Undergraduate vs Graduate vs Postgraduate: Differences and Similarities

If you are still in high school, you probably have already started to think about college. You might have even started to look into your options and narrow them down to a suitable undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree.

But do you know the differences between an undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree?

Well, the main difference between them is that an undergraduate is a student studying for a postsecondary degree, a graduate is one who has already graduated, while a postgraduate is a student studying for a master’s or doctorate degree after graduating.

This article explores the differences between undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate, and other relevant details about them.

Read on to learn more.

What is an Undergraduate degree?

After completing high school, students pursue an undergraduate degree, which is either a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree. This allows them to specialize in a chosen area of study.

As an undergraduate, you can choose between a bachelor of science, arts, or law, depending on your background, preferences, and qualifications.

And to earn the needed amount of credits, it typically takes a bachelor’s degree student approximately four years to complete the coursework and the research requirements.

However, a bachelor’s degree is not the only degree available at the undergraduate level. You also have the option of pursuing a diploma degree, which typically takes about one to two years if you are unable to devote roughly four years to a degree at once.

This is often equal to the first year of a bachelor’s degree program. Hence, if you are interested in the selected field, you will have the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree and graduate after your diploma.

SEE: What is Considered Undergraduate?

How long is an Undergraduate Degree?

Undergraduate degrees are divided into two categories: Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. An associate degree typically takes two years to complete, and it is often obtained in a community college. While a bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, typically four years of study.

Students interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree can either complete their whole degree at a four-year college or university or attend a community college for the first two years before moving to a university for the remaining two years.

Who is a Graduate?

A graduate is someone who has earned a bachelor’s or first degree by finishing a course of study at a university or institution.

To put it another way, a graduate has finished a specific level of an academic program or study. A recent high school graduate and a recent law school graduate, for example, are both graduates.

However, in academics, the term graduate primarily refers to individuals who have finished their first degree.

What is a Postgraduate degree?

After completing an undergraduate degree, students have two choices: Get a job or further their education. So, if they decide to further their education, then they pursue a postgraduate degree. A postgraduate degree is any degree that comes after a bachelor’s.

Typically, postgraduate degrees are more specialized than undergraduate degrees. It allows students to pursue their professional interests in more depth, acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills for their chosen field.

Furthermore, you are not required to pursue a postgraduate degree immediately after completing your undergraduate degree as you can take a gap to work or travel.

Postgraduate education, however, encloses research, study, and teaching beyond the bachelor’s degree.

While undergraduate education leads to a bachelor’s degree, graduate education leads to a master’s degree and Ph.D.

SEE: Do You Need A Ph.D. To Be A Professor?

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Postgraduate Degree: Differences

Undergraduate programs help students gain basic knowledge in one or more majors. Students take a wide range of courses, not only those related to their major. Typically, they spend the first few years completing general course requirements.

On the other hand, graduate and postgraduate programs are very different. You basically go to graduate school to focus on a particular field, which means all your subjects of study will be related to every course you take.

Another difference is changing majors. Most undergraduates are not usually sure of their major, hence, can change majors in between.

However, because graduate schools are so specialized, changing your major is somewhat difficult. You would have to meet new requirements and start the application process all over again.

Another significant distinction is the size of the classes. Undergraduate classrooms are often substantially bigger in size than graduate programs, which makes the teacher-student relationship hard.

Graduate school classes, on the other hand, are substantially smaller, and more interactive, which gives students the chance to collaborate with their lecturers.

Finally, the time frame to complete the degrees is different. Traditionally, it takes three to four years to complete an undergraduate degree, while postgraduate degrees take about 2 to 9 years (2 years for a master’s, and 5 to 7 years for Ph.D.).

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional: Similarities

One of the core similarities between them is that all undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students pursue or have pursued a first-degree program. This prepares students for the labor market or steers them toward further education.

In addition, all undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students can choose between traditional classroom instruction and online distance learning.

SEE: Online Classes vs Traditional Classes: Which Learning Style Is Better?

Is a graduate degree worth it?

There is little doubt that graduate education can give you a more rewarding job or help you make more money. The answer is, yes, it can. Which means it’s totally worth it.

Consequently, if you make it to graduate school, there is a considerable probability you are an excellent student. This means you will have far more opportunities to obtain college scholarships.

In graduate school, additional financial alternatives frequently become available, including graduate assistantship programs. The program allows students to work on campus as a lecturer, tutor, or in another capacity in exchange for free tuition and a modest stipend.

Therefore, whether or not graduate school is worthwhile depends entirely on you. Given that it may result in increased earning potential, more job stability, and an incredible title.

So, getting a graduate degree is likely something you should explore now or in the future.

SEE: Associate Level Meaning, Salary, And Benefits


What does a graduate school look like?

Most likely, there will be more reading, writing, and open discussion in classes and less of the traditional lecture style that the undergraduate days, which could be a bit challenging.

What is next after Ph.D.?

You can apply for a postdoctoral fellowship at an academic institution and subsequently work toward obtaining a tenure-track professor.

Can you get a Ph.D. without an undergraduate degree?

No, you cannot.

Most postgraduate study usually requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite.

SEE: How to Make Money Without a College Degree

Conclusion: Undergraduate vs Graduate vs Postgraduate

Now that you have known the differences between an undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree, and whether you are still in high school or have already begun your bachelor’s degree, it is good to understand your options.

This will help you to plan the courses you wish to study in college or university and make the most of your degree.

I hope you found this article helpful. You can also read to know if a GPA of 3.5 is good for high school.

Thanks for reading.