Deciding between a graduate vs undergraduate degree can be challenging. After completing your undergraduate degree program, should you enter the job market or apply to graduate schools? Understanding key differences between these types of degrees can help you make the best choice for your career goals.
In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between graduate vs undergraduate degrees. We’ll also look at how a graduate or undergraduate degree can allow you to achieve your professional goals and enhance your future earnings potential.
What Is a Graduate Degree?
A graduate degree is an advanced degree in a particular field of study that you pursue after earning an undergraduate degree. A graduate student is someone who is studying for a more advanced degree than the undergraduate degree that they already have.
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Types of Graduate Degrees
- Master’s degrees, such as a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees
- Professional doctoral degrees
What Is an Undergraduate Degree?
An undergraduate degree is a degree that you earn by completing an undergraduate program at a college or university. Undergraduate students work to achieve this degree after completing their high school education. It involves all post-secondary programs up to the bachelor’s degree level. This degree is also sometimes called a first degree or college degree.
Types of Undergraduate Degrees
- Associate degrees
- Bachelor’s degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
Is a Graduate Degree Faster Than an Undergraduate Degree?
Yes, a graduate degree is often faster than an undergraduate degree. You can complete graduate programs within a shorter timeframe. Typically, a full-time student will take six month to two years to earn a graduate degree like a Master of Education or Master of Business Administration. Undergraduate study requires an average of 120 credit hours and at least three years of coursework.
Is a Graduate Degree Easier Than an Undergraduate Degree?
No, a graduate degree is not easier than an undergraduate degree. Education USA reveals that graduate courses are more advanced and require more in-depth training than undergraduate courses. During a graduate program, professors ask students to apply concepts, skills, and knowledge that they have acquired from their undergraduate programs.
Is a Graduate Degree Better Than an Undergraduate Degree?
Yes, a graduate degree is better than an undergraduate degree. Workers with a higher level of education have higher earning potential and better career opportunities than those with lower qualifications. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, bachelor’s degree holders had an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent compared to 4.1 percent for those with a graduate degree.
5 Key Differences Between a Graduate Degree and an Undergraduate Degree
1. Entry Requirements
A student must have completed a bachelor’s degree program to apply for graduate programs. In comparison, a high school diploma or GED is the only prerequisite when applying to an undergraduate program.
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2. Classification of Degrees
Undergraduate programs award associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. An associate degree is a college program that takes two to three years, compared to a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes four years. In comparison, graduate degrees include master’s degrees, doctoral programs, and professional programs.
3. Level of Focus
Undergraduate studies are broader than graduate studies and require that students take classes in a wide variety of fields. An undergrad takes more courses per semester than a grad student.
For a full-time undergraduate student, this is generally between 15 and 18 credits per semester or four to six courses. Grad students take fewer classes per semester, but graduate-level courses are more intensive with a specialized focus on a student’s fields of study.
4. Classroom Settings
Most institutions accept more undergraduate students than graduate students. This results in smaller class sizes in graduate classes, allowing for better class discussions and more opportunities for mentoring. By contrast, an undergraduate should expect a larger class size, especially in the first few years of their program.
5. Potential Job Earnings
Graduate degree holders tend to earn more than undergraduate degree holders due to their advanced knowledge and professional experience. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that workers with a graduate degree have weekly earnings of $1,497, which is higher than the average salary of $1,248 earned by bachelor’s degree holders.
Jobs That Require a Graduate Degree
- Engineering Manager. This job involves overseeing engineering activities and implementing new initiatives. It requires a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management and offers an average annual salary of $149,530.
- Human Resources Manager. This job is concerned with the administrative, recruitment, and welfare operations of a company. Becoming a human resources manager requires a Master’s Degree in Human Resources or a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and offers an average salary of $121,220.
- Chief Information Security Officer. This role involves overseeing a company’s data and cyber security operations. To qualify as a chief information security officer, you need to have a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security. The average pay for this job is $159,877.
Jobs That Require an Undergraduate Degree
- Information Systems Manager. This job requires a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Programming or Computer Science. Professionals on this career path specialize in maintaining an organization’s infrastructure systems and databases. They oversee debugging, building, and updating plans.
- Petroleum Engineer. This job involves the drilling, extraction, exploration, and production of crude oil. Petroleum managers tackle problems that arise in oil operations. The requirement for this career is a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering.
- Accountant: An accountant manages the finances of a business or organization. Accountants specialize in auditing the organization’s accounts and assessing risks. They are relevant in every organization that engages in business transactions.
Should You Get a Graduate Degree or an Undergraduate Degree?
You should consider getting at least an undergraduate degree. Undergraduate classes offer foundational knowledge and typically prepare you for an entry-level position. A four-year degree is also typically the main prerequisite for admission into an advanced-level graduate program. A graduate degree will allow you to access better career opportunities.
Graduate Degree vs Undergraduate Degree FAQ
Yes, you can work toward an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree at the same time thanks to accelerated degree programs. In these programs, students take undergraduate degree courses in their first three years and begin their graduate study in the fourth year. This way, students graduate with two degrees in four or five years.
Yes, distance learning is possible for undergraduate and graduate degrees. There is a wide variety of distance learning programs offered by universities worldwide. This is especially useful for students who must work a job during their studies.
The admission requirements for an undergraduate program will differ based on the institution you’re applying to. They will generally include the completion of a high school diploma and good grades on your high school transcript.
No, you can’t enroll in a traditional graduate program without an undergraduate degree. You must have a bachelor’s degree in your field of study. At some schools, you may be accepted as a graduate student if you have an associate degree and many years of in-field experience.
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