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Are you just beginning your undergraduate degree, and are looking ahead to the future? Or did you just graduate with your bachelor’s and are wondering: What’s next?

Or maybe you completed undergrad a few years ago and are considering a master’s degree, but want to know: What’s the real difference between the two?

Whatever your situation, exploring the differences between a graduate and undergraduate degree can help you determine if a master’s or doctoral program is right for you and your career goals. This resource covers ten important differences and offers advice on how to choose the program that best fits your needs. Begin scrolling or click any one of the topics in the table of contents to jump to a specific section!

Is Earning a Graduate Degree Valuable?

Depending on the career field you hope to enter (or are currently in), your professional aspirations, and your current skill set and work experience — the answer could be a resounding yes! In many circumstances, a graduate degree functions as a tool to jumpstart or advance your career, bringing you greater lifetime earnings, increased job security, broadened leadership opportunities, and more.

Uncover the true ROI of a graduate degree – read this helpful article!

Read Article

Undergraduate vs. Graduate School:
Similarities and Differences

Over the last two decades, universities across the nation have seen impressive growth in their master’s programs. Since 2000, the growth rate of those earning master’s degrees has outpaced increases in bachelor’s, doctoral, and professional programs. Certain fields of study, primarily business, education, and health professions, have experienced the most growth — accounting for approximately half of all master’s degrees conferred.

Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in occupations requiring a master’s degree will increase by almost 17 percent by 2026.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Outlook for Graduate-level Occupations

Naturally, important questions arise when considering whether to join the growing ranks of those obtaining graduate degrees. Often prospective grad students wonder:

• Is a master’s worth it?

• What’s the real difference between an undergraduate vs. graduate degree?

• How do you choose which program, and degree, are best for you?

To begin answering these questions, we’ve outlined ten important differences between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. You can click the links in the list below to jump straight to the section or topic that interests you:

Graduate School = 
Highly Specific Coursework

During an undergraduate program, students take several foundational and general subject courses, some of which are unrelated to their major. Graduate school coursework, on the other hand, is highly specific. Every course is part of a carefully crafted and predetermined plan to help you earn your advanced degree.

The goal of graduate school is to help you become an expert in your chosen field of study. Graduate school empowers you to become the master of your own education. A master’s program supports a higher level of individualized learning and offers greater professor support to serve your unique goals. You’ll develop self-awareness and self-confidence as you mature as an expert in your field.

4 Things That Might Happen in Your Graduate Courses...

You’ll become a subject matter expert in your specific field

You may work closely with faculty on real-world projects to support your learning objectives

You’ll take fewer courses, and the material covered will “go deep” rather than “wide”

You may only have 1-2 exams or papers throughout the course, as opposed to quizzes or tests every section

Flexibility in an Undergraduate vs. Graduate Degree

Switching majors or even schools one to two years into an undergraduate program is very doable because of the universality of the degree, similarities between programs across institutions, and the time you have to complete the degree. In graduate school, however, it is not as easy to make a change to a new program or school. While not impossible, most master’s programs take one to two years to complete — so if you think you want to make a change, initiating it during your first semester is your best bet for retaining the most credit hours.

Additionally, because master’s programs often cater to working professionals or individuals with families, these programs frequently offer several delivery options including online and hybrid courses. With one of these flexible program options, you can earn a master’s quickly while continuing to add to your professional experience as you do so.

What's it like going to grad school while working from home? 5 things you thought were true...

Read Article

Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Admission Requirements

Undergraduate programs have a relatively simple admissions process, and commonly include submitting your high school grades, SAT or ACT scores, and providing a few writing samples and letters of recommendation. Graduate school applications often require these items and more. Other common admission requirements for graduate school could include proof of a completed bachelor’s degree, GRE/GMAT scores, a minimum undergraduate GPA, a statement of purpose, a research proposal, and an interview with the school. Certain graduate programs will have prerequisite course requirements, so be sure to inquire about your specific program of interest. Also, if you are an international student, check with the college or university to see if you need to provide additional documentation.

Undergraduate Admission Requirements

Application Fee

High School Transcripts

SAT or ACT scores

Letters of Recommendation

Personal Essay

Graduate Admission Requirements

Application + Fee

Undergraduate Transcripts

GRE or GMAT scores (or equivalent)

Letters of Recommendation


Personal Statement

Note: This is a typical list of requirements, but schools may not be the same. Always check with your program for their specific admission requirements.

Resources to Help You Navigate Grad School Admissions

The Difference Between Graduate and Undergraduate Courses

Undergraduate students juggle 5-6 courses per semester, while graduate students may only take 1-4 advanced level courses each term. These courses involve more reading and research than undergraduate classes and typically have fewer assignments. Because there are fewer projects, papers, and exams for graduate-level courses, each item is worth more and is expected to be a demonstration of your expertise in the subject.

Undergraduate vs Graduate Student Community

Undergraduate classes are often large lectures with hundreds of students, whereas graduate classes are much smaller (usually under 20 students). In grad school, you will become well acquainted with the other students and the professor. After a rigorous application process, you can be sure of the caliber of students that surround you. With everyone’s diverse backgrounds, work, and life experiences, you will learn from and challenge each other. Additionally, you will learn to work with your professors as opposed to simply completing assignments for their classes.

Also, community during graduate school will likely be very different from your experience in an undergraduate program. For many undergrad students, this is the first time in their lives they’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. That is why there are so many clubs, social groups, and activities geared toward engaging and acclimating undergrad students.

When you earn a graduate degree, you probably won’t find the same number of social clubs and organizations, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t community in grad school. Graduate students are far more independent than undergrads. Many hold jobs or have families while earning their degrees, meaning they don’t need the same level of social support. The majority of your community will come through relationships with your fellow students and with your professors. Many schools also offer dedicated graduate student resources to help you during your program, like the Office for Graduate Student Affairs at SHU.

The Difference Between Graduate Level Research and Undergraduate Research

Research experience is valuable in almost every line of work. It teaches you to plan, think critically and logically, seek out answers to your questions, and incorporate those findings into your work. Research in an undergraduate program typically consists of a few research projects or papers, whereas in graduate school, research could make up the vast majority of learning in the classes. Depending on your program and area of interest, graduate students generally have access to advanced tools and systems that they can use for research purposes.

Master’s programs typically take one of two tracks: thesis and non-thesis degrees. If you pursue a graduate degree with a thesis or research focus, you’ll have the opportunity to work closely with a professor on their research projects, learning from them and discovering your own areas of interest.

Here are a couple of key differences between a thesis and a non-thesis master’s:

Thesis (Research-focused) Master's

Main focus: selecting, researching, and defending a thesis

Fewer courses, more time to focus on research and writing

You’ll often work directly with one professor who oversees your thesis project

You’ll present a final, cumulative research project/thesis — a large portion of your final grade

Non-Thesis Master's

Main focus: deepening your understanding of your field of study

Coursework could include traditional classroom lectures, hands-on experiential learning opportunities, and some research and writing

You won’t have one assigned professor to work with, but that doesn’t mean you cannot choose a mentor

Your final grade is dependant on your coursework throughout your degree and may culminate with a comprehensive examination

Professional Marketability and Career Outcomes in Undergrad vs Grad Programs

While an undergraduate degree allows you to apply for entry-level jobs, a graduate degree expands your job market and increases your favorability in the eyes of potential employers. In a competitive market, you’ll need an edge over other job applicants. Graduate school gives you a larger network and better connections. When career advancement opportunities, promotions, and leadership positions open up, your graduate degree will help you stand out as the best candidate.

Earning a graduate degree can also lead to greater annual and lifetime earnings than a bachelor’s alone. A 2017 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that higher levels of education generally correlate with higher salaries. The study found that bachelor’s degree holders earned just under $61,000 per year, master’s degree holders earned $72,852, and doctoral degree holders earned $90,636 annually. Actual earnings will surpass those figures due to salary increases over time, promotional increases, and inflation.

A 40-year career easily takes advanced degree holders well into the $3 million lifetime earnings range, compared to just $2.4 million for bachelor degree holders.


Personal and Professional Leadership Development in Graduate School

An undergraduate degree offers you a broad knowledge base, but a graduate degree sets you up to be a leader in your field. A Gallup poll found that 82 percent of managers aren’t good at leading people, even while corporations spend billions to develop them. This means there is an imminent need for qualified leaders in today’s workforce.

Through the rigors of graduate school, you will gain many of the necessary skills and character traits companies look for in their leaders. During your degree program, you’ll work as part of many teams and develop critical thinking, problem-solving, time management, perseverance, commitment, and communication skills — all qualities that hiring managers look for in the leaders they need.

4 Tips for Developing Your Leadership Skills in Grad School


If you have a cohort or study group, take the initiative and become the unofficial “leader” in the group. Start a group text, reserve space in the library to meet as a study group, be the first to invite others to get together and work on a group project, etc…


Take on a new project or responsibility. Tell your professor that you’re interested in learning more about their area of expertise. Ask if you can help them with a research project or assist them with one of their undergraduate classes.


Practice time management and self-discipline. Most great leaders possess these qualities, which help keep them organized and help those under their management to thrive. Practice these skills while juggling a full graduate course load.


Seek out new learning opportunities. Even though you are in graduate school, a full-time learning engagement in itself, consider other opportunities that will broaden your knowledge and allow you to practice your skill set. Leaders never settle for what they know, they always seek to improve themselves.

Graduate Student Thesis or Capstone Project

Like we discussed in “The Difference Between Graduate Level Research and Undergraduate Research” above, depending on your program you may have the opportunity to choose between a thesis or non-thesis degree track. Thesis granting programs are usually concentrated in the sciences and health professions at the master’s level. It’s also important to note that virtually all doctoral programs will focus heavily on research and thesis writing.

At Sacred Heart, students who would like to earn a Master’s in Chemistry can choose from one of four options: Chemistry Thesis Track, Chemistry Non-Thesis Track, Chem-Bioinformatics Non-Thesis Track, and Molecular Biochemistry Non-Thesis Track. Students who choose the thesis track will work under the supervision of a faculty member to craft a thesis project proposal, which includes approximately six months of research that culminates in a written thesis.

Similar to a thesis project, graduate students may enroll in a program that has a capstone, or a final project that demonstrates the culmination of a student’s work and summarizes their findings over their graduate degree. This project can reach beyond lab research into hands-on experiences and community engagement projects.

At Sacred Heart, our Master of Public Health students complete a capstone experience, which will be either a master’s research thesis study or an applied practice experience with an external community partner. Students choose their area of study and are mentored by a faculty member throughout their program. Current MPH students are working on projects ranging from community-based participatory research to complex epidemiological analysis.

What's the Difference Between Undergraduate and Graduate Hands-On Learning Opportunities

While hands-on or experiential learning can (and should) happen at any degree level, many graduate programs offer greater opportunities and flexibility to incorporate these experiences. Especially at the graduate level, experiential learning solidifies a student’s expertise in their discipline, by offering them the opportunity to act upon their knowledge in the real world. It also provides them with the opportunity to further develop their professional skills while still in grad school.

Many of Sacred Heart’s programs offer unparalleled opportunities for hands-on learning and professional development. Here are a few examples:

Caroline Burns is a graduate student in the Master of Public Health program at SHU. MPH students have the opportunity to complete an Applied Practice Experience where they partner with an external community partner to apply what they have learned in the classroom in a real-world setting.

Burns is addressing childhood poverty in four census tract areas in the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut. This will be done through a Collective Impact Survey to obtain the stories and lived experiences of the families living in the selected census tract areas. Collective Impact is a public health framework that is used to understand complex social problems. The Collective Impact Survey is the first step in facilitating a system change to overcome the barriers of the high rate of childhood poverty in the Naugatuck Valley. Additionally, Burns will assist with the implementation of specific objectives to improve Maternal and Infant Health outcomes in the Valley, identified in the Naugatuck Valley Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).

woman helping students in the philippines

Graduate students in the College of Business and Technology have the opportunity to work on real-world projects in the Problem-Based Learning Lab. Local businesses provide real projects for Sacred Heart students to complete. The program is designed to mutually benefit SHU’s students and the local business community, by providing high-quality business solutions to some of today’s complex business problems. 

Students in the College of Health Professions can benefit from the myriad of hands-on experiences available through the Center for Healthcare Education. This 120,000 square foot, state-of-the-art learning center offers a plethora of labs and classrooms for hands-on learning, instruction, and collaboration including: 

  • Audiology clinic
  • Motion analysis and human performance labs
  • Driving simulator
  • Pediatrics clinic
  • 8 Simulation hospital rooms
  • 5 Simulation mannequins
  • Anatomage table
  • And more!
sacred heart university building

How to Choose a Grad School and Degree Program

In order to choose the school and degree that are right for you, you should begin by identifying your interests, your ideal career, and your needs (part/full time, geographic location, price range, etc…). After determining these, investigate various programs and look into their requirements, curriculum, research opportunities, and graduation outcomes. It is also a good idea to talk with admissions professionals, professors, and, if possible, the students in the program.

We’ve covered everything you should look for in a graduate degree program, from accreditations and rankings to facilities and faculty, in our resource — Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Go to Grad School.

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Once you’ve selected a program you should request more information about the degree. If offered, you should also take advantage of virtual events or in-person offerings on campus such as information sessions and open houses. Even if you plan to earn your degree online, visiting the campus and having a face-to-face conversation with admissions professionals, faculty, students, and alumni of the program will give you the chance to have your questions answered and help you envision what it would be like to attend.


Resources to Help You Choose the Right Degree

Sacred Heart's Most Valuable Graduate Resources

If you are ready to take the next steps in pursuing a graduate degree, we have resources to help you! Learn about our guides below and click to access them!

SHU chapel horizontal

6 Hidden Gems within SHU's Grad Programs

Why should Sacred Heart matter to you? What makes our graduate community stand out above the rest? We’ve distilled it down to the six hidden gems found within our graduate programs. From personal stories to inspiring anecdotes, we’re excited to share our “why” with you, and to let these numbers (and stories) speak for themselves!

graduate cap in a cup

The Grad Decision Guide

Thinking about going to grad school is both exciting and a little intimidating. It is certainly not a decision anyone should take lightly, as it requires a firm commitment of both time and resources. Yet, there are many reasons it could be the best path for you to build your skill set and advance your current (or future) career. This guide will help you decide whether graduate school is the right decision for you, and how you can best prepare for this monumental life change.

textbooks in a library

The Guide for Working Professionals

If you’re already working from home, you may struggle to decide if you should add another responsibility to your plate. Graduate school is demanding, but earning your graduate degree now is a smart choice, especially if you’re able to work from home. This resource helps you navigate grad school, while remaining employed, and offers tips, advice, and encouragement on your path to career success.

Small workstation in a living space

The Hybrid Guide

A graduate degree through a hybrid delivery, or hybrid program, combines traditional, in-classroom learning with online education. Many students who value the in-classroom experience of a traditional program find that pursuing such a degree is impossible for them as they also work to advance their careers. A hybrid program can take some getting used to, but many students find it provides them with the best of both worlds: face-to-face interaction and the convenience of online learning. This resource explains how SHU’s hybrid programs work.

graduate and professor shaking hands during graduation

The SHU Grad Programs Guide

Whether you have just begun to entertain the idea of returning to school or are ready to submit your first round of applications, this guide will help you better understand the breadth of graduate degrees offered at Sacred Heart University and connect you with resources to learn more about your program of interest.

Begin Your Grad Degree Today!

If you want to advance your career and position yourself to make significant contributions to your field — considering a graduate program is a great first step. A graduate degree gives you the opportunity to become an expert in your field, to collaborate with like-minded and passionate individuals, and to gain a competitive professional edge.

In today’s world, obtaining your undergraduate degree allows you to “check a box” on your list of personal accomplishments. Graduate school provides you with the knowledge to think outside of that box! – Paul Rychlik, MS, MBA, PMP, Director of Graduate Admissions

The professionals at Sacred Heart are here to help you as you consider the differences between an undergraduate and graduate degree, and decide which level of education will help you accomplish your goals. Click one of the buttons below to get started!