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The two terms are often misunderstood academic terms among young people in the US. Some people still consider both as being the same, while others are confused about which comes first between the two. 

The undergraduate definition makes it the first level of study after secondary education; it offers technical, vocational, and practicable knowledge that the student needs to be qualified as a professional in the different working sectors. 

The study can either be taken with the mind of immediate employment after graduation or as a stepping stone for an advanced study while the graduate, on the other hand, is for professionals and students looking for a more specialized focus in their field.

The graduate comes after the undergraduate degree; it is an advanced level of learning.

So, if you are looking forward to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you are an undergraduate. So, in this article, we will be discussing graduate and undergraduate meaning. What is the difference, similarities, types, and cost? 

If you are still undergoing a four-year bachelor’s degree, then you are an undergraduate, but the completion makes you a graduate.

What is an Undergraduate Degree?

An undergraduate degree is a program after high school. Depending on the type you choose, it is undergone for a more specialized focus on a specific area of study.

Undergraduate Admission Requirements

The undergraduate requirement is that the candidate must have passed the General education development test, have a minimum GPA, and must have graduated from high school.

Type of Undergraduate degrees

The undergraduate degree is categorized into two and differs based on the time of the study, course work, and specialization.

Associate Degree

The associate degree is a post-secondary program and the first level of study after high school graduation. It takes two years to be completed and awarded by junior and community colleges. It is a degree that can be less specialized and offers students two opportunities while learning.

The first one is the opportunity to be trained with the necessary vocational and technical skills to be eligible for employment right after the completion of the program. 

While the second one offers you a transfer opportunity, you are prepared to have the necessary qualification and knowledge to pursue advanced learning. 

It takes 60-semester credits and 60 quarterly credits to complete the course, and the certificate is awarded based on your type of associate degree. The degree is divided into two: Associate of Arts and Associate in Science.

The Associate of Arts has a wide range of coursework, and it gives the student a more flexible choice at exploring other topics. It is somewhat generic and majorly focused on being used as a transfer to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree.

On the other hand, the Associate in Science has a more narrowed focus and does not enable the students to explore another course. It was majorly for the students who had made up their minds on what to specialize in. It focuses more on student employability after the program rather than being used for a transfer.

Bachelor’s Degree

What is a bachelor’s degree? This is a traditional four-year program after graduating from high school. It is an undergraduate degree that has a special focus on a subject area than the associate degree. It is also the first level of study after high school.

The time of study is not compulsory for four years as it might sometimes depend on your choice of institution or the course you are pursuing because some programs take as small as three years while others might want to last up to seven years. But the general years of study is four years.

It can be studied in any format, whether as a full-time, part-time, online, or distance learning option. There are also currently options for an accelerated degree that allows you to bag your degree in a little time by compressing the coursework. It can be reduced possibly to two years.

The credit score that must be completed before you are awarded the degree is a 120-semester point and 180 for institutions operating with a quarter system.

The bachelor’s degree is categorized into four: Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and a Bachelor of Applied Science. The bachelorette degree is a bridge between graduate studies and undergraduate programs.

Cost of an Undergraduate Degree

Since the undergraduate comprises the bachelor and associate, we will be providing an estimate for the two degrees.

Bachelor’s degree: The bachelor’s degree costs an average of $8,893 annually for a student studying in the state and costs $22,203 for a student attending an institution out of the state. And the average for a private university or college is $30,094.

Associate degree: This is mostly earned at a Community College. So, the median cost in a year is $3,570 annually at public colleges, while a private college will charge $14, 587 for the two years.

However, it is important that you know that the above cost only includes the tuition fee and does not include additional costs like accommodation, transport, feeding, and textbooks.

What is a Graduate Degree?

The graduate degree includes the master’s and doctorates degree; these are programs at a more advanced level after the undergraduate degree. It provides advanced knowledge about a field of interest and has more specialization than an undergraduate degree.

Graduate Admission Requirements

The graduate degree is made up of the doctorate and the masters. So, we will be giving a possible requirement for the two. But it would be best to note that the requirements might be different depending on the school.

Master’s Degree: The student must have a bachelor’s or associate degree in the subject area and must have a 3.0 GPA at a minimum. Although, some courses and institutions might set some subjects as a prerequisite.

Doctorate: This will require a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of second-class honor in a related field of study. The applicant must also possess a master’s degree with good performance.

Type of Graduate Degrees

Although the master’s degree is the most common type of degree, the graduate degree is categorized into two. Each with a different level of focus and one serving as a prerequisite to the other.


The master’s degree is a program that runs for a year and a half and can be approximately two years, depending on the course and the institution. It is the first level of study after the undergraduate.

And it is the most popular graduate study. The student must have earned 36 to 54 credits in a semester-based institution while the quarter-based will require that the student complete 60 to 90 points. It has a different level of focus, and the focus is narrower than the bachelor’s degree.

There are various types of master’s degrees, and some of them include the Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master in Business Administration (MBA), and Master of Fine Arts. It also has both a specialized and professional master’s degree. Although, over the years, the MBA has become more popular as it heightens knowledge about business and management and has been found helpful for different sectors.

The master’s degree involves both classroom and research work. The candidate must submit a thesis after the program.

Other specialized and Professional master’s degree includes:

  • Master in Engineering (MEng)
  • Masters of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Masters of Architecture (M. Arch)
  • Master of Library Science (MLS, MLIS, MSLS)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)

Ph.D. or Doctoral

This is another renowned graduate degree; it covers a wide range of fields of interest and involves subjects such as engineering, history, psychology, business, and so on. The fields of study that offer this degree are limitless.

The program is designed to increase the existing knowledge a student, or professional has regarding a particular subject, most times based on the knowledge acquired during the master’s degree. This degree is necessary for anyone looking forward to becoming a researcher or a professor.

It is more focused than the masters and is more advanced; it is not usually career-oriented. People that pursue this degree work mostly in the academic environment, although there is a demand for them in some industrial sectors such as technology, banking, and consulting.

The degree is the most valuable and will position you for more high-paying jobs. It can be earned online or offline. It takes more years to earn the degree as it is more advanced and specialized. The length of the study might be up to eight years.

Professionals and students pursuing the degree always do so on a per-time basis. They pursue their regular work or profession.

The credit required to complete a four-year Ph.D. is between 90 to 120-semester credit. Although it will always vary according to the study’s length, it requires that the students submit a thesis before completion.

Depending on the field of interest, the doctorate that will be awarded might be different. Below are examples of the doctoral degree awarded in the US:

  • Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.)       
  • Doctor of Arts (D.A.)  
  • Doctor of Arts in Teaching (D.A.T.)    
  • Doctor of Applied Science (D.A.S.)    
  • Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A).  
  • Doctor of Canon Law J.C.D.

Cost of a Graduate Degree

The cost estimate will also be given according to both programs at the graduate level

Master’s Degree: An accredited public or private university might charge an average cost between $30,000 to $40,000. But you might need to pay more for a more prestigious university or college, at least summing up to $100,000.       

Doctorate: The average cost of studying for a doctoral degree is at a range of $28,000 to $40,000 in a year. The length of the program will determine the total cost.

Also, note that the estimation includes only tuition. Transportation, accommodation, books, and food aren’t included.

Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Degree

The undergraduate degree is the first level after graduating from high school. And the entry age into the undergraduate degree is usually between 17 and 20 while the graduate degree is mostly for adults, it is earned after the undergraduate degree. A student that pursues this program mostly has a minimum age of 21. 

The graduate degree is higher than the undergraduate. It has more value, takes more time, and is mostly for professionals. And the undergraduate is also a prerequisite for gaining entry into the graduate program.

The undergraduate college degree requires projects or similar activities, and a graduate program is much more based on research. Master’s and doctoral degrees involve specific classroom work and preparation for research, and it has more focus. 

Degree programs generally limit the same among individuals who belong to the same class, although the graduate degree also includes comprehensive exams.

During an undergraduate program, it is relatively easy to change the main subject and transfer to another school. This is much more difficult in graduate school because it is highly specialized. For example, depending on different universities, graduate studies in psychology may vary.

The classes for undergraduate degrees are usually less personalized. But in the graduate program, students usually work closely with professors on a personal basis.

The undergraduate incorporates general education courses and various electives. But the graduate programs are more specialized and more advanced than undergraduate degrees.

The level of assessment between both programs is different. The undergraduate students might be required to write an essay numbering up to a thousand or two, and they most times find it difficult to do. But the assessment of the graduate student might require a thesis of 30,000 words. 

Some courses at the graduate level might incur more expenses than undergraduate study. Although the undergraduate program may take more years and gulp more money, there are a lot of grants and scholars available at the undergraduate, which the graduate cannot benefit from.

Graduate School Vs Undergraduate School

Time of Completion
  • Undergraduate: Although it depends on your choice of the program, the bachelor’s degree is four years for the program, and two years for the associate degree.
  • Graduate: This is for students and professionals that already have an undergraduate degree. The study’s length can be between one to six years, depending on the program you are pursuing.
 Course Work
  • Undergraduate: The course load can be up to five or seven in a semester and with a semester point between 15 to 21.
  • Graduate: This is often specialized and involves the completion of lesser course works. It is usually four courses with 12 credits in a semester.
  • Undergraduate: The four-year bachelor program will cost $8,893 in a year for students studying within the state and $22,203 for students studying out of state. While the private institution will cost $30,094. On the other hand, the associate degree will cost about $3,570 per year for public colleges while pursuing the program in a private college, which will cost up to $14,587 in a year.
  • Graduate: The average cost for a master’s degree can be between $30,000 to $40,000 and more depending on the institution. While the doctoral degree will also cost between $28,000 to $40,000 annually.
Admission Requirements
  • Undergraduate: Pursuing an undergraduate degree means graduating from high school, passing the General Education development test, and having a GPA of 2.0. at the minimum. Other things can be the SAT and the ACT score, letter of recommendation, and statement of purpose.
  • Graduate: More advanced so the applicants must have an undergraduate degree, GRE test score, letter of recommendation, Statement of purpose, and must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
  • Undergraduate: It is more flexible, and you can get to explore different topics during your course of study. The course work always includes general, electives, and the core. So, students can also know about other subjects. 
  • Graduate: This is more focused on a particular subject of interest. The graduate from these programs is always seen as a specialist in their field. You get to focus on a specific area of interest.
Theory and Research
  • Undergraduate: The undergraduate degree curriculum is based on theories, and students might not delve into any research.
  • Graduate: This is strictly based on research as the student must compulsorily submit a research thesis before they can be awarded the degree.
The format of the Study
  • Undergraduate: There are many formats of learning available for the undergraduate; it can be full-time, part-time, online, or distance learning.
  • Graduate: Although some graduate schools offer the program full-time, the degree is majorly offered as part-time, online, and the executive that allows you to study on weekends only.
Work Experience
  • Undergraduate: A large percentage of people that pursue undergraduate degrees start directly after high school and might not have professional experience.
  • Graduate: While on the other hand, the graduate comprises an experienced adult seeking to improve their skills and ability. And in fact, some courses require that you have professional experience before you can pursue them.
Relationship With Professors
  • Undergraduate: The students in the undergraduate class are always much, and students might not be opportune to relate with the professors personally.
  • Graduate: The graduate degree students are always smaller and will, therefore, grant the student the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with the professor and expert in the student’s area of interest.

How Hard is Graduate School Compared to Undergraduate?

You might be asking the question like which one is easier, Undergraduate or graduate? Generally, graduate school is harder than undergraduate school because you will be taught based on what you have learned in the past. And it is always concluded that the students pursuing graduate courses are experienced professionals and are assessed based on high scores.

The students in the undergraduate degree might only attend classes, do assignments and take exams and might not engage in any discussions in class, but the graduate student is closely monitored, and they must participate in all discussions.

In the research area, undergraduate students also conduct research, but they are guided and mentored through the professor’s appropriate methods. On the other hand, the graduate students must single-handedly conduct research and complete projects by themselves.

The student in the undergraduate program finds it easy to socially connect with their peers and spend more time together in order to ease off stress while the graduate school might find this difficult to do because the student might be living far away from the campus and will need to manage both studying and working together.


Both undergraduate and graduate studies are advanced learning that is next after high school but only with different levels of focus. It is important that undergraduates understand the graduate studies to prepare ahead and identify their area of specialization on time.

In years past, the undergraduate degree is solely enough for students to start living a decent life. Although, currently possible the graduate degrees increase the earning power of professionals. People with graduate study certificates are considered to have been more knowledgeable than the regular degree holder. 

But whether graduate or undergraduate, it is always your choice to decide.

Frequently Asked Questions
Is graduate school easier than undergraduate?

Graduate school is much more difficult than undergraduate, as you will assess based on higher credit, and it involves more individual projects than undergraduate studies.

Is a bachelor’s degree undergraduate or graduate?

The undergraduate is categorized into two, which are Associate degree and Bachelor. So, a bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate.

How much is graduate school tuition vs undergraduate?

The undergraduate tuition is $17,237 and $39, 734 for public and private institutions, respectively. While the average tuition for graduate studies in a public college or university is $11,303 and $23,919 for private colleges.

How many years of schooling is a graduate vs an undergraduate?

Depending on the type of undergraduate and graduate study, the duration for completing undergraduate courses ranges from 2 to 4 years and can be more while the graduate studies also are between one and half years to 8 years, depending on the course.

Do you have to get an undergraduate before graduation?

Yes, the undergraduate is the prerequisite to gaining admission for graduate study.

Helen Vlasova
Helen is the co-founder of admissionsly.com, a career guidance website for students and young professionals. She has a degree in English from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

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