Can You Take Graduate Courses as an Undergrad? Should You?

Most universities let undergrads enroll in graduate classes. Learn more about the benefits of taking grad classes and how to prepare for your first graduate course.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 26, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Can You Take Graduate Courses as an Undergrad? Should You?
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At many universities, undergraduates can sign up for graduate-level courses. But is it a good idea to take grad classes as an undergrad?

Earning graduate credit as an undergrad offers several benefits. It's a great way for students to test graduate school and build closer relationships with professors. You can also explore subjects in greater depth by taking graduate courses.

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Ready to start your journey?

Before browsing the graduate catalog, undergrads need to understand the restrictions on taking grad classes, what they can get out of upper-division classes, and the expectations at the graduate level.

Can You Take Graduate Classes as an Undergraduate?

At most colleges, undergrads are allowed to take grad classes. But before signing up for graduate courses, check that you meet your school's requirements.

At Cleveland State University, undergraduates can take up to nine credits of graduate courses. But the policy only applies to those with senior-level standing and a minimum 2.75 GPA, plus a minimum 3.0 GPA in their major. CSU students also need permission from their advisor, the instructor, and the department chair.

Drexel University also allows undergraduates to take grad classes. However, the policy only applies to "full-time, academically qualified undergraduate students." Students need departmental permission.

Vanderbilt University's College of Arts and Science lets undergraduates with at least a B average take graduate courses. That said, the college limits the student's total course load to no more than 15 credits and requires both instructor permission and permission from the department's director of graduate studies.

As these policy requirements demonstrate, taking graduate classes isn't an option for every undergrad. But if you meet the requirements, should you consider signing up for grad classes?

3 Benefits of Taking Graduate Classes as an Undergrad

Why do undergrads enroll in graduate classes? Taking graduate classes as an undergraduate offers several benefits, especially for students considering grad school.

1. You Can Explore Advanced Topics

Graduate programs offer advanced courses in focused subjects. Taking grad classes can help you explore topics in greater depth. Particularly at smaller schools or departments, you may find the course options limited for your major. Broadening your course search to include graduate-level courses means more options.

Taking a graduate class is also a great way to try out grad school. If you aren't sure about grad school, taking a graduate-level class can give you a preview of the time commitment and the opportunity to talk with current graduate students.

2. You'll Earn Graduate Credit

Depending on the school, undergraduates can earn graduate credit that transfers into master's programs. Before signing up for graduate classes, though, make sure to check your university's policies. Some award undergraduate credit for graduate classes.

Still, even if you can't apply the credit toward a master's degree, taking a graduate course is a great way to show master's programs that you can succeed at the graduate level.

3. It Can Help Prepare You for Grad School

If you're set on applying to grad school, taking graduate-level courses can give your applications a boost. For one, you'll show grad programs that you're serious about academics and ready for the rigors of grad school.

Taking graduate courses prepares you in other ways, too. A letter of recommendation from a graduate instructor can go a long way on applications. And you'll have a better idea of the expectations in a master's program.

How to Prepare for Grad Classes as an Undergrad

Most undergraduates take graduate-level courses in their major. But majoring in the same department does not necessarily prepare undergrads for the expectations of a graduate class. Before enrolling, take the following steps to prepare for grad classes.

Check With an Academic Advisor

Every university has different policies about enrolling in graduate classes, so meet with your academic advisor to learn about your school's policies.

You can also ask your academic advisor how to enroll in a graduate class and whether the course applies to your graduation requirements.

In addition, ask your advisor if it's a good idea to take a graduate class and when to consider advanced courses. Depending on your academic record, an advisor might recommend taking a graduate class as a junior or waiting until you're a senior.

Talk to the Professor

Make sure to talk to the professor before joining a graduate class as an undergrad. Universities often require the professor's approval, but you should also ask about the class. The professor can give you a better idea of the course format and workload.

When contacting the professor, ask about recommended prerequisites. You can also request a copy of the syllabus to learn more about the expectations. Remember that even with the professor's permission, you might still need permission from the department chair or another faculty member.

Be Prepared for the Workload

Graduate classes typically set a higher workload than undergraduate classes. For example, a senior seminar in your major might include 50-100 pages of reading a week, while a graduate class could assign a book per week.

How can you prepare for the workload? First, check the syllabus to learn more about the reading assignments, projects, papers, and presentations.

Second, consider the rest of your class schedule. If you're taking challenging classes, adding a grad course might not be the best option.

Finally, block off time to devote to the graduate class. If you're hoping to go to grad school, your grade in the graduate class can make a big difference.

Understand Expectations

Grad classes come with a higher workload. They also set higher expectations. Professors may not provide background information or walk through complex concepts in class.

In seminars, professors expect students to participate in complex discussions. Students may also be expected to lead discussions, conduct research, and operate at a graduate level.

Speak to the professor about course standards and requirements. If possible, talk to grad students in the program to learn more about expectations. As a whole, be prepared for a more challenging environment.

Should You Take Graduate Level Classes as an Undergrad?

The answer depends on your circumstances and goals. Graduate-level classes aren't a good fit for every undergrad. If your advisor recommends against it, consider a different option. Similarly, if you don't have a strong background in the topic, hold off on taking a graduate class.

If you're a solid student looking for a challenge, grad classes can stretch your academic skills. And if you're considering grad school, it's a good idea to try out a graduate-level class as an undergrad.

The experience might shift your focus or give you greater insights into graduate programs. Plus, a grad class can help your applications stand out.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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