undergraduate vs. graduate degree

The Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Education

Whether you’re working towards your undergraduate degree or have long since graduated, it’s likely that at some point you’ve thought about graduate school. Graduate school can be a great investment for students, enabling the opportunity to pursue specializations, advance one’s career, and build a professional network. However, like many, you may feel reluctant to take the plunge into graduate school. Will you be able to commit to another degree and its requirements? How will this differ from your experience as an undergraduate, and what can you expect?

No matter your situation, it’s important to discern the differences between undergraduate and graduate education before applying to graduate school. On the surface, the two differ in obvious ways. An undergraduate degree is a two- to four-year commitment, while a master’s degree can take only one or two years to complete. An undergraduate degree can be begun without a clear major in mind, while a graduate degree is heavily focused on professional study. However, there are far more differences between these two educational pathways.

Read on to learn more about undergraduate vs. graduate degree programs.

The Value of Graduate School

Undergraduate and graduate education differ in the ways in which each prepares students for a career. Undergraduate degrees allow students to qualify for entry-level jobs. By contrast, graduate study prepares students for career advancement and increases their marketability in applying for jobs. Additionally, students who hold a graduate degree may find that they earn, overall, a higher salary than peers who only hold an undergraduate degree. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that “the more you learn, the more you earn.” According to Indeed, earnings from bachelor’s level education to master’s degree level increase, on average, by a notable 20%. The median income for master’s degree holders is $77,844 annually, while the average salary of bachelor’s degree holders is $64,896 per year.

Undergraduate vs. Graduate Admissions Requirements

One of the key ways in which graduate study can differ from an undergraduate degree is the admissions process. Undergraduate admissions frequently require students to submit high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and SAT or ACT scores. (At University of Bridgeport, SAT/ACT scores are optional.) Students do not need to select their major right away, and can submit their application through the Common Application.

By contrast, graduate admissions are more involved. Graduate applicants are frequently required to submit undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume. . They may also be required to complete an interview screening process, depending on their program. Additionally, graduate school applicants must apply directly to their specific program of interest (for example, Psychology or Biology), meaning they have certain career goals in mind.

Undergraduate vs. Graduate Coursework

Another way in which undergraduate and graduate education differs is the way in which classes are presented and taken. Undergraduate students may take upwards of five classes per semester. These classes may be introductory or survey classes and typically require more homework (but less research and writing) than graduate level classes. Graduate students may take fewer classes per semester, but these classes tend to be more comprehensive in approach. Graduate students will be required to complete more reading and research. There may be fewer exams; however, the exams that students do complete will require them to demonstrate a far-reaching understanding of the subject material.

Graduate level classes also tend to be more niche in their topics, requiring students to become experts in specific areas of their program of study. For example, a graduate-level student in the field of Mechanical Engineering might take classes in Advanced Heat Transfer or Applied Thermodynamics. The benefit of this kind of coursework is that it prepares students for their future careers. This career-oriented approach to education trains graduates to become experts in their field. In contrast, undergraduate degrees often include general education requirements in combination with core major classes. This means undergraduate students often spend time fulfilling courses in English, mathematics, science, and communications, before diving into the career-focused classes. A graduate degree program is more focused in this regard, designed for students to fully enhance their skill sets in their dedicated field.

Differences in Work-School-Life Balance

As you consider graduate school, you may be wondering about your ability to commit to another degree program. Pursuing an undergraduate degree is (or was) a big time commitment. Now, as an adult, you will need to figure out how to balance graduate school with other obligations. Like many, you may plan to work either part- or full-time while attending graduate school. You may have children to care for. How can you strike a balance between work, school, and life at home?

Fortunately, this is another area where graduate school and undergraduate programs differ. Many graduate programs recognize that students are at a new phase of life, and require a balance between their studies and responsibilities outside of school. Depending on your program of interest, you may find that there are flexible scheduling options, accelerated formats, online offerings, and even different start dates throughout the year, to accommodate your needs as a grad student.

If you are still wondering how you’ll balance it all, here are just a few ways you can strike a good equilibrium between life’s priorities and attending school.

1. Rely On Your Support System

One of the best things you can do to stay balanced during graduate school is to lean on your support network. Members of your support network can include your family, friends, significant other, and your fellow graduate students. Your fellow students, especially, will understand the particular stress and demands that you’ll be facing. As you make your way through your program, form study groups with your classmates and also find time to blow off some steam together. If you have a family, they can help you by lightening the load of your domestic duties and by simply being a shoulder to lean on.

2. Practice Time Management

Time management is key to balancing school and work. Before you begin your graduate studies, create a study schedule for yourself. Every student’s needs are different, of course, but a planner can help you with this organization. In a planner, schedule time to do homework, study, work, exercise, and even relax. Organize your time and your life and you’ll find that a balance is easy to maintain.

3. Consider Taking Online Classes

For the particularly busy graduate student, online classes may provide a great solution. Many graduate programs offer their students the opportunity to take a combination of in-person and online courses. Online classes provide an element of flexibility that can be helpful to students who have to work while pursuing their degree. Online classes allow students to complete their coursework at a place and time that works for them.

So, is Graduate School Right For You?

The decision to pursue graduate study can be rife with unforeseen outcomes, both challenging and positive. From reduced personal time to an increase in salary, graduate school will, without a doubt, impact your present as well as future life. So, how do you know if graduate school is the right choice for you?

While some careers require graduate study (e.g. medical careers, counseling, nutrition), for others, the pursuit of graduate study makes career advancement possible. And, of course, graduate level study can pave the way for a total career change, as well. . Before making the decision, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are my short term and long term career goals?
  2. Will an advanced degree help me meet those goals?
  3. Am I willing to invest the time, money, and energy required for graduate study?
  4. Do I have what’s needed to meet the admissions requirements of the program I’m interested in pursuing?

If you feel confident about your answers to these questions, then it’s a good time to begin your application process.

Are you ready for graduate study? Request more information about University of Bridgeport’s graduate programs, here!