Thompson Rivers University

What is an undergraduate degree?

April 27, 2022

There are many reasons why people choose to enrol in undergraduate studies.

Navigating the world of university as a new student can be confusing. There are so many different choices—knowing where to start can be tough! So, let’s begin at the very start.

What are undergraduate studies?

Undergraduate studies are usually the first level of university education someone completes after high school. An undergraduate student refers to someone who is currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. Bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, certificates, and diplomas are all undergraduate programs.

Why enrol in undergraduate degrees?

Improve future career prospects
Many desirable, professional careers require an undergraduate degree. An undergraduate degree can prepare you to enter your chosen field, and you’ll have familiarity and competency in that industry, field, or subject. An undergraduate degree is your proof that you met the qualifications to graduate, and that you can compete for these positions. An undergraduate degree can help give you an advantage over other applicants.

Dive into your interests
Some people dream of growing up and becoming scientists, doctors, writers, actors, artists, chefs, veterinarians, and more. Everyone must start somewhere, and an undergraduate degree is the first step in making your dreams come true.

Most scientists, doctors, and veterinarians start with a Bachelor of Science. Many writers, actors, and artists start with a Bachelor of Arts. A bachelor’s degree allows you to immerse yourself in a topic that you care about, while earning a credential that will help you secure a career in your desired field.

Prepare for advanced studies
Anyone with aspirations to become a lawyer, doctor, university professor, corporate professional, and more, may choose to continue studies after obtaining their bachelor’s degree, to earn an advanced degree: a master’s degree. Generally, master’s degrees (also known as graduate degrees) list a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. Learn more about graduate studies here:

How are bachelor’s degrees different from certificates, associate degrees or diplomas?

Bachelor’s and associate degrees, certificates, and diplomas are all categorized as undergraduate credentials, and each credential has a different credit requirement.

Credits are the counting system used to determine the amount of class time a student has completed. Every university course has an assigned number of credits. Most courses are 3 credits, and a student taking 15 credits per semester is considered to be taking a 100% full time course load. You can take anywhere from 3 credits to 15 credits per semester, so how long it takes you to earn the required credits can vary greatly based on your chosen course load.

Certificates typically require 30 credits to complete, and generally involve in-depth study of a specific discipline. Some TRU certificate programs like Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Health Care Assistant, and Professional Cook can prepare you to enter the job force right away after graduation. Certificates can be completed in two semesters, or one year, if you take a full-time course load.

Diplomas require between 60 to 119 credits to complete, and generally involve in-depth study of a specific discipline. Similar to certificate programs, graduates from diploma programs like Practical Nursing, Tourism Management and Veterinary Technology are job-ready after graduation. Diplomas can be completed in four to eight semesters, or two to four years, if you take a full-time course load.

Associate degrees typically require around 60 credits to complete and generally involve a broad range of academic courses, balanced with in-depth study in a specific discipline or subject. Associate degrees can be completed in four semesters, or two years, if you take a full-time course load. Associate degrees can be a great starting point, or a worthy exit credential.

Bachelor’s degrees (also referred to as baccalaureate degrees) require 120 credits to complete and are usually taken over four or five years of study. All graduates of bachelor’s degree programs also complete eight TRU institutional learning outcomes (ILO). These eight ILOs were created so students graduate with a well-rounded base of knowledge in a variety of areas, in addition to the specialized knowledge they build in their degree. Bachelor’s degrees can be completed in eight semesters, or four years, if you take a full-time course load.

Learn more about TRU’s ILOs.

What should someone considering applying for an undergraduate degree know?

University courses are different than high school. Much more responsibility is placed on you, the student. We understand the transition can be tough for many, and we have plenty of student support services to help you in the transition. We offer orientation for new students, mature students, Indigenous students, the Wellness Centre, Counselling Services, the Writing Centre, Accessibility Services and more. Learn more about our student services.

It’s a good idea to spend some time planning how to fund your tuition. From entrance scholarships and awards, to federal student loans and provincial student grants, there are many ways that students fund their education. There is a lot of information out there, so feel free to connect with our Student Awards and Financial Aid team for more resources and guidance.

Is there anything special or unique about undergraduate studies at TRU?

We offer five open admission programs, which help address the barriers some people face and allow more people to access university education. Open admission is much different than limited or selected admissions, and means if you don’t meet the program requirements, you can take upgrading courses while enrolled in the program. Open admission programs do not have posted application deadlines, and you can apply right up until the start of the semester.

Learn more about TRU open admission programs:

Bachelor of Arts

Bachelor of Business Administration

Bachelor of Computing Science

Bachelor of Fine Arts

Bachelor of Science

How do you know what you need to get in?

Every undergraduate program has different admission requirements, and at TRU, we have three types of admission processes.

Open (Non-Competitive) Admission: The number of students admitted into these programs is not limited. Programs have minimum admission requirements, but if you are missing a requirement, upgrading while in the program is possible.

Limited Admission: Only a limited number of students will be accepted into these programs each year. Admission decisions are made on a first-qualified, first-accepted basis.

Selective (Competitive) Admission: A select number of students are accepted into these programs each year. Your grades will be considered, and you may be asked to submit letters of reference, attend an interview, and/or fill out a questionnaire. These programs have a set application deadline.

You can check the specific admission requirements for all of our programs here:

Do you have more questions? Get in touch with our Future Students Office today!

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Some helpful university lingo:


A cluster of courses in one discipline within a general bachelor’s degree program, combined with area requirements which ensure a broad selection of courses.


A single component of a program of study, which includes classes, seminars, and labs. Semester courses are approximately four months long.


A counting system used to determine the amount of class time that a student has completed, usually based on hours of instruction. Every course has an assigned number of credits, which are used to calculate the cost of tuition. The number of credits that a student has completed are recorded on a permanent record or ‘transcript.’


A program of study in a degree program in which the student specializes in a particular field in the final two years in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree in that field.


A program of study accompanying a major program, where the student specializes in a second field.


A group of courses that combine to provide skills and learning leading to a certificate, diploma or degree.


An applied program of study involving theoretical and practical knowledge, usually leading directly to a certificate or diploma in a specific career path.

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