The Difference Between Undergraduate & Postgraduate

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Speak to any seasoned student and they’ll tell you that the leap from undergraduate to postgraduate studying doesn’t always have to be a huge one. Some even find the transition from one to the other quite seamless and enjoyable. However, understanding either needs to start by answering two questions:

1. What is an undergraduate degree?

It’s exactly what it sounds like. An undergraduate degree is usually your first university or tertiary degree, such as an Associate or Bachelor’s degree.

It offers a broad overview of a particular subject. The undergraduate qualification must be completed before considering any postgraduate endeavours. You cannot undertake a postgraduate degree without first completing an undergraduate qualification.

2. What is a postgraduate degree?

A postgraduate degree or qualification is an advanced area of study in your respective field. You can undertake postgraduate study after you have completed an undergraduate degree or have equivalent work experience. The postgraduate degree or programme allows you to specialise or acquire a specific skill set.  Postgraduate courses include Postgraduate Certificates, Postgraduate Diplomas, Masters Degree and a PhD. 

The main difference between undergraduate and postgraduate studies

Entry requirements

The entry requirements for an undergraduate degree will be determined by your Matric results and subjects. Certain undergraduate degrees and qualifications have minimum entry requirements, like Higher Grade Maths or Accounting. The entry requirements for a postgraduate degree will be dependent on your undergraduate completion. It will also depend on the subject(s) in which you majored. Sometimes, a postgraduate degree will involve a selection process to determine whether you’re the right fit for the programme. 

Level of detail and curriculum

An undergraduate degree provides the student with a broad view of the subject or area of study. These are basic skills that will enable you to find employment in your chosen field. A postgraduate degree, in contrast, is far more detailed and will cover complex subjects. A postgraduate qualification will help become a specialist in your chosen field. There is also a lot more research involved with a postgraduate degree and you will be expected to conduct research-based projects and may have to produce a thesis or dissertation.

Class size

Typically, the class size for an undergraduate degree is much larger than a postgraduate degree class. 

Duration of study

An undergraduate degree or qualification typically lasts three to four years, which will depend on the type of degree you’re studying. A postgraduate programme is often completed part-time so can take longer to complete than an undergraduate qualification. Most Honours and Masters Degrees can be completed in one to two years, full-time. A Doctoral Degree or PhD can take five years or longer to complete.

Learning experience and outcome

The undergraduate degree offers an overall learning experience while a postgraduate degree offers a more intensive and personalised learning experience. The undergraduates usually have many subjects or modules to complete while the postgraduates have fewer modules and lectures. Instead, postgraduate students are expected to conduct research, and self-learning and will have more intensive interaction with the academic faculty. 

Interaction with the academic faculty

As a postgraduate student, you can expect to work far more closely with the academic faculty than a postgraduate student. In fact, you may have the opportunity to be assigned a personal mentor. 

Assessment and exams

A postgraduate degree is completed by meeting the requirements that include completing coursework, lecture attendance and passing examinations. The postgraduate degree relies less on exams and more on the specific coursework and the project or dissertation that must be presented to your academic advisor. 

Discover MANCOSA’s undergraduate and postgraduate degrees

MANCOSA offers a wide range of both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. You can expect to receive a top-quality education from this accredited institution. Find out more by browsing the programme’s page.