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Top 10 Tips for Surviving Graduate School

Much of what is known and said about graduate school is true. It requires a lot of work, it is expensive, and no, you cannot blow off class to sleep in. However, it is manageable, and a decision thousands of students make each year to advance in or switch their careers or expand their knowledge in a field of study. We have listed some tips below that can be applied to your advanced degree program, which should help you be more successful in graduate school.

1. Take advantage of professors and other professional contacts. More likely than not, you will not find another prestigious academic opportunity where you have access to some of the best and the brightest in your field. You may need these contacts for your first job after you graduate, so cultivate relationships early on and not solely when you’re looking for recommendations.

2. Revise your approach. Just because you were a strong undergraduate student does not assume the same will happen in graduate school. Pursuing an advanced degree won’t be the same as pursuing your bachelor’s, nor should it be. Go into the experience with high expectations for yourself, and the attitude that you’ll need to devote more time to your academic life to be successful.

3. Get organized. Much of what you do on the graduate level will be useful in the future, whether that means an assignment will be integrated into a portfolio or will eventually be highlighted on your resume. Find a place to compile all your academic work, that you can return to after graduation- separate from any thesis materials you already know you’ll need.

4. Take initiative. There isn’t much hand-holding in graduate school, and you will be expected to be independent. If you do have questions about your financial aid, a big assignment, or anything else, take initiate to answer your own question. Your professors will appreciate you coming to them sooner rather than later.

5. Expect to be busy. If you struggled with time management as an undergraduate, you’ll need to think about breaking that bad habit as soon as you start your new life as a graduate student. The assignments you’re given will be more involved, the exams you take will take more preparation, and you’ll be spending more of your time on academic work, whether it is on research, a thesis paper, or keeping on top of your studying.

6. Prioritize. There will be a lot thrown at you from the minute you start graduate school, so make sure things are accomplished sooner rather than later. Don't procrastinate: Big projects may need to be tackled piece by piece, and you’ll be responsible for not letting all of your other work and responsibilities slide in the meantime.

7. Study now. It’s much harder to procrastinate on graduate level work than it may have been when you were an undergraduate so stay on top of your studies. The best way to avoid burnout (and all-nighters) is to manage your time. Keep a calendar or to-do list because we guarantee the coursework and assignments will be more intense than those in graduate school.

8. Become an expert. Take advantage of research opportunities. When else will you have access higher caliber academic professionals and materials? Getting more involved in field research may also help you cover your tuition and fees, as numerous fellowships, grants, and assistantships are based on your experience and willingness to conduct research.

9. Budget wisely. It may be difficult to save money while in graduate school, but it should be your goal to live frugally. You probably have student loan debt waiting for you from your bachelor’s education, so do not rely on loans to cover all of your college expenses. Find some part-time work that plays to your strengths or looks good on a resume, like working as a research assistant, and stick to a budget

10. Branch out. Even the most studious among you need to leave the library sometimes and get acquainted with the rest of your graduate school class. Make sure to take advantage of what your school has to offer from time to time, whether it be a lecture series, a student-affiliated group that supports your interests, or free pizza in the student lounge. Even graduate students need a break sometimes.

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Last Reviewed: July 2020