A Semester in Review: Graduate School vs. Undergrad

A Semester in Review: Graduate School vs. Undergrad

Me! Right after my May 2021 graduation!

Has it been a few months or a few years since you completed your undergraduate degree? Are you contemplating the courageous decision to take on your master’s degree immediately after earning your bachelor’s? Whatever your situation is, you are here, reading this little article on the differences between undergraduate and graduate studies at Columbia College Chicago.

I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in May of 2021 and began my Master’s program in September of 2021. I have always known that I wanted to earn my master’s degree, but it was not until the second semester of my senior year at Columbia that I figured out exactly what my focus would be and why. While going through the entire process of filling out my application and interviewing to be accepted into the program, it never crossed my mind that there would be differences between my undergraduate and graduate studies. These differences are not as stark or detrimental as one may think at first. The main elements that represented the biggest difference for me were the class schedule, the cohort, and the coursework.

My friends and I from undergrad after our final class!

  • Class Schedule – Compared to my undergraduate program, the graduate studies format is much more flexible. In undergrad, I was a full-time student and took 15 credit hours per semester. For my M.A. program, I am also a full-time student, with 12 credit hours. Although I have one less class per semester, my M.A. program is accelerated, as each class only runs for 7-8 weeks, and the next course begins immediately afterward. This format was both attractive and intimidating to me because things move at a much quicker pace, but I am only required to meet in person for these classes 3 times out of the semester. In my undergraduate program things were a bit slower, and there were times when meeting in person or on Zoom for 3 hours seemed unnecessary. In the graduate program our limited meetings were used to their full potential.
  • Relationships – In your master’s program, your classmates and peers are given the name “cohort,” which at first I thought was just a fancy name. However, as the semester has progressed I realized these individuals are very valuable, not just for present success, but as future keys to your network. Additionally, the professors have been great relationships to forge because they have either lived or are living in the field that they are teaching you about, and they will be the key to unlocking opportunities for you. In my case, a few of the classes I have taken are Financial Forecasting, Legal Aspects, and Global Economics. All of these are fields I am not familiar with, but as an entrepreneur, I will need professional accountants, lawyers, and economists to help me. With these classes, I have these individuals at my disposal.
  • Course Load – The structure of my program definitely plays an influential factor in the amount of coursework I have received, making it much more manageable, surprisingly, compared to my undergrad studies. Now, it may not be the same for all programs, and I am not here to speak for everyone, but I do suggest taking your coursework much more seriously than in undergrad and applying it to the real world in any instance that you can, especially if you are working in your field while in school or creating an entrepreneurial venture like me. I try to find any way I can to use my homework for my real business. At my previous job, my manager was in grad school and she would often apply some of the principles she learned to our positions and evaluate the work we were conducting.

With two weeks left of my first semester of graduate school, I can honestly say I am very pleased with my decision to keep going after finishing my undergraduate degree, and my experience has been a lot less stressful than I first imagined. If you are considering making the jump to earn your Master’s degree, please reach out to a student in the department you are considering to ask their opinions about the program and the differences they have felt compared to undergrad programs.