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Graduate vs. Undergraduate: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 17, 2023
A graduate is someone who has completed a degree program, often post-bachelor's, while an undergraduate is a student pursuing a bachelor's or associate degree.

Key Differences

In academic contexts, both graduate and undergraduate refer to different stages and levels of formal education. A graduate typically relates to a person who has successfully completed a degree, most often implying someone who has finished an advanced degree beyond the bachelor's level. In contrast, an undergraduate refers to a student who is in the process of obtaining either a bachelor's or an associate degree.
While graduate programs primarily include master's, doctoral (like Ph.D.), or professional degrees, undergraduate programs encompass associate and bachelor's degree courses. The undergraduate phase is the initial step in higher education after high school, laying the groundwork for specialized study that might follow in graduate school.
The depth of study and research varies distinctly between graduate and undergraduate levels. Graduate studies often involve deeper research, specialization in a field, and more rigorous academic expectations. On the other hand, undergraduate studies offer a broader overview of a discipline, focusing on foundational knowledge.
Application processes for graduate and undergraduate programs also display differences. While undergraduate admissions might consider high school performance and extracurriculars, graduate admissions often require undergraduate performance, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores, depending on the field of study.
In essence, while both graduate and undergraduate levels hold significant roles in shaping a student's academic journey, they differ in purpose, depth, and prerequisites, with the undergraduate being the preliminary phase and the graduate denoting advanced study.

Comparison Chart

Level of Study

Advanced (Post-bachelor's)
Initial (Bachelor's or Associate's)

Program Examples

Master's, Doctoral, Professional
Bachelor's, Associate's


Specialized and deeper research
Broader overview with foundational knowledge

Typical Duration

1-5 years (Varies with program)
2-4 years

Admission Requirements

Undergraduate degree, standardized test scores, recommendations
High school diploma, standardized test scores (e.g., SAT, ACT)

Graduate and Undergraduate Definitions


To successfully complete a course of study.
He will graduate next spring with a degree in biology.


A student pursuing a bachelor's or associate's degree.
She is an undergraduate studying English literature.


A person who has completed a degree program.
She is a graduate of Harvard Law School.


Not yet having obtained a bachelor's degree.
As an undergraduate, she interned at a local newspaper.


Pertaining to advanced academic degrees beyond the bachelor's.
He's enrolled in a graduate program in physics.


Representing students or studies before attaining a first degree.
The undergraduate council met to discuss campus issues.


Relating to students in post-bachelor's programs.
Graduate students often have to complete a thesis.


Pertaining to studies or students in bachelor's or associate programs.
He teaches undergraduate courses in economics.


To confer a degree upon.
The university will graduate a thousand students this year.


Related to the curriculum for those seeking bachelor's or associate degrees.
The undergraduate program in biology is quite rigorous here.


To be granted an academic degree or diploma
Most of the entering freshmen stayed to graduate.


A college or university student who has not yet received a bachelor's or similar degree.


To change gradually or by degrees
"The most weighty of all the arguments against treating the races of man as distinct species, is that they graduate into each other" (Charles Darwin).


Of, relating to, or characteristic of undergraduates
Undergraduate courses.
Undergraduate humor.


How long does an undergraduate program usually last?

Undergraduate programs typically last 2-4 years, depending on the degree.

Can a graduate program be pursued immediately after high school?

Typically, graduate programs require an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite.

What does graduate refer to in academia?

In academia, graduate refers to advanced studies or degrees beyond the bachelor's level.

Do graduate students typically engage in more research?

Yes, graduate studies often involve more in-depth research and specialization.

Is a bachelor's degree considered undergraduate or graduate?

A bachelor's degree is considered undergraduate.

Is an undergraduate someone with a degree?

No, an undergraduate is a student pursuing a bachelor's or associate degree.

What's the primary focus of undergraduate education?

Undergraduate education provides a broad foundation in a discipline.

Can one become a graduate without pursuing graduate studies?

Yes, anyone who completes a degree program, including a bachelor's, is considered a graduate.

How do undergraduate courses differ from graduate courses?

Undergraduate courses offer foundational knowledge, while graduate courses involve deeper specialization.

Are associate degrees considered undergraduate?

Yes, associate degrees fall under the undergraduate category.

Do all graduates have a master's or doctoral degree?

No, graduates include those with bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and other degrees.

Do graduate programs always require a thesis?

Not always; the requirement varies by program and institution.

Are there standardized tests specific to graduate admissions?

Yes, tests like the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT are often required for graduate admissions.

Is there an age limit to pursue graduate or undergraduate studies?

No, there's typically no age limit for either; education can be pursued at any age.

Can someone be both a graduate and an undergraduate?

Yes, someone with a bachelor's degree (graduate) can return to pursue another bachelor's or associate degree (undergraduate).

Are there part-time options for both graduate and undergraduate programs?

Yes, many institutions offer part-time options for both levels of study.

Is the term "graduate" exclusive to academic contexts?

While commonly used in academia, "graduate" can also mean completing any course or program.

Do undergraduate students typically live on campus?

Many do, especially in the U.S., but it varies by institution and personal choice.

Is tuition typically higher for graduate or undergraduate programs?

Often, graduate tuition is higher, but it varies by institution and program.

What's the next step after completing an undergraduate degree?

After undergraduate studies, one can enter the workforce, pursue graduate studies, or explore other avenues.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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