Difference between undergraduate and graduate

Learn the differences between graduate and undergraduate degree. The undergraduate program comprises of Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees, whereas the graduate program comprises of Master's Degrees. Continue reading to know which is best for you.

Updated by Kashish C on 29th October 2019

In the United States, you may hear people saying Undergraduate and Graduate when it comes to college programs yet many are confused as to what they actually mean. Here we’ll talk about the similarities and the differences between an Undergraduate and a Graduate degree.

In a nutshell, after finishing high school and getting a high school diploma people usually join college to get an undergraduate degree of their choice, once they get an undergraduate degree they either get a job or they study further to get a Graduate degree. 

A person who has an undergraduate degree is called a graduate and a person who has already has received one degree and is studying for another will be called a post-graduate student.

Undergraduate degrees are offered at Associate and bachelor's levels and the graduate degree is offered at Masters and Doctoral level. 

Section

Undergraduate 

Graduate 

Requirements 

High school diploma or GED

Undergraduate degree

Types 

Bachelors and Associate 

Masters and Doctoral

Age at time of enrollment 

17-20

21 and above 

Program length

2 years for Associate and 4 years for Bachelors

2 years for Masters and 4+ for Doctoral

What is an Undergraduate degree?

An Undergraduate degree is for people who have graduated high school and who want to study further in an area of their choice such as Music, Psychology, Accounting, Law and more. 

Undergraduate degrees will provide technical, vocational, practical and theoretical knowledge of the subject that will help students good jobs in their field of interest with ease.

Undergraduate degrees are of two types: Associate and Bachelors. Under that, there are several degrees such as 

  • BA - Bachelor of Arts
  • BSc -Bachelor of Science
  • AA-  Associate of Arts
  • AFA- Associate of Fine Arts

Associate 

Associate degrees can be earned in 2 years and the students can continue their education further by doing a Bachelors course or apply for jobs that require more than just a high school diploma and skills that you can gain from an Associate degree. 

Bachelors

A Bachelors degree is an undergraduate degree can be earned in 4 years and has a higher level of qualification and more knowledge when compared to an Associate degree. You can specialize in any area through a bachelor's degree. Some of the common choices are Nursing, Media Studies, Law. 

Some colleges even give you the choice to transfer credits that you earned from your Associate degree to shorten the amount to credits your bachelor's degree would require along with the amount of time it would take for you to complete your Bachelor's degree. The total number of credits that a Bachelors's degree usually has is 120 and an Associate degree has 60 credits.

You can earn your undergraduate degree online and offline on campus through a community or a private college. Colleges/Universities offering Undergraduate Degrees

  • Colorado State University

  • Ottawa University

  • Southern Technical College 

  • Capella University

  • Liberty University

Find out more: What is an Undergraduate Degree?

What is a Graduate degree?

A graduate degree is earned once you have built a strong foundation through your Undergraduate degree. A graduate degree is more specialized than an undergraduate degree. For example, a person can study Dentistry at an undergraduate level and then specialize in Pediatric dentistry at the graduate level to become a Pediatric dentist that is known for treating children. 

A graduate is any degree earned after having earned a bachelor's degree as more advanced than a Bachelor’s degree such as Masters, PhDs and even certification level programs.

Masters 

Masters usually require 2 years to complete and can be completed in any area of study after Bachelors. Most students these days study to earn a Masters degree as it pays more than a Bachelors. Some of the degrees offered under Masters are

  • Masters of Arts
  • Masters of Science 
  • Masters of Applied Arts.

Ph.D. or Doctoral

A Ph.D. is the highest level of academic credential that you can hold in a particular area of specialization such as history, chemistry, and many more endless options. It is most valued and will earn you the most amount of money.

A Ph.D. can take a longer time to complete than any other degree. On average students take around 8 years to earn a Ph.D. as they work and earn a Ph.D. at the same time.

You can earn your Graduate degree online and offline on campus through a community or a private college. Colleges offering Graduate Degrees

  • George Washington University

  • Strayer University  

  • Queens University of Charlotte

  • Lewis University

  • West Virginia University

Learn more: What is a Graduate Degree?

Difference between Undergraduate and Graduate degree

An undergraduate degree is earned right after completing high school usually at the age of 18 students. An undergraduate degree will help you gain basic knowledge of the subject that you choose to specialize in. 

A graduate degree is earned after an undergraduate degree as it has a higher level of specialization. People usually pursue graduate degrees at the age of 21 and above, some people even work for a few years and then go back to college to pursue a graduate degree.

Graduate degrees are more specialized than undergraduate degrees hence Graduate degrees are valued more and in some professions, it’s important to have a master's degree such as Psychiatrists and other medical professions.

In graduate programs such as PhDs, people work closely with the professors as compared to undergraduate programs as Ph.D. programs often include a thesis that requires more one on one interaction.

One usually compares bachelors vs masters because Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Art sounds the same, but you can’t directly compare both as both of them are offered at different levels as having an Undergraduate degree is one of the prerequisites to get a Graduate degree.

Associate and Masters degrees both require 2 years but you still can’t compare them as they are offered at two different levels as well. You can only enroll for a master's degree once you have a Bachelors degree and for an Associate degree, you can enroll after completing your high school. Moreover, both of them have two different levels of specialization and difficulty to be directly compared to each other.

So the actual question is if you should continue studying to get a Graduate degree once you have earned your undergraduate degree. It's actually a matter of personal choice and it also depends on the subject you studied at an Undergraduate level like for example people usually don’t study further in subjects like Accounting, Filmmaking, and Music where practical experience is more important but for subjects like Psychology you need a Graduate degree to be certified as a Psychologist and earn a living.

Conclusion

In many fields, if you want a better job and better opportunities pursuing a graduate degree is a must. But mostly it is a matter of personal choice whether one wants to go for a graduate degree or not. As some people think that the time they would take to complete a graduate degree they can gain more experience in the real world and that is the real learning. Thus, it is just a decision that one has to make, keeping in mind their future endeavors.