AskDefine | Define undergraduate

Dictionary Definition

undergraduate n : a university student who has not yet received a first degree [syn: undergrad]

User Contributed Dictionary



undergraduate (plural undergraduates)
  1. A student at a university who has not yet received a degree.



  1. Of, relating to, or being an undergraduate.
    undergraduate studies

Extensive Definition

In some educational systems, undergraduate education is post-secondary education up to the level of a bachelor's degree. In the United States, students of higher degrees are known as graduates.


British system

In the United Kingdom undergraduate refers to those who are studying towards either: or
  • those on an "extended and enhanced" course leading directly to a Master's degree (see NQF Level 7) which usually takes four years, or five in Scotland .
The three-year bachelor system applies to most arts, humanities and social sciences degrees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whereas many engineering and sciences students take master's degrees with the older three-year bachelor degrees decreasing in popularity in these subjects. The extended master's degree programs covers both bachelor's level and postgraduate level education. Hence someone with an "extended and enhanced" Master's degree does not receive a Bachelor's degree, they simply continue studying past Bachelor's degree level and on to postgraduate level. The historic Scottish MA is equivalent to a BA at other institutions (i.e. NQF Level 6).
Note:The discrepancy in length between Scotland and the rest of Britain is due to Scottish secondary education ending at the age of 17 as compared to 18 in the rest of the UK. Note:Degree programs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are shorter than those in North America due to the more specialized nature of A-levels. According to the British Council,A-levels are equivalent to an American high school diploma plus the Advanced Placement Program.

Irish system

In Eire's Higher Education system the system is similar to that of the United Kingdom, reflecting the shared origins of undergraduate education for both countries. The bachelor degree generally lasts three years.

Other European systems

In many other, particularly continental European systems, something like an "undergraduate" degree in the American sense does not exist. Unlike in the US, where students engage in general studies during the first years of tertiary education and only specialize in a "major" during the last years of college, European students enroll in a specific course of studies they wish to pursue right from the beginning, as they are expected to have received a sound general education already in the secondary level, in a school such as a gymnasium or lycée. At university, which they can enter at an age as early as 18 or even 17 in many countries, they specialize in a subject field which they pursue in a curriculum of, in most cases, four or five years of studies. The fields available include those which are only taught as graduate degrees in the US, such as law or medicine.
If there is a separate undergraduate degree, higher degrees (Master, Licentiate, Doctor) can be gained after completing the undergraduate degree. In the traditional German system, there were no undergraduate degrees in some fields, such as engineering: students continued to Master's level education without any administrative breakpoint, and employers would not consider half-finished Master's degrees. In many countries, the English distinction between a bachelor's and master's degree is only now being introduced by the Bologna process. Under the new Bologna reform, universities in Central Europe are introducing the Bachelor level (BA or BS) degree, often by dividing a 5-year Master-level program into two parts (3-year Bachelor's + 2-year Master's), where students are not obligated to continue with the second Master's-degree part. These new Bachelor's degrees are similar in structure to British Bachelor's degrees.
In the traditional German system, there is a vocational degree (Diplom FH) that is similar in length, and is also considered an academic degree. Though it is designed as a specialist degree, in contrast to the Diplom degree at Universität, which claims to be more generalist. Germany itself, however, is currently abolishing the legal distinction between Fachhochschule and Universität. They are both translated as university and they both provide bologna-compliant and equivalent postgraduate degrees.

American System

In the United States of America undergraduate refers to those who are studying towards a bachelor's degree. The most common method consists of four years of study leading to a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), or sometimes another bachelor's degree such as Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.), Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.), Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.,) or Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) Five-Year Professional Architecture programs offer the Bachelor of Architecture Degree (B.Arch.)
Unlike in the British model, degrees in law and medicine are not offered at the undergraduate level and are completed as graduate study after earning a bachelor's degree. Neither field specifies or prefers any undergraduate major, though medicine has set prerequisite courses that must be taken before enrollment.
Some students choose to attend a community college for two years prior to further study at another college or university. In most states, community colleges are operated either by a division of the state university or by local special districts subject to guidance from a state agency. Community colleges may award Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree after two years. Those seeking to continue their education may transfer to a four-year college or university (after applying through a similar admissions process as those applying directly to the four-year institution, see articulation). Some community colleges have automatic enrollment agreements with a local four-year college, where the community college provides the first two years of study and the university provides the remaining years of study, sometimes all on one campus. The community college awards the associate's degree, and the university awards the bachelor's and master's degrees.

Indian system

In India it takes three or four years to complete a "graduate" degree. The three year undergraduate programs are mostly in the fields of arts, humanities, science etc, and the four year programs are mostly in the fields of technology, engineering, medicine, etc.

Pakistan system

In Pakistan it takes two years to complete a "graduate" degree after completion of undergraduate degree. The four year undergraduate programs are mostly in the fields of arts, humanities, science, technology, engineering, medicine, etc.

Brazilian system

In Brazil, undergraduate degrees may be either bachelor's degrees, which usually take 4 or, in the case of law, 5 years to complete, or professional diplomas, which normally require 5 or, in the case of medicine, 6 years to complete. Bachelor's degrees are awarded in most fields of study in the arts, humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. Professional diplomas on the other hand are awarded in state-regulated professions such as architecture, engineering, psychology, pharmacy, dental medicine, veterinary medicine, and medicine properly. One of the main differences from the American system is that students must choose their majors before joining the university, when taking the competitive entrance exam known as Vestibular.

South African system

The South African system usually has a 3-year undergraduate Bachelor’s degree, with one or two majors. (There are exceptions, such as the medical qualification (MBChB) which is six years.) A fourth year, known as an Honours year, is considered a post-graduate degree. It is usually course-driven, although may include a project or thesis.

Nigerian system

In Nigeria, an undergradute degree (excluding Medicine, Engineering, Law and Architecture) are four-year based courses. Medicine (MBBS)and Architecture normally take 6 years to complete studies while Law and Engineering courses take five years to complete studies.


undergraduate in German: Undergraduate studies
undergraduate in Spanish: Pregrado
undergraduate in French: Undergraduate
undergraduate in Portuguese: Graduação
undergraduate in Simple English: Undergraduate
undergraduate in Chinese: 大學部

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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