How to survive and thrive in graduate school

Making the leap into graduate school is an exciting step, and one that can offer great rewards for your career and quality of life. Before you can enjoy those benefits, however, you have to make it through your graduate program. Enthusiasm for your subject can take you a long way, but in the end, some helpful, practical planning can help you through the rough patches – and undoubtedly there will be some. Use these tips to help ensure you make it to the finish line.

Choose your graduate program wisely

Graduate school is a big commitment, involving long hours, intense academic work, and prolonged attention (think years, not weeks) to your chosen subject. The last thing you want is to find you’ve committed time and money to a program that doesn’t really fulfill your needs.

Before you settle on a graduate program, be sure to do your research. Visit the campus – or if choosing an online program, talk to students and professors – and meet with advisors for the program. Learn the realities of the program in order to best judge how it will meet your needs.

Think post-graduation, pre-graduation

Before you even begin your master’s degree program, you should have some idea of how you plan to use the degree: what kind of jobs you might want to pursue post-graduation, as well as an idea of what that work entails and how your master’s degree program will train you for a real-world career.

There are master’s degrees in a wide range of fields that offer high starting salaries and promising job growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists some careers with high mean annual salaries that often require master’s degrees:

  • Physician assistants: $84,830
  • Financial analysts: $85,240
  • Human resources managers: $105,110
  • Computer and information systems managers: $120,640

Become a master of time management

Developing some healthy time management skills may benefit you greatly as a grad student. Although your responsibilities are probably more intense than they were in your undergraduate program, your time is also less structured. It’s up to you to pace yourself, prioritize your time, and work steadily throughout the year.

Build a support network

Aside from the later career advantages that “networking” in grad school can provide, forming relationships with people in your graduate program can be beneficial for both your academic and emotional wellbeing. There will be times when you are stressed out by all the work you have to do. No one will understand that better, or be more willing to lend a sympathetic ear, than your fellow students. When you need advice on your work, a professor with whom you have a good rapport may be more likely to take the time to guide you. Finally, there will be times when you are sick of grad school and just want to talk to someone outside of the program, so don’t forget your friends and family when you are in the throes of graduate school stress.

Take advantage of internships

Internships are a critical component of many graduate school programs, providing burgeoning professionals with a chance to try their hand at a career in their field. Besides looking good on a resume, internships offer valuable career experience, contacts in the field, and an aspect of career development that can’t be found in a book.

Make graduate school your number one priority&

Many students have to make the same tough decision during their graduate school program: whether or not to hold an outside job while attending grad school. Working part-time is a financial necessity for some, and on-campus jobs can be an ideal solution for earning a little extra cash while pursuing your degree. If at all possible, avoid taking on full-time job responsibilities during grad school, at least until you’ve gotten enough of a feel for the program to know how much energy you will be able to give other commitments. For most students, grad school is a full-time job, hopefully one that will lead to greater career potential down the road.

Don’t forget to relax and have fun

Now for some good news: Your chances of success in graduate school will increase if you allow yourself some time to go to the gym, socialize with family and friends, and enjoy some much-deserved down time.

Earning a master’s degree may be one of the most challenging experiences you’ve faced to date, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Plan ahead and give yourself the best chance of success when pursuing your graduate degree.


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