What is a graduate student?

A graduate student is a someone who has completed an undergraduate degree and has returned to university for an advanced degree (usually a master's). When transitioning from an undergraduate to graduate program there is a distinct shift to thinking about the unknown and applying theory.  

Pursuing a master's often has different reasons, like, a change in career direction or career development. Some master's students are undertaking their course to then move onto a Ph.D. and excel in the world of academia. 

The length of time in a master's program will take will be dependent on several factors. Remember there are maximum allowed program times.

Key Differences from Undergrad to Grad


Many courses outside the field are required as general education requirements. Classes are the sole means of evaluation for graduation.

Students complete an in-depth study of one field and enter into an extended research apprenticeship with a faculty member.  The primary means of evaluation for graduation is a research project or thesis, judged by a faculty committee.

Students may remain enrolled and continue progress on their degree even if GPA falls below a 3.0.

Minimum GPA for continuing enrollment is a 3.0.

Most courses are very large. Four years of coursework are completed.  Involvement with faculty is largely at the initiation of the student.

All courses are small, and involvement with faculty is direct and extensive.  Usually only one year of coursework is completed.

Students finance their own education.

Some students receive tuition support and stipends that pay costs towards their education in exchange for conducting research, assisting in teaching duties and administrative functions.

Students are expected to work independently and produce high quality results, as measured by a GPA.

Students are expected to work independently and produce high quality results, as measured by research, publication, and presentations judged by senior peers.

Retrieved from Pearson (2011)