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Uni 101: Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

Written by: Ishrat Chahal and Avani Kaur Ladhar | Edited by: Sithara Naidoo

Uni 101: This is the first article in a collaborative series by Ishrat Chahal and Avani Kaur Ladhar. With Ishrat being a high school student and Avani recently finishing her undergraduate degree, they hope to prepare high school students for university and make the experience seem less obscure and daunting.


From the moment we step into high school, we are bombarded with terms such as “undergrad” and “grad” — terms that we are never quite taught, yet expected to understand. High school itself is undoubtedly difficult to navigate, and these post-secondary (after high school) related terms and ideas can only contribute to our stress. In this post, we will be breaking down exactly what some of these notoriously prevalent terms mean, as well as a general overview of what they entail.

Undergraduate Degrees

These types of degrees can be done right after high school and are typically the first programs that high school students complete in their post-secondary journey.

The two types of undergraduate degrees are a bachelor’s and an associate’s degree:

  • A bachelor’s degree is the most well-known and most common undergraduate degree. It typically takes four years to complete but it is common for people to do it over the course of five, or even more, years.

  • An associate’s degree can be completed within a shorter time frame, usually two to three years (which can translate to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree).

  • There are also diploma option programs that last about two years. An example of this would be the Human Resources Management Diploma at MacEwan University.

The courses that are required for most undergraduate degrees are secondary-school level depending on the program you apply to, different subjects may be needed for different programs.

For example, at the University of Alberta (UofA), to apply to a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, you need:

  • ELA 30-1

  • ONE course from: fine arts, humanities, languages other than English or math/sciences

  • THREE courses from: humanities, languages other than English and/ or math/sciences

Whereas for a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the UofA, you need:

  • ELA 30-1

  • ONE course from: fine arts, humanities, languages other than English, options, physical education, math/sciences

  • Biology 30

  • Chemistry 30

  • Mathematics 30-1

In other instances, you may need to have already gone through a post-secondary program to apply to a bachelor’s.

An example of this scenario would be the application for a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting at the UofA :

  • 24 credits or around one year of post-secondary education that would be transferable to this course upon admission in the following manner: junior level English (six credits), ECON 101 (three credits), ECON 102 (three credits), MATH 154 (three credits), STAT 161 (three credits).

It is a good idea to explore and learn about the admissions requirements for the programs that you want to apply for and plan your courses in high school accordingly. The UofA has a wide variety of undergraduate programs that you can check out!

Graduate Degrees

Next up, graduate degrees. You may be asking yourself what is a graduate degree? How is it different from an undergraduate degree?

Graduate programs include many kinds of degrees, such as master’s degrees, professional doctorates and Doctors of Philosophy (PhDs). They take, on average, one and a half to three years to complete.

  • Like a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science (only two of the many types of bachelor’s degrees), there are also different types of master’s degrees, such as Master of Arts, of Sciences of Fine Arts and more.

  • Professional doctorates are more profession-oriented and focus on applying knowledge to an industry. Some include: Juris Doctors (JDs) and Doctor of Medicine (MDs).

  • Finally, PhDs are the highest level of post-secondary education you can receive; these programs are focused most on extensive research in a particular field, such as technology, humanities and social sciences.

Applying to graduate programs comes with its own set of admissions requirements but a general rule of thumb is to keep your grades as high as possible, cultivate relationships with professors, and get involved in the community!

  • For example, to apply to a Master of Business Administration at the UofA, you are required to have an undergraduate degree in any area of study, along with other requirements; the same applies to the Juris Doctor (JD) in the field of law.

We hope that the information in this article provides you with a more extensive understanding of these post-secondary terms, as well as a general overview of the post-secondary admissions process!

Additionally, we would like to remind you that although this transition can be hard, it is important to remain optimistic and keep pushing through! This is an exciting time full of great opportunities and important lessons. Keep an eye out for more Uni 101 posts and please feel free to use the comment section to share any questions, thoughts or advice you may have regarding post-secondary!

“This too shall pass”

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