophy or research ideas, and letters of recommendation.

Graduate school admission requirements:

Graduate school admissions requirements differ substantially from those for undergraduate programs. Graduate programs need completion of an undergraduate degree, whereas undergraduate programs require high school diplomas, GEDs, or other equivalents to secondary education.

Undergraduate programs often require the following:

  • SAT and/or ACT scores.
  • A personal essay.
  • Recommendation letters.
  • Transcripts from high school.

Graduate programs, on the other hand, are significantly more difficult to obtain.

Graduate programs frequently want to see the following things in addition to your bachelor's degree:

  • Scores on the GRE standardized test.
  • Writing samples.
  • Philosophical statements.
  • Research proposals.
  • Recommendation letters.
  • Transcripts from undergrad.

Length of study: differences between undergraduate and graduate programs

The length of time it takes to get a diploma depends on a variety of circumstances, including whether a student attends college part-time or full-time, moves schools, and changes majors. Because the curriculum is concentrated rather than broad and differs by the university, switching degrees or transferring to another school is significantly more difficult in a graduate environment.

  • An associate degree takes two years to finish on average.
  • A bachelor's degree typically takes four years to finish, or two years longer if you already have an associate degree when you start your bachelor's.
  • Graduate degrees take a long time to finish, depending on the program requirements and degree level.
  • Master's degrees typically take two years to finish, although certain programs might take as little as one year or as much as three years to complete.

Classwork and examinations for professional degrees might take three to four years to complete. Some schools, particularly those in the medical sector, need extra years to complete residencies or internships.


The number of credits or classes required for a full undergraduate course load varies by institution and program, but it is typically approximately 15 credits every semester or four to six classes. Many undergraduate courses include a range of writing assignments, projects, and other subject-specific duties, and many require students to pass an exam in order to receive credit. These students study a variety of courses, including the following:

General education subjects

Students study these courses before moving on to courses relating to their professional specializations, and they include a wide range of disciplines, with most programs requiring students to take English, history, science, and arithmetic.

Major subjects

Undergraduates are urged to choose a "major," or a subject or field in which to specialize. They enroll in classes that cover the subjects, situations, and experiences that are pertinent to their field of study. Some disciplines have overlapping general education requirements, while others, such as science, engineering, and business, need courses geared to specific professional goals.

Minor subjects

Students can personalize their degree program even further by choosing a "minor," a second, less rigorous concentration that permits them to take extra courses in a different subject. Some students choose minors that are closely connected to their professional routes, while others choose minors that are personally interesting to them.

undergraduate vs graduate

Graduate coursework

Graduate coursework is significantly more specialized and sophisticated than undergraduate coursework, and it usually follows a set of classes or specified subjects that the institution or program has set forth. Students generally take nine credits, or three or four classes, every semester, however, this varies by university and program. These students can take both comprehensive and course-specific examinations for their degrees. Large final projects, dissertations, portfolios, and other qualifying exit tasks are also options.

Classroom environment

The usual undergraduate and graduate teaching environments are vastly different. The following components can be encountered in the classroom by undergraduate students:

Larger class sizes in undergraduate classes

Class sizes differ from one school to the next and from one class to the next. Some undergraduate courses, such as those in the general education part of a degree program that every student must take, can admit more students for specific courses. Professors can be less able to provide customized attention to students with larger class numbers.

Lectures in undergraduate studies

Some classes are structured such that the professor leads the class while the students take notes and complete tasks on their own. Professors can urge students to engage and ask questions, but in other classes, students can work more closely with a teaching assistant who assists the professor in grading papers and conducting more customized small group sessions.

undergraduate vs graduate

Class discussions in graduate classes

While many instructors welcome student engagement in their classes, some are designed expressly for students to ask questions and debate class content, such as lectures and prescribed readings. Professors can provide more individualized attention in these classes.

Graduate degrees are less prevalent, which results in the following features in the classroom:

  • Advanced discussions: These courses are more participatory, with professors expecting students to be prepared, contribute to the learning, and apply material. They are also strongly focused on a certain area and of greater difficulty. The topics of discussion are determined by the content of the degree program, course, and the intellectual interests of the students.
  • Professor mentoring: Students frequently work closely with professors as mentors and meet with them when conducting research, developing portfolios, or pursuing independent study. Mentorships take place in normal classrooms as well.

Potential job earnings

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a higher education level corresponds with greater prospective employment wages. Because of thorough training, certain degrees allow you to work in more specialized sectors and earn more money on average. Some businesses can place a premium on education in their sector and offer greater salaries to people with advanced degrees. According to a study, the following is the average weekly salary by degree:

  • $836 for an associate's degree
  • $1,173 for a bachelor's degree
  • $1,401 for a master's degree
  • $1,743 for a doctorate
  • $1,836 for a professional degree

undergraduate vs graduate

Types of master's degrees

Below are the types of master's degrees graduate students can pursue.

Master of Arts

Students who complete a program in the humanities, arts, or social sciences are given an MA. English Literature, History, Communications, Linguistics, Music, and Art are just a handful of the undergraduate degrees that lead to a Master of Arts.

While it's difficult to generalize due to the wide range of MA programs, students generally complete a dissertation at the conclusion of their degree based on independent fieldwork, study, or a project of their own design.

Master of Science

Students who complete a program in a scientific subject are awarded an MS. Biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, and economics are all common undergraduate degrees for those pursuing a Master of Science.

Master of Business Administration

An MBA is a fantastic alternative if you want to advance in the corporate world. These programs are designed to equip students with the skills they need to succeed in leadership positions. Some programs need professional experience, so they're more focused on putting what you've learned in the classroom to use in the real world.

Masters of Social Work

An MSW is a necessary component for people who wish to start their own practice, undertake high-level research, or change macro-level policy. Those who are passionate about social work typically acquire an MSW while volunteering in their communities, allowing them to grow as they learn new skills and put them into practice.

Master of Education

If you want to advance in the educational field, whether it's to a position in administration, research, or policy development, earning a Master of Education degree is an excellent choice. You'll learn more about curriculum development, dealing with special needs kids, and administration.

Master of Fine Arts

Students who excel in the performing, visual, musical, or studio arts are granted MFAs. Assessment is often done by assessing your work over the course of several semesters, culminating in a big project. MFAs are available in a variety of fields, including filmmaking, acting, graphic design, and set design, to mention a few.

Tuition costs

Scholarships, grants, in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, whether classes are done online, and whether the institution is public or private all influence how much it costs to get a college degree. Before deciding on the degree of investment you want to make in your education, you should think about your future employment wages.

The average yearly undergraduate fees for 2015-2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, varied from $17,237 for public schools to $39,734 for private universities. The average yearly graduation fees for public institutions varied from $11,303 to $23,919 for private universities.

Undergraduate program tuition averages:

  • 2-year Associate degree: $3,500 or more per year.
  • 4-year Associate degree: $8,500 or more per year.
  • In-state Bachelor degree: $20,000 or more per year.
  • Out-of-state Bachelor degree: $30,000 or more per year.

Graduate program tuition averages:

  • Private school: $35,000 to $55,000 or more per year.
  • Public school: $25,000 to $35,000 or more per year.

undergraduate vs graduate

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author: patrick algrim
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Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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