How Is Grad School Different From College?

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

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Updated: February 28, 2024, Reading time: 14 minutes

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For most, it’s gearing up towards a career in their chosen professions. For some, it’s a quick change from their togas and immediately signing up for graduate school.

These educational levels may seem like two peas in a pod or a few (long and seemingly arduous) steps in the right direction. But how different can they be, aside from the fact that you need to pass through the first one to get to the next?

For more information, see The Best Grad Schools In The U.S.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

A Closer Look at the Higher Education System in the US

To get a gist of the whole undergrad versus grad school comparison, we may need to start with understanding the higher education system in the US.

Following primary and secondary education, higher education (also referred to as post-secondary or tertiary education) is a non-compulsory part of the formal training framework in the country.

According to the US Department of State’s EducationUSA website, there are multiple ways to enter the higher education system, including:

The World Education News + Reviews points out that the usual school year starts in mid-August to mid-September or mid-May to mid-June, depending on the institution. Of course, this may vary greatly depending on the type of programs you enroll in (in-person or online), as well as the application guidelines per school (rolling or regular).

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), higher education institutions usually roll out their programs in a distinct way, following different models to organize course programs according to different terms and durations.

Standard terms are more imminent in various brick-and-mortar undergrad programs, although masters and doctoral programs can roll out admissions under these schedules.

Undergraduate Studies: Where the Magic Begins

Ah, the bustling halls and sound of bells ringing – our college years may be one of the most memorable parts of our lives. It is a time of self-discovery, independence, and figuring out what we want to do with our lives. It’s where the magic happens for most of us, with graduates pursuing the career of their dreams after four (or more) years of effort and waiting.

After high school, the undergraduate years begin. The goal during this stage is to earn the highly-coveted baccalaureate degree, which typically takes (more or less) four years to complete. In this case, undergraduate candidates are regarded as entry-level university students who are still getting started in their chosen fields.

Additionally, individuals can choose to practice in a profession that may require a shorter academic track (associate degree) that takes around two years of theory and practice modules to complete.

Depending on your chosen field or profession, you may choose to pursue a pathway in the following programs:

Graduate and Professional Studies: Purified by Fire

As the adage says: Precious metals are subjected to extreme heat and pressure – to reduce their impurities – to bring out their best qualities.

Entering the world of graduate and professional studies (after a long enough journey in college) may seem like pure torture at first. Still, you can think of grad school as the furnace that’s supposed to refine your knowledge and skills to help you become the best at what you do.

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Being a student in graduate school (or postgraduate education) would require students (usually professionals who are already working in their chosen field of study) to work for an advanced academic degree that would cement their valuable knowledge and expertise.

Of course, the prerequisite for every graduate and professional program would be a previous undergraduate degree, which is usually related to the master’s or doctorate pathway one chooses.

It is important to note that there are slight distinctions between graduate school and professional school programs. However, they may give the same academic and professional weight in the real world:

Depending on your line of work or study, you may want to pursue one out of the different types of master’s and doctoral programs available:

The Main Differences: Undergrad vs. Grad School

According to Diffen and the US News & World Report, here are some of the main differences between undergraduate programs and graduate and professional programs in the US.

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Additionally, there are other factors that we should look into, such as:

Undergrad and Grad School by the Numbers: Stats, News, Figures

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To take it a step further, let’s look at some of the latest numbers and relevant tidbits regarding the face of higher education in the country:

Final Notes

Undergraduate Education

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An article by The Balanced Careers shares a few tips that can help students choose the right college major. Here are a few:

Graduate and Professional Education


According to UC Berkeley’s Career Center and EducationUSA portal, there are a few things you must consider before enrolling at a university or college that offers the graduate program you want:

Additional Information: 100 Free Online Resources For Graduate Students

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.