Undergrad and Graduate School Differences

Going from an undergrad program to a graduate program is a lot easier than many people expect. Because graduate school is meant to be more difficult from an academic standpoint, there are many differences that make it a bit easier as well. It may seem difficult to understand how graduate school is both easier and more difficult at the same time. Here are some examples of how the two differ and how to prepare for it.

Key Differences between the Two

  • You Will Be Busy. The assignments in graduate school are more for application of information learned, not regurgitation of it. You will likely be doing a lot of projects and papers but you will not have to do many assignments that are simply busy work. You are expected to know how to use concepts and not just know them.
  • Your Professors Become More Like Your Peers. One of the main reasons for this is simply because of the age difference. In undergrad, you are more likely to be just coming out of college and your professors are older and more mature. You mature through your undergrad career and that level of maturity can result in a closer relationship to professors in graduate school.
  • The Structure Will Be Different. As this US News article points out, the structure of the program will be entirely different. Instead of taking a bunch of prerequisite classes, you will be focused only on your specialization. Your undergraduate program served as a prerequisite for all of the courses in graduate school.
  • You Will Be Spending More Time on Each Course. It is normal during your undergraduate program to take 5 or 6 classes at one time. In graduate school, however, you will only be taking 3 courses at a time. This is not to slow you down but because so much more is expected of you during a graduate program. You will be reading more and will have to prepare more for classes. You cannot simply glide through these programs. You are expected to participate and prepare for each class meeting.
  • You Will Be Very Involved In Your Department. Your involvement on campus during your undergraduate program will turn into involvement in your department. You will become laser focused on all things that have to do with your program. The more you immerse yourself in these studies and your department, the better off you will do. You will soon find that you will not want any extra distractions.
  • You Will Want To Be There. You will actually want to be in the program and go to all the classes. In college, there were likely many classes that you did not want to attend. In graduate school, all of the students will want to be there. You will not miss any classes unless you are very sick. This is simply because these are the courses you are actually interested in taking. After all, you applied for this program because you liked the subject matter, right?
  • You Will Sacrifice Socializing For Studying. You may even wonder how you ever had the time to socialize in your undergrad program because once you start your graduate program, you will only have time to study. Your free time is scarce during graduate school but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • You Will Be More on Your Own. Your professors will expect you to keep up with your own deadlines. You will likely not be reminded of these dates often. You will be more independent and even if you have a few group projects, the majority of the work will be done on your own. In graduate school, you will need to be a lot more organized and be able to manage your time well.
  • You Won’t Be Able To Easily Change Specializations. As this StudyUSA article points out, it will be a lot more difficult to change your concentration in graduate school than it was in undergrad. You will need to be sure that this is what you want to do because the classes you take for this program will not generally be transferable to other programs.

How to Prepare For the Graduate School Differences

As you can see, there are many major differences between graduate school and your undergraduate program. It can seem intimidating and a lot of the things will be more difficult to do, as is the nature of graduate school. However, since you will be relying mostly on yourself, you will not have to lean on classmates to finish the work. This makes things a bit easier on you. To prepare for these differences, there are a few things you can do as well.

  • Make Sure Everything Is In Order. This US News article points out that you should have everything in order before classes begin. If you need a way to keep up with assignments and deadlines, make sure you have a planner of some sort. Ensure that you have all of the materials for class before it begins. In graduate school, you will be using the books your professor says you need so make sure you have them.
  • Take Time to Understand Your Syllabi. Keep these documents handy throughout the semester and refer back to them whenever you need to. Read it and make sure you put important dates on your calendar. Your professors put a lot of helpful information into these documents and you should be sure to take it seriously.
  • Figure Out How You Work and Learn. Once you know the best way to absorb the material, you can focus on actually taking it in. Your study habits should be fine-tuned. Your undergrad program should have helped you with this throughout the program. If you do not already know, you will need to figure it out fast.
  • Focus More On Your Learning Than On Grades Themselves. The goal is to really learn the material and if you focus on that part of it, your grades will reflect that. If you start to worry about your grades because you do not think they are where they are supposed to be, then you can fall even farther behind due to lack of focus.
  • Have Fun Every Once in a While. You may not have a lot of extra time but take some time for yourself to unwind and de-stress. This is important to do not only for your health but also for your success.


  • http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/graduate-school-road-map/2013/06/07/3-key-ways-college-graduate-school-differ
  • https://www.studyusa.com/en/a/177/what-are-the-differences-between-undergraduate-and-graduate-programs
  • http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2012/05/18/5-tips-for-preparing-to-begin-graduate-school