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Graduate vs Undergraduate – Understanding the Difference

If you are a high school student or parent of a high school student, you must be thinking about college. You may have started to do research and have found specific options. During the research, you may have noticed a few terms like graduate and undergraduate degrees.

It might not be very clear for you since these terms are a lot similar. However, it would help if you understood the difference between undergraduate and graduate degrees to choose one best for you. Here is everything you need to know.

Graduate Vs. Undergraduate – Meaning

 The word graduate has its origin in the medieval Latin word -graduārī. It means to get a degree. The word graduārī is ultimately derived from the Latin word -gradus, meaning a step. To sum it up, we can say each time you graduate, you take a step to the next level of education.

Depending on how the word is used, the level of education implied by the words – undergraduate and graduate, changes. In some cases, both words can be used in the same situation. Suppose you graduate with an undergraduate degree, then you become a graduate student with an undergraduate degree.

The meaning of the word graduate varies depending on whether it is used as a noun, an adjective, or a verb. When we say a recent high school graduate, the noun form of the word is used there. A graduate student or graduate degree indicates the adjective usage whereas the verb form is used when we say – I plan to graduate next June.

Similarly, the word undergraduate can also be used as a noun and an adjective. If you say -I’m an undergraduate at XYZ University, the noun form is used. If it is – I’m working toward my undergraduate degree, and the form here will be an adjective.

What is an Undergraduate Degree?

The undergraduate degree is the first level of college or university education. It is the level where you can earn a bachelor’s degree. Students usually get an undergraduate degree when they finish high school. If a student is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a college or university, they can say they are an undergraduate at XYZ college or university.

In short, a student in a university or college who has not received a bachelor’s degree yet can be called an undergraduate. Undergraduate is shortened to undergrad and used as both a noun and an adjective.

The prefix ‘under’ in the word undergraduate indicates a lower rank or status. Hence, the educational status of an undergraduate is lower than the graduate.

What is a Graduate Degree?

The graduate refers to an advanced level of education and is considered above an undergraduate level. A graduate is a noun form, and refers to a person who has completed an advanced level of education.

Any degree above the bachelor’s degree is a graduate degree. A master’s degree or doctoral degree is included under this category. While a doctoral degree can be completed in 2-3 years, the master’s degree requires 5-6 years to complete. A graduate is shortened to grad and used as both a noun and an adjective.

In short, a person who has received a degree or diploma after completing a course of study can be called a graduate. Irrespective of age, class, or rank, anyone who has completed a particular level of schooling or course or an educational program is a graduate. Be it a kid who passed out of a kindergarten or a doctor who just finished medical school, they both are graduates.

Is an Undergraduate Degree Necessary to Do a Graduate Degree?

It is mandatory to have a bachelor’s degree to get accepted to grad school. You must graduate from a 4-year undergraduate college or university to be able to pursue a graduate course. If you choose a good undergraduate course, your chances of getting into a reputed grad school are high.

Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate

Let us check out the differences between undergraduate and graduate degrees here.

Undergraduate Graduate
Help students gain basic knowledge in a major, or even in a few majors. Help students dive deeper into their field and give them the knowledge and expertise they need to work.
Must take a variety of courses, which may not be related to the major. All the courses will be specific and will be related to the field of study.
 Allow students to switch majors since students aren’t always sure what they want to major in. It’s not easy to switch your field of study.
A larger number of students in the classes. Fewer students in the classes.
There isn’t much room to interact with your professors. More intimate and more dynamic.
Fewer opportunities to participate in class. More opportunities to participate in class discussions and work with the professors.
Students must take the SAT or ACT to get accepted into an undergraduate program. They also need:

●        minimum GPA

●        letters of recommendation

●        personal statements

●        Specific college requirements

Many graduate programs require students to take the GRE. They also need:

●        undergraduate transcripts

●        letters of recommendation

●        personal statements

●        Specific college requirements


If you are still in high school, it is always better to know about the details of the best undergraduate courses earlier. It could help you choose better undergraduate professional courses and plan ahead for the classes you want to take in college or university. Following this will help you achieve greater success in your career.

About Sunstone

Sunstone is a leading higher education services provider that works with academic institutions in upskilling students for employability. Sunstone offers career-oriented training interventions for undergraduate and postgraduate students at 40+ institutions across 30+ cities.

Sunstone’s training programs are industry-endorsed to enhance employability. These programs are designed for hybrid delivery with an unparalleled focus on soft skills and personality development. Sunstone’s focus is to provide students with a holistic educational experience.

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