Walk down any undergrad college dormitory hallway on a Sunday morning at 11 a.m. and expect to find remnants of last night’s keg party and college kids stumbling toward shared bathrooms with buckets of soap, wearing flip-flops and dressed in hoodies and shorts. Scurrying to make it to the dining hall in time for brunch, they might be sleepy-eyed and grumpy.
Do the same in the apartment complex outside the biggest graduate program two blocks away. You’ll likely find apartments locked uptight, clean carpets, and an empty parking lot. The graduate student is out shopping for groceries, exercising at the local gym, and getting their laundry done so that they can get a jump on the week’s reading.
While there are obvious exceptions, there are some pretty common differences in the way undergrad and graduate students live. Long past their party days, more focused and serious, and likely of their parents’ dime, graduate students are meeting adulthood head on. Their undergrad peers, while only a few years behind, are taking it a bit easier with the undergrad lifestyle. If you’re about to graduate from college and are considering going to grad school, there are some lifestyle changes you can expect to find. To be more prepared, read on.
While many undergrad students move out of the dorms in their upperclassmen years, some major universities and colleges don’t allow students to live off campus. This is not the same for grad school students. Not only are graduate school classrooms filled with adults of all ages, many married with kids, but graduate programs don’t have anything to say about how MBA candidates or other students live.
A college student might have a dorm room, twin sized bed, or futon bed in their dorm room or shared apartment. A grad student would be more likely to have a queen-sized mattress with a real bed frame, and a sofa in the living room. The undergrad student is more likely to have roommates who were assigned to them or who have become friends since freshman year. The grad student is more likely to live alone or with a romantic partner and maybe even kids. They may live further from campus and are more likely to own a vehicle.
A graduate program studying for an MBA or any other graduate degree is more likely to own matching furniture, while a college student is more inclined to decorate with a mix and match of handed down futons and beds from parents and relatives. Grad school students will probably cook healthy meals every night on the stove in their apartment. Undergrad students are more likely to order takeout or eat in the school student union or cafeteria.
Graduate students are likely to be found studying after dinner and in bed before midnight where undergrad students might be more inclined to cram for tests and pull all-nighters or spend their nights on social activities. Most graduate students hold a job while attending full time classes. Undergrad students might work too, but less often full time or in their fields of choice.
Professors and Courses
Graduate school work is generally more collaborative, whether you’re at business school or law school. This is because the job force is hard to break into, even with a great resume. Students from a diverse background of skills and job experiences are encouraged to work together to solve problems on complex projects. What might have been an independent assignment in undergrad college will become an intense semester long task in graduate school. With this, comes less micromanagement.
Professors in graduate school are less likely to take attendance. They won’t give reminders either. They’ll still pass out that same first-day syllabus but will expect that assignments are completed on time and well. Where they might get picky, though, is with dress code. Students in MBA programs, for example, are often required to dress business casual in class to prepare them for the job market where this is an ongoing expectation. Any MBA admissions consulting expert will tell you that professors at this level demand students not only act but look, professional in class.
There are giant differences in fashion between undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduate students are more commonly seen in comfortable clothing like hoodies and jeans, but those items are generally brand name. Graduate students, on the other hand, tend to be more dressed up more often but aren’t as concerned with the brand. For example, an undergrad student would likely walk through a snowy campus in Ugg footwear, while a graduate student would wear sleek leather calf boots with a knee-length suit skirt.
In grad school, business casual is the name of the game. Women in grad school know ten types of ways to tie a scarf to make it look professional. Undergrad students are less likely to use scarfs or other accessories to dress up for class. Unless giving a presentation, undergrad students might be more likely to show up to class in sleeper pants and an old T-shirt. Entirely accepted in undergrad class settings, professors wouldn’t even blink.
In the end, undergrad and graduate school learning experiences have a lot in common. From a variety of programs, points of view, and class sizes, not much will change on that academic front. Where things will be clearly different from day one is in the lifestyles of students. If you’re considering starting the admissions process for an MBA program or other graduate school, you’ll want to start thinking about changes you’ll need to make to your lifestyle. While you won’t get kicked out of Stanford, Yale, MIT, or another dream school for showing up to class that first time in the wrong clothes, you’ll feel more comfortable if you know ahead of time how to prepare.