How Do Undergraduate and Graduate Theses Differ?

Undergraduate and graduate theses are both ways to conduct in-depth study on a topic within your field or major. As an undergraduate, you may not be required to complete a thesis. However, in graduate school, your study will most likely culminate in a thesis, dissertation, or capstone project. If you are a current undergraduate contemplating graduate-level work (or even a current graduate student), you might be wondering, "How do undergraduate and graduate theses differ?" The following five aspects further describe the differences between undergraduate and graduate theses:

Length and depth

Length requirements may differ from school to school and major to major, and a creative project may look different from a thesis in the sciences. However, undergraduate theses are generally shorter. In contrast, graduate theses call for more extensive and rigorous research into the issue at hand, and they are typically longer than undergraduate theses. These are three thesis struggles and how to overcome them


A hallmark of a graduate thesis is an original contribution to the field. Undergraduate theses, on the other hand, often do not propose a completely new perspective. As a result, the content of an undergraduate project may involve many citations from outside sources. Graduate theses also require citations, but they will weave in more original thought.


Undergraduate theses are normally completed during a student’s senior year of college – i.e. within the span of one year. During that year, you work with an adviser, and your research and writing go through different stages particular to your school. As a result, this procedure can be highly variable. In contrast, a graduate thesis may take longer than a year to complete, and it involves a set framework of steps (i.e. an examination and a defense of your work). If you find yourself stuggling with your thesis you may want to consider contacting a writing tutor to help you.


Both kinds of theses are extremely valuable, but in different ways. An undergraduate thesis allows students to get their feet wet in terms of researching and writing, and it can help you build the stamina necessary for a long project. An undergraduate thesis will familiarize you with the general thesis process, which can be very useful if you hope to attend graduate school. On the other hand, graduate theses are for further developing your knowledge and interest in a topic, and for making your mark in your chosen field.

Later usage

If you plan to attend graduate school, an undergraduate thesis can strengthen your application and demonstrate your stamina and scholarly skills. You can use it as a topic of interest in admissions essays or during interviews. In graduate school, you can use your thesis to jumpstart your career. Here are the top 5 questions to ask in an admissions interview. You might look into publication, depending on your field and the nature of your project. You will also be able to refer to your thesis during job or post-graduate fellowship interviews.

So how do undergraduate and graduate theses differ? To put it simply, in very key ways. Both types of theses will push you to develop new skills and to expand old ones. If you are currently an undergraduate, check to see if you are required to complete a thesis within your frame of study. If you are in graduate school and wrote an undergraduate thesis, you may be able to build on the expertise you have already gained. Happy writing!