Student Life

College vs Graduate School: What to Know

As you plan your next steps, consider college vs grad school and what taking that next step in your higher education will mean.

Kizzy Preston And Kathryn Knight Randolph

August 02, 2022

College vs Graduate School: What to Know
Before you start the grad school search, make sure you know what you're signing up for.
You finished four years of college and feel that you have finally accomplished your goal. Now you will be able to go out and get hired, on the spot, for the job you have always wanted. Or will you? Obtaining the job you want right out of college isn’t always a reality. Many college graduates end up working jobs just to pay the bills, often in industries unrelated to their chosen majors. Also, more often than not these days, a career in a certain field requires a Master’s degree at minimum.

Grad School Search

As a result, students who thought they were done with school at the undergraduate level, choose to go back to school for an advanced degree in hopes of securing a better job and earning more money.
There are some differences between graduate and undergraduate school. The following is a list of some of the changes you can expect as you begin your grad school search.
1. You’re responsible for housing.
Unlike undergraduate colleges and universities that provide housing, such as dorms or apartments for their students, graduate schools often do not. With that, there is more research that goes into choosing and preparing to attend a specific school.
When choosing a graduate degree program, it is important to know where you will live. If you have to have off-campus housing, then you may have to maintain a full or part-time job while in school. As you consider grad schools, think about the program you want to attend, the city you will live in, and what kind of financial considerations you need to make to afford it all. Do you need a part- or full-time job? Can your housing and other student expenses be covered by grad loans?
2. Your studies are more focused.
While at the undergraduate level. students must take a lot of general education courses they may not care for. Graduate degrees, however, usually require only courses that relate to the student’s major. This will help a student to be more focused and enthusiastic about their course work.
Many graduate programs offer students the opportunity to apply for assistantships and fellowships. If a student earns one of these, they work for the school and usually the entire tuition is paid for. They may also qualify for a stipend each semester. The student will work as an assistant in a department, or they may even teach undergraduate courses. Applying for an assistantship and/or fellowship is a great way to offset the price of going back to school. It will enable them to eliminate or minimize the need for grad loans.
3. You must prepare for and take the GRE/GMAT/LSAT/MCAT/etc.
There will be exams that you need to take to enter some graduate programs. It is a good idea to find out which grad school exam you will need to take to enter the graduate degree program of your choice and begin to study for it. Make sure to visit the website for the specific test you must take to learn about deadlines and fees. Because tests are only given on certain dates, and there is a wait time for the scores to be sent to your school of choice, it is best to get a head start on the process. Just like you practiced for the SAT and ACT during the college admissions process, you can practice for grad school exams too. Peterson’s offers a wide range of study guides and practice tests for grad school exams.
4. Your program length will vary by field of study.
Unlike bachelor degrees which usually take four years to complete, graduate level degrees can take anywhere from one to six years to complete, depending on your program. It is best to be informed on the length of a program and credit hours required for graduation before beginning. Ask yourself: How much do you really like the subject matter? How will earning the degree change your career trajectory? Ultimately, is it worth the cost to attend graduate school? Typically, Master’s degree holders will make more than a student who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. For an idea of how much you’ll make with your further education, see Monster’s Salary Tool. You can search for job opportunities by job title and location.
5. Your financial aid options look different.
Grad students rely more heavily on assistantships, fellowships, and grants to pay for school. These applications oftentimes require just as much work as the graduate school application itself; however, they are invaluable in that they provide funding for tuition, research, and more. There are also grad school loans from the federal government and private lenders, known as Grad PLUS Loans. Finally, some grad students may qualify for Federal Work Study, which is similar to the undergraduate financial aid program. Finally, just like undergrad, Fastweb offers scholarships for graduate students. All you have to do is fill out a free profile, and we’ll find scholarships that you qualify for from our database.

College vs. Graduate School

There are many differences between being an undergraduate student and a graduate student. It is important to be as informed as possible, as early as possible. Even if you don’t want to go directly into a graduate program, having a clear understanding of what to expect when you do decide to take the leap will put you ahead of the game.

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