Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate
What is the Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate
You may have heard these two terms tossed around in reference to college. It generally comes down to the type of program you are enrolled in. Programs are classified by the school as either being undergraduate or graduate programs. There are many reasons why there are distinctions between the programs, however, a main reason is eligibility to enroll as well as financial aid.
What is an Undergraduate Student?
An undergraduate student is someone seeking a certificate/license/credential or an undergraduate degree from a two- or four-year college. Some programs at a school may be classified as undergraduate programs, and they may not lead to a degree.
If you are pursuing an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, you are an undergraduate student. And here’s the thing, you could have a graduate degree, but if you go back to school to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree to get into another field, you would be considered an undergraduate student by your school.
Undergraduate programs are defined by your school. You could be enrolled in a non-degree program, which could lead to a certificate, license, or credential, or you could be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program.
Some common undergraduate non-degree programs include, massage therapist, HVAC training, CNA or certified nursing assistant. This is just a small list, there are many non-degree program options out there.
Types of Undergraduate Degrees
Undergraduate degrees can be broken down into two degree types: the associate degree and the bachelor’s degree.
Most associate degree programs take two years.
There are four types of associate degrees: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), and Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Applied in this sense refers to students who want to focus more on a specific career and trade. The general arts and science associate degrees are geared for students who want to continue their studies at a college or university to earn their bachelor’s degree, though both are transferrable to a four-year school.
If you are earning your associate degree with the goal of then earning a bachelor’s degree you can likely expect to transfer to a four-year university as an incoming junior.
A bachelor’s degree is a common degree students tend to choose. Bachelor’s degrees generally take between four to five years to finish and can be in a broad range of subjects covering math, science, art, language, history, psychology, marketing, etc.
Some students spend two years getting their associate degree before transferring to a college or university for their final two years in a bachelor’s degree program. The most common bachelor’s degrees you will encounter are the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and the Bachelor of Science (BS). According to the National Student Clearinghouse, on average it can take 5.1 academic years for a student to earn a bachelor’s degree.
What is a Graduate Student?
A graduate student already has a bachelor’s degree, and is seeking a master’s degree, doctoral degree, or professional degree. A graduate student is pursuing a degree above the undergraduate level and having an undergraduate is generally a required for the enrollment in a graduate program.
Types of Graduate Degrees
Graduate degrees include master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and professional degrees.
A master’s degree, much like a bachelor’s degree, is focused on a specific area of study. You can think of a master’s degree as the advanced version of a bachelor’s degree.
Whether or not to earn a master’s degree is generally dependent on what your ultimate career goal is. In some professions, such as aerospace engineering, a master’s degree will be more common or possibly required. For other professions a master’s degree may not be necessary but may qualify you for higher levels or more specialized type of employment opportunities.
Whereas academic degrees place an emphasis on research, professional degrees focus on preparing you to do the work required in a particular profession. Many professional degrees must be earned before you can practice in a given field, and there are several professional master’s degrees and professional doctoral degrees.
Some of the more common professional master’s degrees include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Architecture (MArch), and Master of Health Administration (MHA). On the other hand, popular professional doctoral degrees include, but are not limited to, the following: Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Juris Doctor (JD), Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).
Furthermore, many professional degree programs are terminal, meaning that there is no higher degree in the field. This may come as no surprise for some degrees like a JD or MD, but this is especially significant to note for some master’s degrees such as the MBA, MSW, MFA, MArch, and MHA. While you may encounter some universities that offer doctoral degrees in these fields, they aren’t generally required to work at the highest levels in the respective fields.
Academic Doctoral Degree
An academic doctoral degree is the ultimate college degree. Graduating from a doctoral degree program means that one has become an expert in their respective field, which makes sense considering that the majority of the doctoral program is research-focused. In academia, obtaining your doctorate means much more than being able to use Ph.D. after your name. Doctors of Philosophy tend to spend their time researching and/or teaching. If you dream of teaching at the university level or being a professor yourself one day, you will want to set your sights on an academic doctoral degree.
Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Study
There are myriad differences between undergraduate and graduate study. The student-to-teacher ratio, program length, course rigor, tuition costs, financial aid options, and earning potential only scratch the surface.
Your undergraduate studies are designed to help you obtain an entry-level position within the workforce, or perform at a professional level. They’ll also prepare you for a graduate program related to your major if you choose to pursue further education.
On the other hand, the purpose of graduate study is to become more of an expert in your field, or secure necessary degrees for certain occupations. If you are thinking about heading to graduate school one day, you will have to earn your bachelor’s degree first, preferably with an above average GPA. This is because you will need to apply to graduate school separately, just as you did for your undergraduate degree. The more competitive your grades, test scores, and so on, the better your chances of getting accepted.
The degree you pursue, your enrollment status, program requirements, etc., impact the amount of time it will take you to get through your program. Program length for undergraduate degrees tends to vary less than that of graduate degrees.
- Undergraduate non-degree programs typically take two or less academic years to complete
- Associate degrees normally take two academic years to complete
- Bachelor’s degrees normally take four academic years to complete, or two years for students already holding an associate degree (and can transfer credits)
Graduate degrees cover master’s degrees, professional degrees, and academic doctoral degrees, causing more variance in program length.
- Master’s degrees can take anywhere between one and three academic years to complete, but many programs can be completed after two years of full-time enrollment.
- Professional degrees may take between one to five academic years or more to complete, but additional training/residency or qualifying exams may hinder you from being able to practice in your profession immediately after earning your degree.
- Academic doctoral degrees can take between four to six academic years to complete, but it is not uncommon for students to take longer due to the arduous nature of these programs.
Cost of Tuition
Your tuition can fluctuate based on a variety of factors like your residency status, institution type (public or private), degree level, and more. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average total tuition, fees, and room and board rates for full-time students at two-year institutions in 2018-19 was $11,389 per year. For four-year institutions, the average cost for full-time undergraduates was $28,123 per year.
With graduate school comprising master’s degrees, professional degrees, and doctoral degrees, it’s not easy to state an average cost. Medical school students can pay at least $30,000 per year in tuition, students attending some of the top law schools in the nation can expect to pay at least $60,000 in tuition, and pharmacy students can anticipate possibly paying $30,000 or more each year in a top pharmacy program. As with undergraduate degrees, the cost of your graduate degree can be strongly impacted by your decision to attend a private or public institution and by your state residency status.
Potential Job Earnings and Unemployment
No matter where you are in your educational journey, you may want to consider the potential value of a college degree. A survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrated that there's a relationship between one's level of education, annual earnings, and unemployment.
|Degree||Median Annual Earnings||Unemployment Rate|
|Associate||About $46,000 per year||2.7%|
|Bachelor's||About $65,000 per year||2.2%|
|Master's||About $78,000 per year||2%|
|Professional||About $97,000 per year||1.6%|
|Doctoral||About $98,000 per year||1.1%|