Are you ready to find your fit?

By Kelley Jacobs

If you decide on graduate school, how is it different?

Looking back over your undergraduate years you might remember your freshman year as one of learning how to live away from home, parties, making friends, confusion about what you want to major in, finding structure.

As a sophomore you felt more confident with yourself, learned some self-discipline and began getting an idea what of you want to do.

By your junior year you’ve learned the ropes of academia, settled in on a major, and have a circle of friends who will probably be friends for life.

And your senior year was one of panic—you faced graduation and going out into the world, leaving the circle of friends.

You had to determine if you were ready to leave academia and join the workforce, or continue on to pursue a master’s degree.

Preparation Leads to Success

Here’s how you can prepare for graduate school and succeed during those two or three high pressure years.

Graduate students may have:

  • recently earned their bachelor’s degree
  • out of school for years
  • started a family
  • recently become empty nesters
  • joined the military
  • been discharged
  • decided it was time to change careers

The possibilities are endless, and graduate schools are prepared to work with students of all backgrounds to help them succeed.

To prepare yourself for the demands of graduate school, here are some things to consider:

Determine what you want to study.

Research programs, talk to individuals in the field, visit the school or arrange a phone conference. Figure out what you want to do after you earn your graduate degree and make sure it aligns with the degree program you select. 

Make sure you are financially prepared for graduate school.

Be realistic about your plans to work (or not work) while going to school. If you are planning to change from full-time work to part-time work while going to school, make sure you have the financial resources to continue to pay your bills. If you have a spouse or significant other who will be working and supporting you while you pursue your degree, be open with them about your expectations for support. 

Find a mentor.

Having a mentor is a great way to help cope with the demands of graduate school. Finding a professor, experienced professional, or another educator who knows what you are going through or who knows the field is a great asset. Mentors can provide feedback, serve as a sounding board, offer professional advice, and help provide connections when searching for a job. 

Use a calendar.

Schedule everything. Block off time spent in class, time needed to study, and time needed for prep work for projects or papers. Break down large projects into smaller tasks and schedule those as well. This will help prevent procrastination and will leave you better prepared to handle an emergency or sudden change in schedule.

If you are a parent or caregiver, make sure you schedule time for family obligations…or even a much needed dinner with friends or a weekend trip with the family. Scheduling time for family and friends allows you to intentionally make them a priority and feel less isolated and stressed.

Tools for success.

You need to be prepared for your graduate program by having all the materials needed for success. Pay attention to technical requirements, software, internet speeds, and hardware that might be needed as part of the program or even an individual course. Have a backup plan in place in case your technology fails. Being prepared in advance allows you to hit the ground running and get off to a great start!

While there are distinct differences between college and graduate school, you can find success in both by knowing what to expect and preparing yourself. Graduate school is both professionally and personally rewarding. Being prepared and having realistic expectations will ensure that you survive and come out on top with the right master’s degree to advance in your career or find the job of your dreams.

About the Author

Kelley Jacobs is passionate about education and helping others
navigate the higher education system. Kelley is an avid researcher
with experience in qualitative and quantitative research as
well as program evaluation.

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