Undergraduate vs. Graduate School: A Professor's Perspective

What's the Difference between Graduate and Undergraduate School?

There are many differences between earning an undergraduate vs graduate degree. First, undergraduate degrees are distinguished between associate’s and bachelor’s, whereas graduate degrees are master’s and doctorates.

Plus, there are a variety of certificate programs that are available at different levels.
undergraduate vs graduate

Curriculum Differences Between Degree Levels

But the main difference between the two is the depth of your curriculum. Graduate students analyze topics much more in-depth and are usually more focused on a particular aspect of a subject.

On the other hand, undergraduate students are usually taught more general concepts to provide a foundation for future learning. Requirements also include general education courses to provide a well-rounded degree.

Reading and Literacy Graduate Programs

Using modern practices and techniques in teaching, graduate reading and literacy programs help teachers preparing for certification, those pursuing a new career path, and those who are passionate about helping others.

Typically, the curriculum includes:

  • Learning Theory
  • Reading and Language Acquisition
  • Curriculum Development
  • Psychology of Literacy
  • Literacy Trends and Research Methodologies

Specific courses will vary from school to school and depending on the degree level you choose.

Masters Programs in Reading and Literacy

An in-depth analysis of teaching methods, master’s degree programs in reading and literacy examine:

  • How people acquire language
  • Develop strategies for improving reading skills
  • How to help students with language-based learning disabilities

Check out the sponsored listings below to learn more about each program, when you can start, and the differences in curriculum.

Loyola University Chicago

With students and faculty from all faiths and backgrounds with a common purpose of building a better society, Loyola University Chicago offers an unmatched educational experience shaped by Jesuit traditions.

Designed to prepare teachers who currently hold a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license, the Master’s Degree in Reading integrates research, writing as literacy, and the goal of serving social justice.

Capella University

As an accredited online university, Capella University is dedicated to providing an exceptional, professionally-aligned education that puts you in the best position to succeed.

The Master of Science in Reading and Literacy program helps you give the gift of literacy to children, to learn to assess and adapt curriculum, and teach the latest in theory and practice.

Doctorate Programs in Reading and Literacy

Earning a PhD in reading and literacy usually interests students looking to pursue a career in educational administration, research techniques, or experimental research methods in helping develop literacy.

As the sponsored listings below show, programs usually include an analysis of different factors of illiteracy and include examining theories of leadership.

St. John’s University

St. John’s University, located in New York City, is a Catholic and Vincentian university that prepares students for personal and professional success in today’s global society.

The PhD in Literary Program encourages proactive research that seeks solutions to the external factors that contribute to the educational well-being of students and advocates for equity and social justice.

Walden University

For 45 years, Walden University, has been serving the higher education needs of adult learners. As an accredited institution with students from all 50 states and more than 150 countries, Walden’s programs reflect current market trends and promote positive social change.

While earning the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a Reading and Literacy Specialization, you will study how to improve reading and curriculum outcomes across the educational spectrum, including:

  • Instruction
  • Program Design
  • Policy Implementation

Undergraduate vs Graduate Interview

Recently, we had the opportunity to discuss the differences between undergraduate and graduate degrees with Professor Colleen Lelli of Cabrini College.

During this interview, she shares the differences between an undergraduate and graduate student and how professors perceive the two types of learners.

Q: Do you prepare differently for graduate students than you do for undergrads? If so, how?

A: Yes, I do prepare differently. Graduate students are held to a higher caliber than undergraduate students. Graduate students are expected to have better research skills and more in-depth and applied knowledge. However, graduate students may have other responsibilities, and that is a consideration most professors take into account.

Q: What are your expectations of your grad students in contrast to those for your undergrads?

A: Graduate students are expected to provide insight and relevant experiences to classroom content. Graduate students should already have the relevant background experiences necessary for further exploration for research and insightful classroom discussions.

Q: Characterize as best you can the student/teacher relationship in graduate school and how it differs from the undergrad relationship.

A: At the undergraduate level, the teacher needs to guide students to become better researchers and to think more critically regarding various issues. At the graduate level, I almost see the teacher more as a sounding board for affirmation or guidance in issues regarding the graduate program.

Special Education Graduate Programs

Special education graduate programs teach how to effectively work with students who may have a variety of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities.

Both master’s and PhD programs offer a variety of choices, such as concentrations or research specializations. These can help you focus your curriculum and your knowledge even more.

Master’s Degree Programs in Special Education

While pursuing a special education master’s degree, your curriculum teaches how to identify or diagnose disabilities and how to develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for each student.

Many programs offer concentrations, such as:

  • Early childhood
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Speech and language issues
  • Education of the visually impaired

Check out some of the sponsored listings below to learn about each school’s curriculum and which concentrations are available.

Winthrop University

As a public, comprehensive university committed to being among the very best institutions in the nation, Winthrop University offers an educational experience that blends liberal arts, professional programs, global awareness, and civic engagement.

The Master of Education in Special Education Intervention prepares educational leaders to build, lead, and participate in intervention programs. These programs are designed to coordinate and deliver evidence-based interventions in the areas of behavior, literacy, and numeracy.

Saint Joseph’s University

For over 160 years, Saint Joseph’s University has been engaging men and women in a rigorous Jesuit education that empowers them to become leaders in their industries and communities.

Built on the foundation of the Response to Instruction and Intervention (RII) program, a research-based strategy for student achievement, the MS in Special Education combines advanced training with expert practitioner skills.

Doctoral Programs in Special Education

PhD programs in special education typically involve more individualized research than a master’s degree. Some schools also offer concentrations or research specializations, which include:

  • Positive behavior support
  • Low-incidence disabilities
  • Early intervention
  • Prevention and academic interventions
  • Severe disabilities

Different schools may offer different options, which is why it’s important to understand your goals and interests before choosing where to apply.

University of San Francisco

The approach to learning and commitment to teaching students of every faith, the University of San Francisco uses its Jesuit tradition as the foundation for their mission and vision.

With a curriculum aligned with current perspectives in disability studies in education, and that utilizes a cross-disciplinary approach, the Doctor of Education in Special Education is designed for educators and leaders.

Grand Canyon University

For more than 65 years, Grand Canyon University has been the gateway to success for countless scholars and industry leaders. Their commitment to a Christian worldview provides greater unity across the university.

Providing training and research to help you become a leader in special education, the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Special Education takes an in-depth research-based approach to teaching.

Q: What would you tell graduate students they need to do in order to prepare for graduate school?

A: Students need to work hard! They need to be prepared to juggle many life issues at once and be able to focus on the work in graduate school. They need to be willing to be a class contributor and continue in the area of research.

Q: What can graduate students expect when beginning a program?

A: When beginning a graduate program, students should expect to feel overwhelmed. Once the student gets used to juggling work, life responsibilities and graduate school, it will become easier. My best advice is to develop a schedule and develop a time management plan. By sticking to a time management plan, the student will feel less overwhelmed and be better able to handle the new responsibilities of graduate school.

Q: Why would you encourage people to attend graduate school?

A: I feel that all education is important. Education is power, and the more knowledge students have regarding their area of study, the better people skills, social skills and research skills they will have.

Q: How do you try to meet the flexibility needs of your grad students?

A: I try to understand that students have various schedules, strengths and needs. Every student has different learning styles and needs. I try to take each student's situation into account and realize that what one student needs, another may not.

Q: How have you seen your graduate students (particularly adults) balance school, work and life?

A: I must say my adult learners seem to do very well with balancing the many issues they have going on, such as school, life and work. Not to say that my other students don't do well, it's just that the adult learners seem to be able to keep up with little or no foreseen problems.

Colleen Lelli received her bachelor's degree from Cabrini College and her master's degree in Reading from Arcadia University. She recently completed a doctoral degree in reading and language arts at Widener University. She was a special-education classroom teacher at the high school level for seven years. And currently she is a full-time faculty education instructor at Cabrini College.

Higher Education Graduate Programs

The curriculum of higher education graduate programs cover topics in:

  • Management
  • Student affairs
  • Curriculum development
  • Educational policy analysis
  • Finance
  • Student admissions

By examining these subjects, graduate programs take a more in-depth analysis than undergraduate and may prepare you for leadership roles in admissions, marketing, policy, and recruiting.

Masters Programs in Higher Education

While pursuing a master’s degree in higher education, courses usually include:

  • Enrollment management
  • Student success
  • Resource allocation
  • Higher education administration

Check out some of the sponsored schools below to find the perfect higher education program for you.

Canisius College

Founded in 1870 by German Jesuits, Canisius College is one of only 28 Jesuit, Catholic colleges in the nation. Distinguished by close student-faculty collaboration, Canisius uses experiential learning to transform the mind and spirit.

Through a comprehensive combination of coursework, internships, and independent research, the Master of Science in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration covers numerous aspects of higher education from theories of leadership to counseling in student affairs.

University of Louisville

With a mission of pursuing excellence and inclusiveness to educate and serve its community, the University of Louisville is committed to becoming a nationally recognized metropolitan research university.

Designed for students who wish to qualify for college administrative positions, the Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration helps you use contemporary methods to conduct and apply research relevant to postsecondary administration.

Higher Education Doctoral Programs

Depending on the program and the career you’d like to pursue after graduation, there are different types doctoral degrees in higher education.

For instance, PhD programs are usually more focused on theory and research than other doctorates. On the other hand, EdD programs are more geared towards organizational leadership and professionals working in education, including both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Check out some of the programs below to find which is more aligned with your goals.

Concordia University-Portland

Concordia University-Portland is a private, non-profit Christian liberal arts university open to students of all faiths and provides a challenging, yet supportive learning environment.

The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership – Higher Education is designed to help you become a transformational leader. Courses are practical and research-based and provide leadership and decision-making skills.

Colorado Technical University

With a mission to provide industry-related higher education to a diverse student population through innovative technology and experienced faculty, Colorado Technical University helps your pursuit of personal and professional goals.

The Doctor of Management with a Specialization in Higher Education Leadership teaches how to apply leadership and management principles to solve the issues that may arise in senior level academic positions.

Choosing Your Degree Level

Now that your questions about undergraduate vs. graduate studies' questions have been answered, the next question is: Master's or Ph.D.: Which Is Right for You?

Check out any of the sponsored listings on this page or use our quick degree finder at the top of the page to get matched to the perfect program for you!