Q:

What is the difference between undergraduate and graduate degrees?

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Quick Answer

Graduate school is much more than just another two years of college. Many people are unsure of how undergraduate and graduate school differs. Here are the main differences.

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Full Answer

More Than Just a Name
The differences go beyond the name of the degree programs. Undergraduate degree programs are those that students enter into right out of high school. They lead to associate or two-year degree or a bachelor degree, also known as a four-year degree. Graduate degree programs typically last two years, and they lead to a master's degree or doctoral degree, as noted by Education USA.

The Time Spent in Each Class
Undergraduate students often take up to six courses per semester with a full course load. But the intensity and time commitment involved with classes in graduate degree programs make this impossible, according to Inquiries Journal. The typical course load for graduate students is usually three courses. Every class in a graduate degree program requires much more reading and study than those in undergraduate programs. Additionally, most of the classes follow a seminar-like structure with fewer than 20 students rather than a lecture in a room filled with students. Additionally, graduate students aren't often able to blend into a sea of other students. They must be prepared to speak and participate during each seminar.

The Level of Focus
There's no doubt that undergraduate students need to be focused on their studies. While undergraduate degree programs are designed to give students exposure to many different subjects, graduate school courses are designed to prepare students for their exams and dissertations in their chosen area of study. There are few to no opportunities to explore other disciplines and interests. For that reason, most experts recommend students have a definite idea of the topic they want to study before entering graduate school.

Increasing Independence
Throughout their undergraduate studies, students have a strong support system in place to help them navigate There are advisers readily on hand to help guide undergrads through the process of organizing their class schedule and choosing a major. In graduate degree programs, students are much more self-directed and expected to direct their own research programs. Additionally, while undergrads have deadlines for their projects, many graduate level classes only have a deadline for the final paper.

The Desire to Attend
Many students are driven to attend and passionate about their studies during their undergraduate degree programs. However, in graduate school, all or nearly all students take their studies as seriously as they would a job and they very much want to be in their programs. That mindset changes the dynamics within graduate programs. While undergrads often struggle balancing social aspects of college life with their studies, graduate students thrive in a stimulating environment where the faculty in interested in what they have to say.

Visibility
Undergraduate students can often get lost in a sea of other undergrads, even if they attend a smaller university or college. In graduate schools, students are very involved in their departments, and they're part of a smaller group within that department. Therefore, each graduate student is more visible to faculty and their peers.

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