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So You’re Starting Grad School…Here’s What You Need to Know

There’s no denying the differences between undergrad and graduate school. The two are distinct in almost every aspect, from the price of textbooks to the amount of time you spend at the nearest bar after class. Whether you’re starting your graduate degree right out of undergrad, or waiting a few years to get back in the schooling saddle, there are a few noticeable things every graduate student should keep in mind.

Here’s a breakdown of (almost) everything you should expect from your grad school experience.

So You’re Starting Grad School…Here’s What You Need to Know

The work to school to life balance is hard.

Going back to school for another degree is tough on your social life—there’s no denying it. Sometimes, it feels like school is a full-time job. For some, this extra work is a welcome addition, but for students who also have a career outside of school, the workload required by a graduate degree can feel suffocating. The need to spend equal time with both work and school is important, but along with that comes the need of your down-time. Some graduate students are so overwhelmed with everything that they forget to chill out every once in a while. 

Here are some quick tips for you to manage your school and career while still finding some time to relax:

  • Tell your boss! It may seem obvious to some, but informing your boss of your schooling will keep your work and school life more manageable. Sit with your employer and explain why you decided to pursue another degree, then discuss how you can use your studies in the workplace. This way, you can set expectations for your schedule and perhaps find more support from your employer.
  • Find time to rest. Working a full job while studying for your graduate degree is all fun and games until you find yourself exhausted by noon and struggling to stay attentive. Burning out is a very real thing for those who boast a busy schedule, so be sure you allow yourself a few minutes every night to decompress. Whether you choose to read, write, or hang out with family, enjoying hobbies can control levels of anxiety and soothe a busy mind.
  • Think about that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Some days will suck, and that’s just the inevitable part of being human. When you’re struggling to balance your time, take a second to think about why you wanted to go to grad school in the first place. Think about how you’ll feel when you add another degree to your office wall. Even though it might be stressful, remember that you chose to go to grad school for a reason, and even when you have bad days, you’re one day closer to getting that diploma.

Grad school is gonna take up a lot of time.

There’s something to be said about the work-life balance of a grad student. Even when you’re not at school, your mind is always thinking about that next homework assignment or project or research paper. Time is precious, so a lot of grad students are surprised to find that most free time is full of school or thoughts of school. It’s understandable to think about the degree you’re working to receive, but there’s a thin line between thinking and obsessing. 

Here are a few ways you can avoid grad school taking over every aspect of your life:

  • Always have a to-do list. Instead of worrying about all of the assignments you’ll have due during the semester, take everything one week at a time. Only allow yourself to think about the things happening during that week, and always give yourself the weekends (or part of them) for rest and relaxation. Working ahead is great, but that quiz isn’t due for another two months, and you look exhausted.
  • Make a schedule. Crack open that daily planner, and get to writing. Break everything down in half-hour increments, that way your mind is always fresh for a new task. Spending thirty minutes on homework is better than thinking about that assignment all day while you’re at work or out with friends. 
  • Always get help. Don’t be embarrassed if you need help managing time when it comes to your degree. You can talk to friends or family about any problems you might be having, but also remember to use your school’s resources. Almost every school has a counseling center of some sort, where therapists are waiting to help you for free! That’s F-R-E-E, as in the best word ever.

It’s not undergrad.

Many graduate students fall back into the bad habits of their undergrad the second they set foot on campus, and that’s because we’ve always been told that college is the best place to party, and that test isn’t that important, right?

Wrong. Here are some ways to remember that grad school is a far cry from undergrad:

  • Clubs aren’t really that fun. Being eighteen years old in a college-town bar is exhilarating because you’re finally out of your parent’s house! Being twenty-five years old in a college-town bar is overwhelming because the drinks suck, the party lights are too bright, and oh, my God did you used to like this kind of music? 
  • Shots aren’t that good. I mean, when you were sneaking Smirnoff into your freshman dorm you were like super cool, but now you can admit that it all tastes like hand sanitizer and you just want a Sex on the Beach, please.
  • All nighters are actually super bad for you. How much studying did you really get done while you were hopped up on caffeine at three in the morning? How much better did you do on your exam because you spent an extra hour reading over notes? There’s nothing quite like the full night’s sleep before your exam, so go ahead and crawl into bed before nine. I won’t judge.

There are tons of differences between undergrad and grad school. Whether you take my advice or not, I hope you find a way to balance your life with school and work. Grad school is just another awesome part of life, and it means you’re basically one step closer to being a doctor, right?

So enjoy yourself, but remember that school isn’t all about drinking and dancing, because most of your classmates will be in their thirties, and they’ll want to go to Chili’s after the midterm, not a club.

About the Author

Keegan Myers

Keegan Myers is a recent grad of the University of South Florida with a BS in Management. Her current interests include the environment, reading, and social media management. She wants to eventually own her own social media management firm, and work hands-on with small businesses in the Eastern United States.