Undergraduate Programs Vs Graduate Programs

Now that it has been statistically proven that college education leads to higher incomes, the question topmost in everyone’s mind is how much education does one need to succeed in the corporate world?

While the answer to that question depends on several factors, there are certain things you can consider before deciding on the level of education you’d like to pursue. For that, you should first understand the difference between undergraduate programs and graduate degrees.

An undergraduate program is a degree that can be earned after high school. The two most common types of undergraduate programs are Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees. Graduate programs, on the other hand, are advanced degrees available to those who have graduated from an undergraduate college program. Master’s and Doctoral degrees leading to a PhD are the two main graduate degree programs.

Important Differences

The first difference between the two types of degrees is the level of specialization. Depending on your program, an undergraduate degree provides a foundation in a specific field or an overview of several subjects, preparing you for different types of entry-level jobs. Graduate programs, on the other hand, look to build on that foundation. The coursework is far more intense, focused, and specialized in a graduate degree.

Students of graduate degree programs are required to contribute to classroom discussions, take up independent research work, write a thesis and defend it in front of their professors and peers.

The second factor to consider is the employment opportunity offered by both of these degrees. While there are certain professions like law, medicine, academics, etc., where a graduate degree is necessary, there are plenty of career choices open to those who have an undergraduate degree.

That said, graduate programs add value in terms of giving candidates a competitive advantage in the job market, increasing their marketability, and improving their earning potential. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, those who held a Master’s degree made $1,257 per week in 2009 as compared to $1,025 per week earned by those who had a Bachelor’s degree. (bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm)

However, the overall time commitment for a graduate degree is greater. A Master’s degree is usually for eighteen months to two years. Add to that four years for a Bachelor’s degree, and you will need to spend a minimum of six years in school if you want to pursue a graduate degree.

An undergraduate degree, on the other hand, can be earned in much less time – four years if you are going for a Bachelor’s and two years if you are pursuing an Associate’s. But your earning potential and advancement opportunities may not be the same as they would be if you were to get a Master’s degree.

Is Grad School for You?

Grad school is pretty expensive and demands a tremendous amount of hard work. Also, since most students already have a few responsibilities by the time they enter graduate school, you may have to juggle several commitments simultaneously.

Therefore, you should consider well ahead of time if grad school is for you by evaluating your career goals, academic inclination, monetary situation, and personal circumstances.

While some students prefer to headlong straight into a graduate program after completing their undergraduate degree, others prefer to work for a few years and then enter grad school. This has several advantages.

First, you will be able to figure out if you really enjoy working in your chosen field before committing more years to education in that area. Next, you’ll carry your valuable industry experience to the classroom and be able to draw much more out of your coursework.

You will also have a few years of savings to put into college tuition and can probably lower your loan dependence. Finally, if you realize this was not the career you’d been dreaming of, a graduate degree in a different field will help you make a switch to another career.

There are benefits of both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Whichever one you choose, make sure you’ve made the decision with your eyes open.