Graduate candidates might be embarrassed to ask, but knowing what to expect, socially, academically and culturally of a graduate degree experience is hard to pin down. Applicants usually have an undergraduate degree as their only point of reference in higher education, but are the two experiences relatable? Yes and no. Here are some of the ways grad school is different from undergrad.

  • More focused and practical. You will no longer have the opportunity (or burden) of exploring courses of different subjects. All of your courses will be focused around one discipline and the majority will have very practical real-life applications. No more yoga or walking for fitness to fulfil your PE requirement!
  • Grades don’t matter as much. Shhh – don’t tell your graduate student friends. Grades in graduate school are not as important as in undergrad. Unless you’re planning to apply for an additional graduate degree, such as a Ph.D., employers will not ask for your grades. More important than grades are your understanding and ability to use the material in your future career.
  • Less fun and games. There is far less time, opportunity and desire for student activities. Not that graduate school cannot be fun, but for many reasons grad students tend to be more focused on their department than undergraduates. All this leaves less time to explore and engage in student activities.
  • Highly varied student body. Unlike undergrad where the majority of students are away from home for the first time and embarking on their adult lives together, grad students are much more diverse in terms of age and experience. Almost all live off-campus, many have families, many are working professional jobs and they are all different ages.
  • Less handholding. Grad programs expect their students to be more autonomous and independent. They do not put as many resources into advising and they expect students to be in charge of fulfilling degree requirements. Expect fewer checkpoints and meetings to ensure you’re “on target” and making the most of your degree. This isn’t to say that graduate program advisors and support programs are not helpful, but you will be expected to navigate these resources with more independence than as an undergrad student.

To learn more about how grad school is different than college, you might also want to reach out to current students in graduate programs that you plan on targeting to discuss with them how they have handled the transition.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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