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The Graduate Mindset: 4 Things To Expect While Pursuing Your Master’s

Graduate school isn’t for everyone. For some, going to grad school is a must depending on career paths such as medicine or law. For others, grad school may be a stepping stone to further your degree or the start of a career change. 

For those of you considering immersing yourself in the world of graduate school, it’s important to know exactly what to expect and how it may differ from your undergraduate experience. Virtual or not, it’s a good idea to leave all presumptions at the door. Many expectations and social norms both academically and professionally change tremendously and it’s a good idea to start preparing now. 

As someone who is still in the midst of their graduate studies, I wish there was someone who could have given me some heads up on what to expect.. As the saying goes, “before anything else, preparation is key.” This is why I have compiled a list of  my top 4 things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about taking the leap to graduate school so you feel prepared: 

1. Step up your time management 

In most undergraduate experiences, there are strict guidelines to follow and the professor is still more of an authoritative figure. Professors give constant reminders on deadlines and classes generally meet multiple times a week.  In graduate school, you need to be prepared for a new wave of independence and autonomy over your work. When you get your syllabus, mark down all deadlines. Unlike undergrad, graduate classes only meet once a week so you need to stay on top of your work and do a lot of outside reading and preparation. Time management is essential so if this is an area you struggle with, now is the time to start making changes. 

2. I’m only taking how many classes?

Be prepared to only take an average of 2 to 4 full classes per semester. Yes, that’s right; no more slamming your schedule with 5 to 8 classes. However, this doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park. While the amount of courses may be significantly less than you remember from undergrad, the course work is going to be intense. Be prepared to indulge in a lot of readings and assignments in your free time and expect to physically sit in each class for two to three hours. Focus on producing quality work and do not slack off just because 2 to 4 classes doesn’t sound like a lot. 

3. Network To The Top

Unlike undergrad, in graduate school networking is a must. Professors have far less students to manage and are there to help you succeed in your career. See your professors as colleagues and people working in the field you want to tap into. Meet with them after class, pick their brains, ask for recommendations. Also, make sure to sign up for any networking platform, such as Handshake, that your university is involved with. These platforms are designed to help students find jobs. You’d be surprised to see how many alumni may work at companies you are interested in. Use this to your advantage. 

4. Accountability is key

In most cases, attending college as an undergrad is a societal expectation. Graduate school however is completely your choice. There are no longer a ton of prerequisites and no one is making you take a bunch of introductory classes in all subjects. Graduate school is specific to what you want to study and remember, it’s expensive. If you skip a class, that’s hundreds of dollars and valuable knowledge you just threw away. In graduate school, you can worry less about grades and more about quality work and valuable learning opportunities. No one is forcing you to be in graduate school. Keep yourself accountable and find routines that work for you.

At the end of the day, graduate school is what you make of it. It can be the best networking and learning experience or it can be a very strenuous waste of time. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and weigh all of your options. There are a lot of people who wish they could pursue an advanced degree so if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, make the most of it. Use these tips to help you transition into higher education and above all else, make sure to be prepared. 

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