Derek Schardt: What to expect when starting grad school

By Derek Schardt. Posted October 28, 2013.

Paying for it: It is true, graduate school is more expensive credit for credit than an undergraduate education is, but it does not have to be. Even before applying to a graduate school, it might be a good idea to ask what kinds of assistantships are available for the program you are applying to. Once you are accepted into a program you should apply for an assistantship you have already picked out or researched. It is not difficult to avoid taking out more student loans for your graduate career if you carefully study what programs and their respective Universities offer incoming graduate students in terms of tuition assistance for graduate assistantships. In addition, graduate assistantships usually provide a stable source of income for the work you put into them, which goes a long way in supporting yourself during your studies. Compared to a part-time job, they are usually much more beneficial to a student’s time and finances.

Have a plan, and make sure you love what you are doing: Today it is normal for most high-school graduates to pursue a college degree even if they have no idea what kind of career they want to pursue in life. Graduate school is much different. Any program will expect you to have a clear idea or direction of how your graduate studies will help you meet your professional goals. It is important to pick a program that allows you to focus on a field of study that you want to genuinely engage in and discover more about. In short, be sure you love your field of study. Although you may not have a particular job choice in mind, you should be well aware of the career opportunities associated with your field of study for when you complete your degree. Are you going to look for a PhD program after you get your Masters? Are you going to enter the workforce? These are tough questions a student should ask themselves before starting a graduate program.

Better faculty support…so utilize it!: One great thing about going into a graduate program at a large university is the change you get in terms of faculty and advisor support. Graduate student advisors have much fewer students to oversee and are available to help you out more often. Usually students and advisors form closer professional relationships and advisors are able to make the student aware of opportunities for classes or job opportunities they would otherwise might miss out on or overlook. Additionally, advisors are able to better guide students through obstacles they may encounter with their research or classes. Graduate student advisors have experienced graduate school themselves, plus have shared the graduate student experience over and over again with past students they have advised. In my experience, their knowledge is the best guiding resource a graduate student can apply to his or her own academic career.

A struggling social life: One thing that will change for students will be their ability to go out with friends and do fun things. Graduate school usually requires more time for studying, research, and work. All of these take more time away from friends or family. Your social life can be difficult to juggle if you are going to school in the city close to your friends and family. Graduate work will usually require large amounts of time throughout the week either researching, preparing, or going to class. Although these activities take up a lot of time, it is also important to learn to relax and take some time for yourself during the day or week. I personally try to have 1-2 hours of free time on average each night, and maybe a half day during the weekend to do something for myself. You might not be able to have a routine or schedule for this time, but it is important to remember not to stress yourself out. There is such a thing as working too hard on your graduate work, but it is also easy to get behind on school, so be sure to find the right balance between your graduate work and social life.