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Undergrad vs. Grad School, What’s The Difference?

Graduate school is a whole new world compared to undergraduate.  While the purpose is the same- to help you advance your knowledge, skills, and preparation to hit the job market head on- that’s just about where the similarities end.  Please note these are based on my personal experience and remember many other perspectives exist!

The staples of grad school life. (image credit:

Learning New Information
 Typically happens through reading, memorizing information, listening to your professors/taking notes, and regurgitating on tests throughout the semester.
Grad:  While reading is still a staple of learning new knowledge, most learning is done through regular class discussion, small group work, and taking the initiative to interview professionals in the field.

Undergrad:  Presentations are often less than a half hour, divided between at least two people, strongly reliant on PowerPoints in delivering information, and reading off of cards is permissible (with usually less eye contact being made).  The point of this activity in undergrad is to get you comfortable with the process.
 Presentation lengths range from 1 hour up to 2 1/2 hours for some workshops.  Your grade is dependent on your engaging of the audience, little use of note cards (and definitely no reading off of papers), use of activities and various media outlets, and providing evidence that you have incorporated the knowledge into your psyche in a way that you can communicate it to your audience as if it is second nature.

Undergrad:  Early on, papers are commonly shorter in length, with 5 or 10 pages being the upper range in length until getting into your junior and senior years.  While following MLA, APA, or Chicago Style is requested by your professor and possibly required, students are not necessarily heavily penalized for improper citations (again, usually until your upperclassman years).
Grad:  Depending on your program, you may be writing papers that are 20 pages or more.  This seems like a lot, but with the amount of research you will have done, it can be a breeze to surpass the minimum page limit (believe it or not!).  Proper citation is MANDATORY. It helps to learn how to properly cite in undergrad so strict guidelines in graduate school are easy to follow.  The Writing Center has great resources at this link, and the Writing Center tutors can help you significantly with your citations (make an appointment- hint hint).

The differences certainly don’t end there, and I do not mean to scare you!  When you are considering graduate school, it is helpful to know what to expect before you get there- so there won’t be any surprises.  What’s great about graduate school is that it can really help you develop a focus of your dream career.  At times it is demanding work, but most importantly… it will change your life.


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