Difference Between Undergraduate, Graduate and Postgraduate

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As a high school student, you’ve probably started thinking about college. Maybe you even started to do research and narrow down your options. You may have come across the following terms: undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degrees.

So, what is the difference between undergraduate and graduate and postgraduate?

Read on to learn more! 

What is an undergraduate degree?

After students finish high school, they get an undergraduate degree. An undergraduate degree refers to either a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree. When people talk about going to college or university, they are talking about getting an undergraduate degree.

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How many years is an undergraduate degree?

There are two levels of undergraduate degrees: associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. An associate degree requires 2 years to complete, and typically is earned at a community college. A bachelor’s degree requires completion of four years of study.

Students interested in earning a bachelor’s degree can either complete their entire degree at a four-year college or university OR they can attend a community college for their first two years, and then transfer to a university for their final two years.

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What is a graduate degree?

After a student gets their undergraduate degree, they have two options. They may either get a job or continue with their studies. If they choose to continue with their studies, they pursue a graduate degree.

A graduate degree is any degree that is above a bachelor’s degree. This includes a master’s degree or doctoral degree. Master’s degrees take around 2-3 years to complete. Doctoral degrees take around 5-6 years.

Graduate degrees are typically more narrowly-focused than an undergraduate degree. This enables students to dive more deeply into their specific career interest, gaining the knowledge and expertise needed in their chosen field. Oftentimes, a student must have a graduate degree to get a job. Somebody seeking a career as a clinical social worker, must have their Master’s of Social Work.

You don’t have to get a graduate degree right after you finish your undergraduate degree. Many students take a break after their undergraduate degree and decide to work or travel instead. It’s common to see mature students in their late 20s and 30s (and even older) who decide to go back to school to get a graduate degree later in life.

To get accepted into graduate school, you must have a bachelor’s degree. This means that you must graduate from a 4-year undergraduate college or university. A student can only pursue a graduate degree if they already have a bachelor’s degree.

What is a postgraduate degree?

Students get confused with the term “postgraduate degree.” There actually isn’t a real difference between the two. Postgraduate is used interchangeably with graduate. Like a graduate degree, postgraduate refers to the range of higher degrees past the undergraduate degree. This includes both master’s degrees and Phds.

Difference between undergraduate and graduate and postgraduate

Undergraduate degree programs and graduate degree programs are very different from one another. Undergraduate programs help students gain basic knowledge in a major, or even in a few majors. Students must take a variety of courses, and not only courses relating to their major. They usually spend the first few years fulfilling general course requirements.  

Graduate programs are very different. You go to graduate school to learn something very specific. So, all the courses you take relate to your field of study.

Another big difference between the two is switching majors. In undergraduate programs, students aren’t always sure what they want to major in. Even if they choose a specific major, they may end up changing it. Undergraduate programs allow students to switch majors. It is also fairly easy to transfer to another school for any given reason.

Because graduate programs are so specific, it’s not easy to switch your field of study. You would have to fulfill new requirements and go through the application process all over again.

Another big difference is class size. Undergraduate classes tend to be much larger than graduate classes. In graduate programs, class sizes are much smaller.

Because of the difference in class size, teacher-student interaction also differs. In undergraduate programs, there isn’t much room to interact with your professors. There are also fewer opportunities to participate in class.

Graduate programs are more intimate and thus, more dynamic. Students have more opportunities to participate in class discussions. They also have more opportunities to work with their professors.

To get accepted into an undergraduate program, students must take the SAT or ACT. Other requirements include a minimum GPA, letters of recommendation and personal statements. Colleges and universities all have their own requirements.

Many graduate programs require students to take an entrance exam such as the GRE, or specialized entrance exams for law school or medical school. Not all graduate programs require an entrance exam, so be sure to check the requirements for the program you are applying for.

Graduate programs also typically require that certain undergraduate classes be completed prior to applying, so you’ll want to check to be sure that you have completed any required courses. Sometimes graduate programs will allow you to complete missing prerequisites while enrolled in your graduate degree program.  

Final thoughts

Whether you have already started your bachelor’s degree or you’re still in high school, it’s nice to get an idea of what your options are. This can help you plan the classes you want to take in college or university and make the most of your degree.


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