The advantages of studying in US top schools are widely known, but a lot of Australian students and their parents still have this looming question: When is the best time to go and study in the US? Is it more worth it to study an undergraduate degree in an US university, or would a master’s degree come off better? Let’s dive into this question today and give a comprehensive breakdown of both choices!
The article will focus on six different areas: feasibility, standardised tests, school grades, extracurricular activities, costs and prestige.
Feasibility – The application for undergraduate vs graduate school, which one is more reliable
We often use school rankings in order to determine the quality and standard of a university. However, the notion of a good university for an undergraduate degree is very different from that of a good master’s program. For undergraduate studies in the US, we’re looking at the university in a comprehensive way (i.e. the university ranking provided by US News is actually a ranking at an undergraduate level), whilst when looking at master’s programs the ranking is based on the program itself (US News master’s rankings), not the university.
For undergraduate studies, students select schools based on the holistic view of the university. This is because US universities aim to provide a well-rounded education for undergraduates, therefore rankings for universities are based on these general criteria. For Master’s programs US rankings then tends to look for the research and teaching capabilities of that university and program, because what is important at a master’s level is the professional knowledge and skills and how both will help with your future development.
That being said we have to look at the feasibility of the different applications, which is a question a lot of students and parents tend to overlook. For undergraduate programs, there is no problem in terms of feasibility. In other words, all schools will happily take your application. However, when applying to master’s programs, the situation is very different. The number of master’s programs provided by different universities is very limited, making it difficult to rank different universities.
For example, there’s a lot of students who have an interest in finance, but there are very few universities in the US who offer a Master’s in Finance. In the top 30 universities only MIT, Washington University St. Louis, Vanderbilt University and a few others actually offer a Master’s in Finance. This means that the pool to choose from is very small. On top of that, the acceptance rate of master’s programs in various different majors such as statistics, engineering, etc is also smaller than that of undergraduate programs. Therefore, speaking in terms of feasibility, undergraduate programs will always be more feasible than master’s programs.
Standardised testing- SAT vs GMAT/GRE
The SAT exam is a major source of hesitation for most students and parents when it comes to US university applications, because most feel that to take another exam on top of VCE/IB requires extra effort and time. However, you have to know that in order to apply for a master’s program in the US, you still have to take the GMAT (MBA) or GRE (other master’s programs). So how would you compare the SAT to the GRE/GMAT?
For starters, the GMAT and the GRE exams are more difficult than the SAT exam. The GMAT is more challenging in mathematical reasoning, verbal/written skills and logic capabilities than the SAT; GRE also has more challenging reading and vocabulary demands than the SAT. But taking into account that the age of GRE/GMAT test takers is 3-4 years older than that of an SAT test taker, we can infer that the difficulty gap is not that big. If you want a high score on the GMAT/GRE, the amount spent preparing for the test is the same as for the SAT. In conclusion, which standardised test isn’t a large factor in deciding between undergraduate or graduate studies.
School grades – High school ranking vs University GPA.
Top ranking universities in the US value your ranking in high school when you apply for an undergraduate program. When applying for a master’s program, however, they value your university undergraduate scores (which US universities call GPA, or grade average point). For most top universities in undergraduate programs, your high school rank must be in the top 1%. For master’s program applicants, your grades have to be at least around 80-85. Even though one is about rankings and the other about grades, we know that in order to achieve any of those two you have to put in a lot or effort and time. Therefore, in terms of academic achievement, undergraduate and master’s are equally difficult.
Applying for an undergraduate study program in the US requires a lot of extracurricular activities, including the development of hobbies, competitions, community service, etc. This can be hard on both students and parents. However, applying for a master’s program is also difficult and requires a variety of extracurriculars. Let’s take the example of an MBA: they require at least 3 internships with globally recognised companies, at least 1-2 extracurriculars with leadership roles, and community service. For an international student in Australia it is almost impossible to get an internship due to visa status, therefore it will be harder to apply. Overall, requirements for applying to a US master’s program is easier than the requirements for an undergraduate application taking into account the fact that the competition is so much higher for undergraduates.
In terms of costs, things tend to be quite straightforward. To a lot of Australian high schoolers, a 3-year undergraduate program in Australia is a lot less of an economic burden than studying a 4-year undergraduate in the US. However, for master’s programs, because Australian master’s programs tend to be longer than in the US, the cost is less different.
We also have to mention that top universities in the US provide various financial scholarships. In other words, if your family cannot afford the undergraduate tuition, US universities are very generous when it comes to scholarships or financial aid. However, for master’s programs financial aid and scholarships are scarcer.
Return on investment.
Now for the million-dollar question: which program is more worth study in the US, graduate or undergraduate? The answer is very obvious, undergraduate programs will always be more worthwhile than graduate programs in the US. Your classmates in an undergraduate program will be from every corner of the world, which means a lot more diversity and culture. The friendships and networks you make in those 4 years will be immeasurable and as an undergraduate you will have access to lots of extracurricular activities, which is something you cannot get as a graduate student.
You will also get more resources and support as an undergraduate. From the perspective of an American, undergraduate studies are something everyone should experience, and the ranking of school and which schools are at the top is widely accepted. For master’s programs there’s too many variables and programs, making it hard to have a widely accepted ranking. People who come out of a top university undergraduate program will be recognised and accepted more widely.
In conclusion, although it is slightly more difficult to do extracurriculars and the costs of university can be a disadvantage, applying for a top US university undergraduate program is a better choice because of the prestige as well as the feasibility of application to top universities.
It’s also the reason why Elite Admission Consulting had to grow. When we first started this company, we only focused on master’s programs in the US, but at the time there were a lot of customers who felt that if they knew that the master’s program was also this annoying to apply to, they would have just applied for an undergraduate program. That’s why we have expanded our services to include undergraduate programs. If you are still in high school or your child is still in high school, applying for a top US university is the best route. If you’re already studying undergraduate, that’s not a problem either because it is still achievable. Putting in the effort and work, achieving the required goals and making a proper plan means that top US universities will always have their doors open for you.