No matter what program you choose or degree you obtain, there’s no getting around the fact that graduate school will consist of many firsts. You’ll have to figure out everything from housing to the job search. If you’re thinking about going to graduate school, there is no getting around the potential discomfort that comes with a new experience.
However, if you know what to expect, you’re more likely to go in with the right mindset. That’s why our consultants put together a list of what you can expect in graduate school. These items range from advice about how to care for yourself during graduate school, to answering frequently asked questions. Whatever stage you are at in your process, you can likely find something in this list to help you make the most of your experience.
If you’re ever given a choice between a one-year or two-year program, always select the longer duration program. For some degrees, you might find programs that vary in length. A longer program gives you more time to network, learn, and generally get as much out of the program as possible. Of course, you’ll also want to consider the logistics and cost of a lengthier program.
You cannot do everything. Be mindful in selecting your priorities. When you enter a graduate program, you might experience some sensory overload. With so much to do and so many people to meet, the options can be overwhelming. Remember that even though you may want to, you can’t do everything. You can think of focus areas during graduate school as your career, academics, extracurriculars, and social life. We recommend focusing on 2 of the 4 to help you decide how you spend your time.
Learn to accept the fear of missing out. Outside of prioritizing your focuses, you’ll need to remember that you’re going to have to miss out on some things. There’s way too much to do and experience, so, unfortunately, you can’t have it all. But that’s okay. If you prioritize what’s most important to you, you can better choose where to focus your energy.
Prioritize your list of classes outside of your program’s requirements. Prioritizing what’s important to you also applies to your class schedule: choose your classes based on the criteria that are most important to you. Of course, you’ll also want to take things like class schedules and professor availability into account.
Keep in mind that what you do outside the classroom also matters. In particular, seek mentors in faculty or nurture relationships with mentees. Work to make connections and never eat lunch alone.
Give yourself time and space to transition. Starting graduate school might require a move to a new city for some. Even if that’s not the case for you, you’ll need to adjust to a new schedule. Make sure you give yourself time to adjust to these changes. Consider this when you plan a move or leave a job to start graduate school.
Be open about the city you’ll move to. If your graduate program involves moving to a new city, know that there will be a lot to adjust to, like weather, traffic, and public transportation. Adjusting could take time, but an open mind will certainly help.
American graduate schools are very different from graduate schools around the world. If you are an international graduate student, keep in mind that you may have a cultural learning curve. Forming friendships or joining student clubs could help ease this transition.
Don’t follow the herd mentality. In graduate school, you might find that specific paths are prevalent. Try not to let that deter you from what you want to accomplish. Just because everyone is going into consulting or corporate law doesn’t mean that’s the right path for you.
Be organized. When you’re first getting started, work hard to get organized. The sooner you find your rhythm, the easier it will be to stay organized, so put in the work upfront and try not to cut corners.
Will grades matter? A common concern for new graduate students is whether or not grades will be a big deal. The truth is, how important grades are depends on the school, program, and degree. Keep in mind that if you plan to get another degree, grades definitely matter.
Prepare for distance learning. As remote work and learning will seemingly be the norm for the foreseeable future, you’ll want to prepare for distance learning if you are getting ready to attend graduate school soon.
Think about your brand for graduate school. Will it be different from your brand today? In graduate school, you’ll have to introduce yourself a lot, whether it’s to peers or faculty. Think about how you want to be perceived as a graduate student, and reflect on how that might be different from your pre-graduate school self. Turn this into a pitch that you can use to make introducing and branding yourself easier each time.
Be kind to yourself by giving yourself the gift of self-care. Graduate school is stressful, so go easy on yourself. Know that it’s okay to make a mistake. No matter what school or program you go to, you’re going to make essential connections. Make smart choices about who you spend time with and know that you are investing in long-term relationships. Make sure to make time for yourself, whether it’s every day or every week. One way you can do so is to “unschool” purposefully or spend some time learning about something outside of your degree program. Whatever works for you, our consultants recommend finding ways to care for yourself regularly.
Overall, graduate school will contain many firsts, and that may lead to some uncomfortable moments. However, going in with the right mindset and expectations can make all the difference. While you can’t anticipate everything graduate school will throw your way, we hope these tips can help you make the most of your experience.