I had this delusion when I entered graduate school that it would be similar to college. Mid-morning naps, late nights filled with cheap beer and equally bad pizza, all-night cram sessions in the library with friends… oh boy was I mistaken. Although some similarities did exist (I’m referring to cram sessions and cheap beer here), graduate school required a lot more self-discipline, drive and focus than I remember ever having as an undergraduate student. Compiled below are pieces of advice from myself as well as other former and current graduate students in my social network.
- Don’t procrastinate/Get your stuff done. This one came up multiple times and I can certainly attest to it. If you’re a procrastinator, for the sake of your sanity, you may want to rid yourself of that quality for the next two years (or however long you plan to be in graduate school). Many classes base your final grade on just a few large projects/papers and that whole “extra credit if you go to the school play thing” does not exist. Schedule in the time to do your assignments, get into a routine and buddy up with a peer- it keeps you accountable. Sadly, there is no hand holding in graduate school.
- Be responsible and realistic. Yes, I know this is very vague, but this applies to many things that have to do with grad school and life in general. For example, be responsible and realistic about your financial situation. Create a budget (trust me this is not my strong point), it would really stink to just run out of cash when you need to buy that book or make a payment on your credit card. Understand your loan situation and don’t be afraid/intimidated to ask questions, it will save you a headache and lots of money in the long run. On a related note, take charge of your schedule and credits- don’t rely on just your advisor. If you’re interested in going abroad (as I did) or taking a class at a another university make sure you have your paperwork in order and that you’ve cleared this with the appropriate offices. This is your education, take control of it!
- Stay positive. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and down on yourself. At one point I was working up to 60 hours a week, attending classes four nights a week and still had homework and a fiance to tend to (he did not see me much). If you asked me now how I did that, I honestly have no idea. Blind ambition would be my best guess. I was, however, determined to maintain control of my schedule so I could at least attempt to budget my energy and time well. In the end, my saving grace was my peers and the certainty that this would all be over in “insert-number-of-days-here.”
- Take time for yourself. This was definitely the most popular tip I got from my network. Grad school is HARD, especially if you’re working full time, completing practicum hours, serving on professional boards (something else I would highly recommend but I’ll save that for another post- along with the importance of developing and maintaining a network) interning and teaching. If you don’t take time out to just chill, your head is most likely going to explode, or you’ll have random crying outbursts triggered by spilled coffee—yes this happened to me. Even if I was exhausted after class on Thursday, I tried to muster up the last bit of energy I had at least every two weeks and go out for a drink with my classmates. It was fun to commiserate with each other and I developed lifelong lasting relationships with many of them.
In the end, looking back, graduate school wasn’t too bad and- dare I say- it was even nice to be a student for a short time once again. Although I won’t lie, every time I stumble upon my final portfolio—I wince a little.
Kelly Scott is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University. A social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.