The fact that humans need education is widely accepted. However, the questions about the path of education are still arising for many. 

After a Bachelor's degree, a classical dilemma for many students is: should I spend extra time and money to take a Master's degree, or is the Bachelor's degree enough to build a successful career? 

If you are one of many students stuck in that place now or know you will be there in the following years, this article should be useful for you. 

No, it's not going to tell you which education degree is the absolute must for you. Success has no exact formula. 

This article will present the main differences between undergraduate and graduate education, which will probably help you make up your mind. 

In more detail, the next sections discuss:

  1. What is an undergraduate?

  2. What is a graduate?

  3. Comparison chart

  4. Undergraduate vs. Graduate: main differences

What is an undergraduate?

The undergraduate's general description is the education students receive after high school and before the Master's degree. Undergraduate education consists of two main parts: Associate and Bachelor's.

An Associate degree is considered the first level of higher education and is taken in technical colleges or community schools. These educational institutions do not have very narrow inclinations, yet they have specifications for certain professions. Along with the majority of general subjects, students have the opportunity to explore specific academic directions deeper than others. 

Usually it takes 2 years to complete an Associate degree, but this duration may vary in those countries where undergraduate education is based on the credit system. In this case a certain amount of credits is required to complete the degree, and that amount of credits may be collected within 1 year or more than 2 years. 

Bachelor's degree is the most widespread type of education. It's offered by an absolute majority of universities and colleges, and consists of four years of studies. Bachelor's degree requires students to choose a specific major.

Depending on the university, in the first or second years, students still pass general subjects such as history, math, languages, etc. But from term to term, general topics become less, and subjects closer to the student's chosen major become more. 

A Bachelor's degree is purposed to give a deep theoretical knowledge about the chosen profession, and it's usually largely accepted in the employment market. Though you might hear the notion that without a master's degree it's very hard to find a job, that's not the point.

Many companies are ready to employ students with undergraduate degrees. 

The question is: does the sole Bachelor's degree put some career ceiling?

The answer is: probably yes, at least at the beginning of the career. 

You may be interested in the highest ranked undergraduate universities for 2021.

What is a graduate?

Every degree you take after the Bachelor's degree is graduate. The main two types of postgraduate degrees are Master's degree and Doctoral degree. All the requalification courses taken after Master's or Doctorate degrees are also included in graduate education. However, as the doctorate is considered the maximum level of expertise, we will focus on the mentioned two graduate education types now. 

A Master's degree is an academic program intended to give a deep knowledge of a very specific subject. Master's education does not spend time on secondary topics. It assumes students already have a good understanding of the profession.

A Master's degree usually takes two years. Depending on the university, the studying period can be less or more. Its meaning is to break the career ceiling existing in the case of undergraduate level. It's assumed that a student with a Master's degree has a more advanced knowledge of the profession. Master degree students will usually need to present a Master thesis  at graduation.

Doctoral degree is the highest level of academic degree you can take in any sphere, which assumes being classified for the highest-paid and most qualified positions. Ph. D. usually takes from 3 to 8 years to complete and requires deep research in a certain sphere. 

That's why people with doctorate degrees usually continue their careers as professors or researchers. 

Read more about the differences between Ph.D and Doctoral degrees in different countries. 

You may be interested in the highest ranked graduate schools for 2021.

Comparison chart

Undergraduate vs. Graduate

The major differences between 
Undergraduate and Graduate

1. Purpose

Undergraduate programs are more general. Even if they are divided by the majors students pre-select, the academic content is not solely tied to those majors. 

The undergraduate program's main purpose is to prepare good specialists in their sphere of interest, ready to enter the employment market with the necessary basic knowledge.

The graduate program provides students with an advanced level of knowledge. It prepares students not only for entry-level positions but for higher ones. Graduate students are trained to be ready to take up more responsibility and load in their career start.

2. Admission requirements

The entrance requirements are more difficult for graduate programs. There are variations in the required test types, minimum grade levels, documents, such as cover letters, recommendations, etc. 

There is no point in going into more details about this point, as admission requirements vary based on country and university. 

The main thing here is that being selected for the graduate program is harder than for the undergraduate, as expectations from graduation candidates are higher. 

3. Personal commitment

You have to work harder for the graduate program and bring more of your research and opinion into the studying process. 

As undergraduate students are new, professors do not expect much of a personal initiative for them. In Bachelor's education, the professors usually bring new information, and that information is assigned to grasp well. 

Graduate students are assumed to have some expertise in the subjects already. So, the studying process is no more based mainly on professors. Students' initiative and their own created value are highly appreciated in both class lectures and final papers. 

Graduate-level research should be tied to an already defined problem or the one identified by the student due to exploring the existing base of research. Further, the analysis should be carried beyond the existing online or offline literature. Students are expected to collect real data on the topic, do interviews, surveys, and develop a unique contribution to the problem solution. 

4. Professor-student relationship

Graduate class sizes are smaller, which is done to create more interaction between students and professors. Besides, professors should have a chance to a more personalized approach for each student. 

You will become more colleagues with your professors in a graduate degree, as there are frequent meetings with your project coordinators, feedback sessions, etc. 

5. Types of assignments

As it was partially described in point 3, a student's initiative is significantly more expected in the graduate degree. 

Bachelor's students are usually focused on learning the academic theoretical content provided to them by professors. Master's students typically have practical assignments: research on a specific company, case-study, a paper containing their suggestions for improvements, etc. 

6. Community

You may expect to meet more skilled and motivated people in graduate studies compared to undergraduates.

Some professors teach in both programs. However, there are higher ranked professionals who work only with Master's and Ph. D. students. This is a good chance to upgrade your community.

7. Toolbox

We live in an era of tools, and being tech-savvy is highly appreciated. 

Undergraduate students either do not learn to use certain tools or learn the basics without advanced features.

As the load and specialization increases, graduate students get more up-to-date knowledge of actual tools for their profession.

8. Opportunities

I believe this point needs all capital letters, as it's the main difference and outcome between undergraduate and graduate degrees. 

With some exceptions, employers usually choose candidates with higher education degrees for better positions. You would probably do the same for your company. 

Having a Master's degree is not just an official fact about you. It signals your motivation and enthusiasm to become better. Also, it indicates you are prepared for a certain level of workload and responsibility if you were able to complete a course. 

Published on Dec 28, 2020