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Undergraduate education is an education level taken prior to gaining a first degree (except for an associate's degree), hence in many subjects in many educational systems, undergraduate education is post-secondary education up to the level of a bachelor's degree, such as in the United States, where a university entry level is known as undergraduate,[1] while students of higher degrees are known as graduates,[2] while in some other educational systems and subjects, undergraduate education is post-secondary education up to the level of a master's degree, for example some science and engineering courses in Britain or some medicine courses in Europe.




English, Welsh and Northern Irish system

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may usually enter university from the age of eighteen, often having studied A-levels and thus having had thirteen to fifteen years of schooling. Occasionally students who finish NVQ level 3 qualifications early—for example due to skipping a year in school on the grounds of academic giftedness—may enter below this age but large universities are now setting lower age limits of 16 or 17 after a number of well publicised "child prodigies" were found to be emotionally and mentally unprepared for university life.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).[3]

For their first degree, most students read for the degree of bachelor, which usually takes three years, however in the sciences and engineering integrated courses covering both undergraduate level and advanced degree level leading to the degree of master[4], usually taking four years and including a research project or dissertation are popular. Given the integrated nature of these programs someone who gains a master's degree via an integrated program is not admitted to the degree of bachelor.

Master's degrees conferred after an extended programs are not to be conflated with the degree of Master of Arts conferred at Oxbridge, which is not a substantive qualification, but reflects the ancient practice of those two universities of promoting Bachelors of Arts to Masters of Arts (and thus full membership of the University) six or seven years after matriculation.[5]

Honours degrees and integrated master's degrees are awarded with 1st, upper 2nd, lower 2nd or 3rd class honours. If a student passes the course but fails to do so sufficiently well for third class honours to be awarded he will be awarded with an ordinary degree. Some graduates write "Hons" after their degree postnominals to show that they have an honours degree rather than an ordinary degree however some consider this to be an affectation.

Many universities offer sandwich courses or an extramural year, which offer work placements for a short period of time in a relevant industry before students complete their studies. Taking a sandwich course may make the course last a year longer than it would otherwise.

Apart from a single private university, Buckingham, all universities with the power to award degrees are heavily state financed however they also rely on tuition fees set by the government at a maximum index-linked level, repayable after graduation contingent on attaining a certain level of income, and with the state paying all fees for students from the poorest backgrounds. UK students are generally entitled to student loans for maintenance with repayment contingent on income.[6] Unlike in other European countries, the British government does not own the universities' assets and university staff are not civil servants. United Kingdom universities are therefore better described as autonomous intellectually independent institutions with public funding, rather than public universities per se. The crown does not control syllabi,with the exception of teacher training. The crown restricts the power to award degree to those with a royal charter, in the case of traditional universities, or authorisation from the Secretary of State for Universities, in the case of modern universities. Universities accredited in foreign countries,such as Richmond University are however free to operate.

Scottish system

Students in Scotland usually enter university at the age of seventeen hence courses take an extra year compared to England,Wales and Northern Ireland.

At the older universities the degree of Master of Arts is conferred in the arts subjects after four years while the newer universities instead conferrer the degree of Bachelor of Arts.The degree of Master of Arts conferred by the Ancient Scottish Universities is equivalent to the degree of Bachelor of Arts at other universities and does not require the level of study necessitated for the other degrees of master awarded by these universities. The degree instead reflects the ancient traditions of these universities.[7]
In the sciences, students usually read for the degree of bachelor, which usually takes four years however as with the rest of the UK integrated master's degrees are popular in science and engineering, although in Scotland they last for five years. Degree classification is as that of the rest of the UK.

Irish system

Ireland's Higher Education system is similar to that of the United Kingdom, reflecting the shared origins of undergraduate education for both countries.

Other European systems

In many other, particularly continental European systems, an "undergraduate" degree in the American sense does not exist. Because students are expected to have received a sound general education at the secondary level, in a school such as a gymnasium or lycée, students in Europe enroll in a specific course of studies they wish to pursue upon entry into a University. In the US, students engage in general studies during the first years of tertiary education and only specialize in a "major" during the last years of college. Specializing in a field of study upon entry into a university means most students graduate after four to five years of study. The fields available include those only taught as graduate degrees in the US, such as law or medicine.

If there is a separate undergraduate degree, higher degrees (Licence, Master, Doctorat) 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 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. [8]

At some Swedish universities (such as the Royal Institute of Technology), PhD courses are sometimes referred to as "graduate courses", whereas courses for other students (up to master level) sometimes are referred to as "undergraduate courses".

United States' 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, agriculture etc. However for medicine and architecture, the period has been five years.

Brazilian system

Brazil follows the major traits of the continental European system; school is free of charge from kindergarten up to postgraduation, a right established in Brazil's Constitution. Students choose their specific course of studies before joining the university. Admission to university is obtained by means of a competitive entrance exam known as Vestibular (a concept somewhat similar to the Baccalauréat in France). There's a new system, adopted by some universities, that use the national exam's (ENEM) result as the Vestibular degree. Depending on the course chosen, upon graduating the student shall be granted: a bachelor's degree's diploma, which usually takes 4 or, in the case of law, 5 years to complete; or a professional diploma, which normally require 5 or, in the case of medicine, 6 years to complete.

See also Universities and Higher Education in Brazil

South African system

The South African system usually has a three-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, undergraduate degrees (excluding Medicine, Engineering, Law and Architecture) are four-year based courses. Medicine (MBBS) and Architecture normally take six years to complete studies while Law and Engineering courses take five years to complete studies.

See also


  1. ^ University of California, Los Angeles—an example of a typical university entry level in the USA—"Division of Undergraduate Education".
  2. ^ Harvard University Different learning levels in a university in the USA
  3. ^
  4. ^ point 45 of The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland [1]
  5. ^ The note after point 46 in The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland [2]
  6. ^,1262207&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
  7. ^ FAQ 11 of Annex 1 of The national qualifications framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - July 2000
  8. ^ Ländergemeinsame Strukturvorgaben - Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 10.10.2003 i.d.F. vom 15.06.2007

Simple English

An undergraduate is a student completing a first degree. The word undergraduate is also used to describe things about first degrees.

The first degree of an undergraduate degree is normally named a Bachelor's degree. The undergraduate normally studies in a university.


Differences in different places


In Brazil it normally takes four or five years to complete an "undergraduate" degree. Students need to choose their main subjects before they join the university by taking a test named a "vestibular".


Undergraduate degrees are not like in the United States where students have general studies during the first years and only specialize in a "major" during the last years of college. European students enroll in a specific course of studies they want to do from the start. They are expected to have received a good general education already in the secondary level in a school (like a gymnasium or lycée). In many countries they go to university at 18 or 17. The degree normally takes four or five years. After completing the first degree students can move on to doctoral studies. In many countries, the English distinction between a bachelor's and master's degree is only now being introduced by the Bologna process. This means that the old first degree would be approximately equal to a master's degree in the US or the UK.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom undergraduate normally means students studying to get a Bachelor's degree. It is also called an award.[1]. Getting a Bachelor's degree normally takes three years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland it takes four years to obtain what is known as an "ordinary" degree, and five years to obtain a Scottish Masters degree. Some undergraduates in England do a masters degree as their first degree in a similar manner to Scotland. The first three years are spent attaining a Bachelors degree and the last year includes research and more difficult subjects. In England, this is more common for degrees in science and engineering.

The only universities where it is possible to receive a Master's degree without even attending the university beyond the award of the Bachelor's degree are Oxford and Cambridge. Master's are generally awarded to Oxford and Cambridge graduates a year after they have graduated with Bachelor's degrees.


In Ireland undergraduate study is like in the United Kingdom. It is like this because undergraduate education was first taught the same in both countries. In Ireland the undergraduate degree is closest to the Scottish type in the United Kingdom. They are four year undergraduate programmes.


In India it takes 2 years to complete the under graduate course. for example I.S.C. EXAMINATIONS.

North America

In the United States and Canada most undergraduate education is done at four-year colleges or universities.

In the United States students in different years are often given different names:

  • Students in the first year are named freshmen.
  • Students in the second year are named sophomores.
  • Students in the third year are named juniors.
  • Students in the fourth year are named seniors.

In many women's colleges students in the first year are not named "freshmen". They are named "first-years." This is to be more gender-neutral.

Most universities also offer graduate study. Some institutions (e.g. liberal-arts colleges) only give undergraduate education or only give a small number another level of education. Getting an undergraduate degrees normally needs many courses to be completed. The courses have different subjects and different levesl of difficulty. The academic discipline of the most number of subjects taken is called a "major" or concentration. In the US law and medicine can only be taught a graduate subjects.


  1. Staffordshire University. "Jargon Buster". 


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