Undergraduate vs. Graduate vs. Postgraduate – Complete Guide

There seem to be so many graduate-based words out there, but do you know the differences between them? This article will help you to understand what “undergraduate,” “graduate,” and “postgraduate” mean and how you can make them work in your writing.

What Is The Difference Between “Undergraduate,” “Graduate,” And “Postgraduate”?

An “undergraduate” is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at a university or college. A “graduate” has completed a Bachelor’s degree, which usually requires three or four years of study. A “postgraduate” has completed a Master’s degree above the other two.

undergraduate vs graduate vs postgraduate

You could think of the three phrases like a hierarchy, where one is less “graduated” than the next. It might help you to see it in a table format, so you can refer to the following:

UndergraduateIs currently working toward a Bachelor’s degree. Has completed higher secondary education.
GraduateHas completed a Bachelor’s degree. Usually requires three or four years of study at college or university.
BachelorThe most common title given to graduates. I.e. “Bachelor of Arts”
PostgraduateHas completed a postgraduate course, which can only be done after graduation. Usually requires an additional two years.
MasterThe most common title given to postgraduates. I.e. “Master of Technology”

Hopefully, our table has helped you to make a little more sense of it. You can think of it in descending order in this way, where the most prestigious achievement is given to “postgraduates.”

What Does It Mean To Be An “Undergraduate”?

It might help to take a closer look at each example. We’ll start with “undergraduate,” which is the name given to most students still studying at universities.

An “undergraduate” is any student who is pursuing a degree. They have not yet achieved that degree, but they are spending their time working toward it. They could be in their first, second, or third year of college or university.

The only time an undergraduate will advance to a graduate is when they have completed their degree.

Most degrees take at least three years to complete, and a final year of exams needs to be passed before graduating. That’s why it’s known as “graduation day” when they finally complete those exams.

If you have not yet had “graduation day,” it means you are an “undergraduate.”

  • I am an undergraduate, but I’m working towards getting my Bachelor’s in science!
  • I think we have a few undergraduates in our family for the first time in a decade!
  • The undergraduates are all keen to learn, so we will provide the best teaching for them.
  • I’m an undergraduate, but I really love the buzz and the vibe I get around my campus!

What Does It Mean To Be A “Graduate”?

Next up, let’s go over what it means to be a “graduate.”

A “graduate” is any former student who has completed their degree. They have completed the three or more year course and have passed their final exams to achieve this name. They have also had “graduation day” already to celebrate their achievements.

Some graduates like to go back to study at universities to be students still. However, they are still known as “graduates” in their respective fields rather than losing the title and going back to “undergraduates.”

If we refer to “graduation day,” then we know that a “graduate” has already had this day of celebration. Whether they’ve only just had it or it happened a few years ago is irrelevant, as they will always retain the name of “graduate.”

  • I am a graduate of that university, so I’ll be happy to show you around the campus if you’re interested.
  • We’re all graduates, and we’re so proud that you’re choosing to come to the same school as we did!
  • I love being a graduate! It feels like all of my hard work was finally worth it!
  • If you want to become a graduate, you have got to put in the time and effort to get there!

What Does It Mean To Be A “Postgraduate”?

Finally, we come to the biggest achievement of them all. Becoming a “postgraduate” is optional and isn’t for everyone, so let’s see how it works.

A “postgraduate” chooses to do further study at a college or university. They will continue to study in the same field they graduated from to work toward a Master’s degree. This requires two or more years of further education but is the most prestigious title of them all.

A postgraduate usually chooses to go back to university right after graduation to complete the remainder of their degree. However, there is no time limit, and some people wait a few years before going back to try and get a Master’s degree.

As long as they have already graduated with their degree, it’s up to the graduate whether they want to take it a step further and become a postgraduate.

  • I am a postgraduate, but my workload has gotten almost unbearable! I don’t know if I can cope.
  • You’re a postgraduate because you chose to be! I’m always so impressed with your work ethic.
  • I think you should take on the postgraduate program and try to get your Master’s degree.
  • Should we try out for postgraduate positions? I think it would be a great idea for our future prospects!

Are “Undergraduate,” “Graduate,” And “Postgraduate” Used Differently Across Countries?

Though the graduate words are similar across many countries, there are some differences to highlight.


In the USA, people who have achieved their Bachelor’s degree are known as “undergraduates,” while people who have moved to further education are known as either “graduates” or “postgraduates,” depending on the university they go to.


In India, the same rules apply that we’ve stated throughout this article (and they also apply to every other country in the world).

It’s most common for an undergraduate not to have a degree but be working toward one. A graduate will have a degree, and a postgraduate will be working toward getting a further degree after their original Bachelor’s.

The only key difference comes down from the system of naming or titles used, but that does not changing the graduation system.