Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate

Shuchi Bagchi
Shuchi BagchiUpdated On: February 08, 2024 10:29 pm IST
Students often get confused about the difference between undergraduate and graduate courses. There are significant differences between their course structures, syllabus, subjects covered, etc. Check out this article to distinguish between these two degrees.
Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate

Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate: The terms "undergraduate" and "graduate" degrees are sometimes used interchangeably which is incorrect and it also causes confusion. This confusion is heightened by varying terminologies used worldwide. For instance, what's considered graduate courses in India might be labelled as postgraduate studies in other countries. In simple terms, 'undergraduate' is a term used for bachelor level courses and 'graduate' is used for masters or PhD level courses in India.

This distinction is important to understand, particularly for students seeking education at the top Indian colleges in their chosen field. If you find yourself among the confused students, this article will outline the key differences between undergraduate and graduate courses, providing detailed explanations.

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Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate: Highlights

Here is a quick table summarizing some important differences between undergraduate and graduate studies before we explore them in more detail:




Degree Awarded

Bachelor's degrees, Associate's degrees

Master's degrees, or Professional degrees

Common Entrance Exams

CUET UG, NEET, JEE Main, JEE Advanced, State Level and University Level Exams 

CUET PG, NEET PG, State Level, and University Level Exams


3 to 6 years

2 to 4 years

Tuition Fees

Lower tuition fees

Higher tuition fees

Course Load

5 to 7 courses per semester

3 to 4 courses per semester

Scholarships Available

Multiple options for financial aid

Lesser options for financial aid

Job Opportunities 

Entry-level job roles

Senior or mid senior-level job roles

What is an Undergraduate Degree?

An undergraduate degree, often called a bachelor's degree (most commonly), marks the initial stage of higher education. It typically takes place at a college or university, and those pursuing it are known as undergraduate students. The goal is to earn either a bachelor's or associate's degree. Completing undergraduate studies generally takes 3 to 6 years depending upon the course opted and specialisation. 

During this period, students can choose from various programs like:

Specialized degrees are also available, such as Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Aviation Management, Digital Marketing, Finance, Sales and Marketing, HR, etc.

What is a Graduate Degree?

A graduate degree, also known as a master's degree or postgraduate degree in some countries, is the next educational level students pursue after completing their undergraduate degree. Upon earning their first degree, students may choose to specialize in their fields by obtaining a master’s degree. Those who have completed their undergraduate studies and currently pursuing advanced degrees are referred to as graduate students. Unlike undergraduate studies, graduate courses are conducted at higher education institutes or universities.

The duration of a graduate course can range from 2 to 6 years, depending on the field of study. Some common examples of graduate courses in India include:

Difference Between Undergraduate vs Graduate Degrees

Now that we have covered the fundamental concepts of undergraduate and graduate degrees, let's explore their key differences. Below, you will find some of the most common and pertinent differences between undergraduate vs graduate degrees:

Credit Hours or Study Time Invested

One key difference between undergraduate and graduate studies is the balance between learning and having fun. As an undergraduate student, you often have the opportunity to both learn and have fun simultaneously. 

However, this changes when you enter graduate school or university. As a graduate student, the demands on your time become more intensive, requiring a significant commitment to academic tasks. This shift can be noticeable, particularly for students who were initially enthusiastic about pursuing a graduate degree. The additional time and dedication required in graduate programs may not feel like a significant factor. Additionally, graduate studies often involve more extensive research, contributing to the increased time commitment.

Also Read:Best Certificate Courses in India in 2024

Course Load

The difference in course load is another notable difference between undergraduate and graduate studies. Typically, undergraduate students handle approximately 5 to 7 courses per semester. 

In contrast, graduate students usually take around 4 classes each semester. However, this variation can be influenced by the field of study, as graduate programs often come with a heavier coursework load. Moreover, graduate-level courses involve more research, along with presentations, projects, and discussions, contributing to the overall intensity of the course load. In contrast, undergraduate courses typically rely more on lectures or textbooks.

Tuition Fees

The tuition fees for undergraduate and graduate degrees in India vary based on the program duration and university type. For undergraduates pursuing a bachelor's degree, the average annual tuition ranges from INR 5 to 10 lakhs. In some cases, it may be even lower, especially if you choose to study at a government college. 

Graduate students face a different fee structure. The average cost at public colleges and universities ranges from INR 20,000 to 2,00,000, while private institutions typically charge between INR 8 to 15 lakhs or more.

Also Read: Fee Structure of Distance Learning Programmes in India

Professor-Student Relationship

A significant difference between undergraduate and graduate studies lies in the professor-student relationship and the evolving dynamics as you progress in your education. During undergraduate studies, professors are more communicative as students often seek answers and explanations for the material being taught.

In contrast, in graduate studies, the relationship shifts, and professors assume a role similar to treating you as a peer rather than a traditional student. They offer guidance instead of providing extensive explanations, adopting a mentor-like approach. Professors advise on research methods and completion, but the emphasis is less on direct teaching and more on collaborative mentoring.

Course Content 

Another noteworthy difference between undergraduate and graduate courses lies in the course content. Undergraduate classes tend to be more general, with students exploring various subjects, even those unrelated to their major. 

In contrast, graduate classes are more specialized, allowing students to focus and specialize in their chosen field of study. After gaining a general understanding of subjects during their undergraduate program, students narrow down their focus to a specific field for their graduate degree.

Difficulty Level

In undergraduate courses, students enjoy greater flexibility to switch majors or schools, largely due to the similarities between programs across institutions, making such transitions more manageable. 

On the other hand, in graduate school, changing your major or specialisation becomes more complex. Given the specificity of graduate studies, curricula can vary significantly, making it more challenging to transfer to another university.

Also Read:List of Top Professional Courses in India after 12th and Graduation

Undergraduate vs Graduate Students

Another noteworthy contrast between undergraduate and graduate studies lies in the students pursuing these courses. Undergraduate and graduate students differ significantly as they tread different paths in life. Typically, undergraduates are brimming with energy, and qualified to balance fun and studies. 

In contrast, graduate students experience a shift in life dynamics. Some may juggle work and university commitments, while others might have started families, leaving them with limited time for socializing with peers. 

Admission Requirements for Undergraduate Programs

Before taking admission to various undergraduate courses, the candidates need to meet eligibility criteria. The college/university releases its eligibility criteria as per the courses. The general admission criteria for taking admission to an undergraduate program are mentioned below for reference:

  • The candidates applying for undergraduate admission must have passed high school from a recognized board of education.
  • Candidates must have passed 10+2 from a recognized board of education with a minimum of 50% marks in the board examination.
  • If the course requires an entrance exam in the college/university, then the candidates must have appeared and performed well by scoring the minimum marks in the entrance exam like NEET exam, JEE Main, CUET exam etc.
  • Generally, the minimum age requirement for the candidate is usually 17 years to gain admission to any reputed institute to pursue an undergraduate course.

Admission Requirements for the Graduate Programs

Candidates must check the eligibility criteria for pursuing a graduate program from any college or university. The admission criteria for a graduate program are mentioned below for students' reference:

  • The candidates must have passed a bachelor's degree from a UGC-approved university with a minimum of 50% marks
  • If the course requires appearing in an entrance exam, then candidates must have appeared and performed well in the entrance exam like the CAT exam for MBA. 
  • As per the university standard, the minimum age requirement is usually 21 years to gain admission in reputed institutes

Overall, undergraduate and graduate degrees mark different levels of post-secondary education with varied goals, courses, and career paths. Undergraduate programs provide broad knowledge for entry-level jobs across sectors, while graduate programs offer specialized education for advanced careers in academia, research, or specific fields. The decision depends on factors like career goals, personal interests, academic readiness, and future prospects.

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Who can pursue an undergraduate degree?

To enroll in an undergraduate program in India, you must meet these basic criteria:
- Education: Completion of 10+2 schooling (senior high school) with at least 50% marks in most universities.
- Entrance exams: Admission often requires national or state-level exams such as JEE Main for engineering, NEET for medical, or CUET for various programs.
- Age: Generally, there's no age limit, but certain programs may have specific age restrictions.
- Additional requirements: Some universities may have extra conditions, such as specific subject combinations in 10+2 or special entrance exams for programs like architecture or fine arts.

Who can pursue a graduate degree?

Qualifying for a graduate degree in India varies by program and university. Here are the general eligibility criteria:
- Completed Bachelor's Degree: A recognized Bachelor's degree in a relevant field is essential.
- Entrance Exams: Universities may have their entrance exams or use national-level tests like NET, GATE, or CAT, with exam scores being significant for admissions.
- Minimum Age: Typically, applicants need to be at least 21 years old, though exceptions can occur.
- Additional Criteria: Some programs may require additional factors such as work experience, portfolio submissions, or specific subject expertise.

What's the main difference between undergraduate and graduate degrees?

Undergraduate studies mark the beginning of your higher education journey, culminating in a Bachelor's degree. This phase offers a broad foundation in your chosen field and readies you for entry-level positions or further academic pursuits. In contrast, a graduate degree represents advanced studies following your Bachelor's, resulting in a Master's or PhD. This advanced education enhances your knowledge and specialization, equipping you for roles in research, leadership, or specialized careers.

What is the course structure of an undergraduate degree?

The structure of an undergraduate degree varies, but generally follows these key features:
- Duration: Typically 3-5 years, with exceptions like Medicine and Architecture (5-6 years).
- Credit System: Courses are assigned credits based on workload, with completion indicating degree fulfillment.
- Core Courses: Essential subjects specific to your major that form the foundational knowledge.
- Elective Courses: Offer flexibility to explore specific interests within your major or other fields.
- Practical Components: Some degrees include labs, internships, or field projects for hands-on experience.
- Assessment: Involves a mix of exams, presentations, assignments, and projects to measure understanding and progress.

What is the course structure of a graduate degree?

The structure of a graduate degree in India varies widely based on the program, university, and degree level. Here's a general overview:
- Coursework: Involves a blend of core and elective courses covering theoretical foundations and practical applications.
- Credits: Typically credit-based, necessitating the completion of a specified number of credits for graduation.
- Semesters: Courses are usually organized into semesters, with evaluations and exams conducted at the end of each term.
- Dissertation/Thesis: Most programs may require a research dissertation or thesis, while others focus more on coursework.


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