What day is it? I haven’t slept in 4… Tips for Surviving Graduate School

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

grad school someecardIn 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.

5 things to consider when choosing a graduate program

This guest post was written by our new student blogger, Emily Brown, a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program.

We’ve established that going to grad school isn’t always a good idea and that it is a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. Once you’ve made the decision that grad school is right for you, you’re still faced with the daunting task of choosing a program. There are a few key things to keep in mind when working through the process:

  •  Location. An easy way to narrow your choices at the beginning is by location. Are there places that you are simply unwilling to live while pursuing your degree? Do you plan on continuing a job in your current location? I knew I wanted to keep my full-time job as long as possible, so I only researched graduate programs in the Boston area. Conveniently, Boston still has a lot of options, but narrowing my search that way made it feel more manageable.

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  • Reputation. Just like when applying to undergrad, it’s easy to get caught up in schools’ reputations. Meeting your own academic goals and needs should be your top priority so remember that just because it’s an Ivy League doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you. Graduate programs can vary greatly within the same school so it’s important to research programs and faculty members specifically to determine a good match.
  • Requirements. There are admissions requirements, and then there are program requirements once you get in. Before applying, you’ll have to compare the program requirements with your own credentials. Is there a minimum GPA requirement or certain prerequisite classes? Do you have to submit GRE scores? Make sure you meet these requirements and include all required documents before hitting send. Additionally, most graduate programs will require some sort of experiential learning outside of the classroom. It might be research, an internship, or other practical experience. Think about what will be most beneficial to you and how you can balance your coursework with an unpaid interning or researching.
  • Passion v. Realism. As a career services groupie, I am all about following your passion when it comes to education and career. However, when making an investment in that passion, it’s important to consider what kind of opportunities will be available to you once you complete the degree. Talk to alumni of the programs you’re considering and ask about their experiences in the program and how it prepared them for their current job. Do their jobs appeal to you? You can find alumni to speak to by asking the admissions office or searching on LinkedIn (it’s not creepy, I promise).
  • Cost. Once you’ve hit send on the applications and the acceptances start rolling in, you’ll have more decisions to make. Of course the financial aid a school offers will be a factor in your decision, but it’s smart to also consider the cost of living where the schools are located. Maybe that school in New York City offered you more financial aid, but are you going to spend those savings on one trip to the nearest Whole Foods? You have to be realistic about the cost of school as well as living expenses and make decisions that make sense for you financially.

Once you’ve made it past step one, deciding to go to grad school, make sure you do your due diligence researching programs to find the one that is the best fit for you and will propel you toward your career goals. Location, reputation, curriculum requirements, cost and career opportunities are all key factors to consider and will help narrow your choices and ultimately select the right graduate program for you.

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Tackling the Dreaded “Personal Statement”

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This post was written by Anne Grieves, the Pre-Law and Graduate School Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development.

Personal Statements.  Two words you might be dreading if you are thinking about enrolling in graduate school.  As the Pre-Law / Graduate School Advisor, I have not yet met a student who was eager to write one (but maybe after reading this blog, some of you out there will be).  Why do we dread them?  Two of the biggest reasons are that 1.  it’s hard to write about yourself and 2. you may not know where to start.  So, if this is something that is looming in your future, let’s reframe it and break it up into steps.  A personal statement is an opportunity for you to share something personal and meaningful with the admissions committees.  It should make the reader want to meet you.  Some people may encourage you to read some sample statements before attacking your own.  I would not.  You will, in some way, be influenced either by the content or the formant such that yours won’t be completely yours.

First: What to Write (what makes you YOU):  If you are stuck because you don’t know what to write about, don’t worry. There are a number of topics to consider but each of them needs to create a positive impression of you.   For example, are there any hobbies that represent who you are? Is there something about your personality that you admire? Do you have an opinion about something (make sure it’s a “safe” topic – no politics, religion etc.)?  Is there a person in your life that may have influenced you in some way.  Any topic could be made into a GREAT statement but any topic can also be a bad one.  Make sure that the statement is not simply an essay or a story that’s  engaging and interesting to read but does not go into depth about you.  By letting yourself write freely, you are unlocking and unraveling your stories.

Second : How to Start (start typing, get scribbling):  Don’t think that you are writing a statement, just let the sentences flow.  In your words you will find the meat of your statement and after that you can add the necessary reflection and context.  It will come together.  I promise.  The more freely you can write, the more reflection you will show.  That’s what the admissions counselors want to see; introspection.  So what should you start with? A memory, a person, something about where you grew up, an experience (study abroad, an incident etc.), what you love(d) to do in your spare time.  Take that first thought and see where it takes you.

Third: The Next Step (revise, review, reread):  A personal statement can take up to 7 drafts.  So, pick out the relevant pieces of your story (still, at this point, don’t worry about the length) and make it flow.  Your “hook” may come when you get to the end.  Sometimes the beginning is the last piece to write.

Fourth: Condense  (balancing the statement with the resume): How much of your statement is a recounting of your resume versus your reflection about the experience(s).  How can you take a snapshot of a piece of your past that brought you to this point and made you who you are?  Be careful to not describe an experience with details pertaining to what you did (like you would in a resume).  Instead, focus on what you learned, how you have changed, what you gained etc.

Fifth: What Not To Do (6 of these):

  1. Don’t use quotes.  They have seen them ALL!.
  2. Don’t talk about your lofty goals – you may want to become a judge or a doctor that makes an incredible discovery someday but your next immediate step is getting admitted to the graduate school.
  3. Don’t write about something that puts you into a negative context – if something has happened, show how you overcame that experience.
  4. Don’t be a victim.  Many people have had awful experiences in their lives.  These are the tricky statements.  While you want to share a bit about the experience and how that has become part of who you are today, you want to make sure that your strength and determination are evident throughout and that you came out stronger, wiser, more confident from this experience.
  5. Don’t use humor (unless you can do it well).
  6. Don’t write to impress – be sincere, be yourself.

Sixth: Finishing Touches  (proofread and proofread again):  Find readers to JUST check for grammar.  Find reader you don’t know very well to see what sense they have of you after reading it (and will they want to meet you?).  Find readers that know you.  Do YOU come through in your statement?

Some schools may want you to talk about why you want to go to this particular school.  If they do, yes – answer that question.  If they don’t, your intent and motivation should be implied.

Similar to how I wrote this piece, I just wrote and it came together. Good luck!

Anne Grieves is the Pre-Law and Graduate School Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development. She’s happy to meet with potential future graduate and law students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call the front desk of make an appointment with Anne through MyNEU.