focus on highly rated professors over classes that sound interesting because a dull, disorganized professor can kill even the most exciting topic. Don’t confuse a rockstar professor (i.e. famous, highly sought after professors) with a great professor. The famous rockstar professors usually don’t have as much time to dedicate to getting to know students during office hours and getting them to respond to email will be nearly impossible. You don’t have to avoid the rockstar professors; just don’t focus on them and miss out on the lesser known professors who are truly dedicated to their craft and their topic. I was borderline obsessive with choosing my classes, but I’m glad that I invested a lot of time into researching professors and getting real with myself about what topics truly did and did not interest me. I can truly say that I really enjoyed and learned a lot in nearly every single class I took at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School.
2. Choose your friends wisely.
Unfortunately, grad school can get cliquey really quickly. Make sure you give yourself time to really get to know lots of different types of people before you settle into a crowd as a fixture. Even though a group of people may seem like an easy and immediate fit when you first arrive on campus, you may find that your best friends come from halfway around the world or have completely different professional background than you do. Make sure you choose friends who share your priorities and who encourage you to be your best self in and outside of the classroom. Avoid people who are super-competitive, insecure, or drama magnets. Make sure you have fun with people who share your idea of fun. There will be lots of frat-boy fun time (which I enjoy from time to time) but I’m not a big drinker, so I loved long dinner parties, movie outings, and game nights. The beauty of the diversity of grad school is that there are enough people to where you can find folks who like to have fun the same way you do.
3. Recruit like you mean it.
When you go to professional school (like policy school, business school, or law school), the point of the advanced degree is to jumpstart your career and get a job. Get clear on what kinds of jobs and industries interest you by going to Industry Week activities, company presentations, and speaking with alumni who work at the firms. Once you get clear that a certain industry is not a fit for you, stop wasting your time and move on to what really does matter to you. For example, there is always a mad rush for management consulting and investment banking internships. If you’re like me and you figure out very early that these fields are not a fit for for you, you should STOP investing any more additional time and energy into the recruitment processes for those fields (even if you have to miss all the free dinners, you broke grad student you). What lots of people don’t realize is that while they are going along with the herd, they are missing out on the prime recruiting season for other industries such as marketing/consumer packaged goods, media & entertainment, nonprofit management, social enterprise, etc. If you wait until you’ve been rejected from all the glittery management consulting jobs to look into other industries, it will be too late and you may end up with no internship at all. I’m not trying to talk you out of going for a job in banking or consulting; just make sure you really want and are a good fit for one of those jobs before you go down that time- and energy-intensive path.