In the United States, an undergraduate or an "undergrad" is a student pursuing a bachelor's degree (usually 4 years) at a college or university or a 2-year associate's degree program at a college, community college or vocational/technical school. A graduate or a "grad student" is a student who, having obtained a bachelor's degree, is now pursuing a master's or "graduate degree" in a 1-6 year graduate school program that is typically completed in 2-3 years.
These concepts are often confused, because the terminology in much of the rest of the world is different. What's known as undergraduate studies in the US is referred to as graduate studies in most other countries. And the equivalent for graduates (graduate students, graduate studies) in the US are known as post-graduates (or post-graduate students, post-graduate studies) in most of the rest of the world.
Video Explaining the Differences
Higher Education Programs
In the U.S., graduate students go to accredited colleges and universities for 1-6 years (typically 2-3) after earning a bachelor's degree in order to specialize in a field and increase their earning power by receiving a master's or doctoral degree. General master's degrees are Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS or MSc); globally, other more common and specialized degrees include
- Master of Education (MEd)
- Master of Engineering (MEng)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
- Master of Music (MMus)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Research (MRes)
- Master of Theology (Mth)
Undergraduate degrees in the U.S., acquired after completing a 4-year college or university program are Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS or BSc). There are dozens of bachelor's degree specializations that are called tagged degrees in everything from architecture to information systems, biology to English literature, and management to performance (theatrical).
Two-year Associate in Arts (AA or A.A.) also offers dozens of specialties. These degrees are fundamentally geared towards support positions in a variety of fields including automotive maintenance, early childhood special education, culinary arts, medical assisting, legal office administration, graphic arts, etc.
Outside the U.S.
While many countries consider U.S. undergraduate degrees to be graduate degrees in their nation, and U.S. graduate degrees to be post-grad citations, degrees earned in the U.S. are widely accepted worldwide as indications of a degreed individuals knowledge, capability and performance value. In fact, almost one million of the 4.5 million international students seeking degrees do so in the U.S. because of their value in the world job market.
Undergrads pursuing a bachelor's degree are usually required to take the Scholastic Aptitude/Assessment Test (SAT), or the American College Testing (ACT) test. International students may also have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Test scores from all of these exams influence the applicant's choice of schools and chance of being admitted to them. Some colleges and universities may require a resume or personal profile and letter(s) of recommendation.
Undergraduates pursuing a two-year community college or vocational/occupational school are required in almost all cases to have a GPA of 2.0, a high school diploma. They may also be asked to take a school's entrance exam and pass language and communication capability screening.
For graduate school admissions, applicants also have to have a bachelor's degree, and, in most cases, a high grade point average (GPA) in academic achievement. Applicants are almost always required to have taken the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) standardized test and submit test scores withthe application. Also required are the applicant's undergraduate transcript and, typically, letter(s) of commendation.
Colleges and universities for all degree pursuits expect the applicant to complete a full application (school-specific in most cases), and often include an essay on a topic relevant to the applicant's academic pursuit as well as a personal profile. These applications are submitted with an application fee from $35-$60 on average, although some colleges do not require a fee and others have a higher one. Most schools also require the applicant to apply for financial aid as part of the process; the U.S. Department of Education provides the most comprehensive system online for application: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Graduate school admission: 3.0-3.3 GPA minimum
- Undergraduate school admission: 3.0 GPA average for large selection of school choices, and 3.75 minimum for Ivy League and Top 10 schools
- Vocational/Occupational 2-year degrees: 2.0 GPA minimum