Trying to figure out the difference between these. I've lost completely as different source/answers interpret it differently. Does anyone have clear understanding about what does undergraduate/graduate/post-graduate student mean in USA?

I've seen this nice timeline in other question however answers are still controversial.

As well, trying to figure out who the hell am I - I have a Bachelor in Computer Science, Master in Computer Science and another Master in Business Information Systems. Is that graduate or post-graduate? Also, I'm not a student anymore.

  • Might be useful to mention where you earned these degrees but generally in the US "Bachelors" = undergraduate and "Masters" = graduate. "Post-graduate" is kind of an umbrella term that might mean Masters/PhD but also might mean professional certification or maybe even something like continuing education.
    – Raydot
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 22:03

4 Answers 4


Part of the confusion may be that these adjectives are used in (at least) two different contexts: to describe degrees and to describe students.

  • An undergraduate degree generally means a bachelor's degree (B.S., B.A., etc): a degree requiring about four years of university-level study beyond high school.

  • A graduate degree or post-graduate degree is any higher degree that has a bachelor's degree as a prerequisite, such as a masters or doctoral degree (M.S., M.A., M.F.A., M.B.A,. Ph.D., etc.) Depending on context, this term may also include professional degrees (J.D. for law, M.D. for medicine, D.D.S. for dentistry, D.V.M. for veterinary medicine, etc).

  • An undergraduate student (or simply an undergraduate, or colloquially, an undergrad) is a student who does not yet have an undergraduate degree, but is studying to earn one.

  • A graduate student or post-graduate student (or colloquially, a grad student) is a student who already has an undergraduate degree and is studying to earn a graduate degree.

So in general, the adjectives graduate and post-graduate are synonyms. This may seem contradictory (since you might expect post-graduate to refer to something after graduate) but that is how it's used. I understand this as coming from the fact that a post-graduate degree is something that you work toward following your graduation (i.e. the moment when you earn your undergraduate degree).

My impression is that people within academia generally prefer the term graduate to post-graduate in both contexts; the word post-graduate is used more often by non-academics, to whom the word graduate is more likely to seem ambigiuous.

So you could say you have an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. You could also describe your degrees as post-graduate degrees for further clarification, which would normally be needed only when speaking to someone not intimately familiar with academia.

  • @Roger: Hmm. I know about non-degree post-baccalaureate programs (informally, postbac) but I've never heard the word "post-graduate" attached to them. Commented May 9, 2015 at 6:08
  • 2
    I would simply add that because "graduate" (noun) can refer to any student who has achieved a bachelor degree, a "graduate degree" means a degree program open to graduates. Also, "graduate" (verb) can refer to the event of graduating (thus creating a graduate), so "post-graduate" degree means a degree program which follows (post) becoming a graduate.
    – earthling
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 9:46

"Post-graduate" is simply not a commonly used term in the US. I wouldn't expect Americans to use it consistently. It's not commonly used to describe a person who has graduated with any type of degree; I've found references to "post-graduation" on US/Canadian websites (just referring to the time after someone has graduated), but . In Britain and much of the Commonwealth, "postgraduate" (with no hyphen) refers to studying for a masters or doctoral degree; in the US, we would use "graduate" instead. So, Americans would say you have a "graduate degree," Britons would say you have a "postgraduate" one.

  • 3
    I hear "post-graduate" fairly often from US non-academics. For example, I (who am in the US) recently received a summons for jury service; it included a questionnaire in which I was asked to describe my education as either "high school", "less than high school", "college" or "post grad". I agree that non-academics sometimes use it inconsistently. Commented May 9, 2015 at 6:14

I have to say that there is one difference between graduate and post-graduate -- while both mean "beyond Bachelor's degree", the first refers to level and the second to time.

If I were asked for a transcript of my graduate studies, I'd have to list several courses taken before receiving my B.S. because these were graduate classes -- designed for and taught to graduate students -- and I was permitted to add the classes by special permission. But if asked about post-graduate studies, those wouldn't be included, since they did not chronologically follow my graduation.


A graduate is seen as someone who has successfully met the requisites for qualification on an undergraduate course and has been awarded their certificate of graduation.

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