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The Biggest Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Studies

UL Grad School -- 08/20/2021

Undergrad to Grad SchoolAs you prepare to take on graduate studies, it can be hard to know exactly what to expect. How will your undergraduate experience compare to grad school?

From increased specialization to opportunities to share your work with the world, graduate school will challenge you in new ways.

So, what is grad school like? Here are a few key differences between graduate and undergraduate studies.

You’ll have new standards for success

As an undergraduate, you probably gave a lot of thought to the grades you received on your tests and papers. Expect the grading scale to be different in graduate school. To maintain eligibility, you’ll want to aim for a grade of B or higher.

Your grades are one of many aspects of your success. Beyond individual courses, you’ll be focused on your research, internships, and other activities that will deepen your understanding of the field, strengthen your resume, and advance your future job prospects.

Your faculty and graduate program will also have expectations beyond the classroom, from presenting at academic conferences, passing your comprehensive or qualifying exams, and finishing the degree within a certain timeframe.

You’ll spend more time on fewer classes

In grad school, full-time enrollment usually means taking three classes, whereas in undergrad you may have been taking four, five, or more.

Expect to read more, to write more, and to talk more. For each of your graduate courses, the amount of preparation required for class will increase exponentially.

Discussing your ideas, the assignments, and the readings in depth with your faculty and fellow grad students is critical to getting the most out of grad school.

If you’re going for a Ph.D., you’ll typically have a few years of coursework, then devote your time to completing research and writing a dissertation. Luckily, there are plenty of writing resources to help keep you on track.

At the master’s level, you might have the option to do a thesis or to focus on more coursework or a cumulative project.

All in all, you’ll be communicating ideas -- both your own and those of scholars in your field of study -- more than you ever thought possible!

You’ll need to have a plan

Expect graduate school to be less structured than your time in undergrad. You’ll need to manage your time well and take responsibility for keeping yourself on track. Make technology your friend, rather than a distraction.

Remember too that you’ll need the flexibility and resilience to adapt when obstacles arise.

Earning a graduate degree is a huge undertaking, but it’s completely manageable if you take it one step at a time. Be patient with yourself and steadily work towards your big goal.

You’ll develop close professional relationships

Deepening your knowledge of a particular topic will mean more contact with your department’s faculty members and peers in your program. As a result, there will be increased accountability and visibility for your work.

In particular, maintaining a good relationship with your advisor will be important to your success.

Look beyond the books, as grad school is a time for networking and building connections to help you develop your career.

Our New Graduate Student Orientation will introduce you to the skills, resources, and support that will help you to succeed in graduate school. Complete it at your own pace, and return to it as often as you’d like.