In grad school, your new and potentially older classmates are probably more mature, enthusiastic about learning and full of rich life experience.
You’re all grown up now — or at least close enough to it that grad school is either a reality or a real possibility. If you’re contemplating or actively attending grad school, you know you’re not in Kansas — or an undergrad program — anymore. Maybe it hit you at orientation. Maybe you waited a bit too long to start that first assignment, and it hit you when you realized you couldn’t just breeze through it. Yep, this is graduate school, and suddenly, you may find yourself struggling. Maybe even for the first time ever.
Grad school truthiness: Wake-up calls from your new life
Here are two things about life as a grad student that you should come to terms with:
- • You’re getting older — and so is your cohort. In grad school, one of the most shocking firsts is that you are a lot closer in age to your professor than ever before (you might even be older). This isn’t anything to worry about, just something to realize and accept. You’re likely going to find a wider range of ages in your classes, too. Because graduate school is even more elective than undergrad, your new and potentially older classmates are probably more mature, enthusiastic about learning and full of rich life experience — something to take advantage of. They may even be married or life-partnered-up with kids, to boot, which means it’s a bold new social world out there.
- • You’re all grown up. You’re going to find that fewer people are there to hold your hand through grad school. That’s not to say that you’re on your own — no, people love to be helpful. Unlike before, though, you’re going to have to ask for help; the initiative is yours. You may have long-term projects with few or no check-ins with your professor before they’re due. If you need help, it’s up to you to get it, just like it’s up to you to stay on task.
Survival tips for grad students
Take a minute and breathe. Don’t panic. People expecting a bit more from you isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it was bound to happen sooner or later. The following four tips can help you adjust to grad-student life:
- • Get busy — or to put it another way: no procrastination. There’s simply too much work to do for you to start putting things off. If you fall behind in a class, you might not be able to catch back up again. You should expect to be busy in grad school — really busy. There may be a point at which you feel mentally and physically exhausted, burnt out and ready to quit. That’s normal. Stay strong, and don’t give up.
- • Be humble, or be humbled. This isn’t your undergrad degree with slightly harder classes. You are mastering a subject, and you need to act like it. If you try to crank out a passable paper the morning it’s due, you may be in for a very rude awakening. Graduate school is hard. It’s OK to admit it — and very much OK to ask for help. If you let your ego get in the way of your education, both will suffer.
- • Open up communications. Meet your classmates. Talk to nice people you meet around campus. Go check in with your professors, your adviser, the chair of your department, the dean — everybody. Just be friendly, open and honest with those you meet. You really, really aren’t alone in this. Start a study group. Go to office hours. If you’re struggling, say so. The emotional, academic and social benefits may astound you.
- • Take it easy. Know and respect your own limits. This isn’t a sprint to the finish. It’s a nose-to-the-grindstone, in-for-the-long-haul, intellectual trek that will lead you to and through a lot of places before taking you across that commencement stage. Save your energy for the big pushes, the crunch-times around midterms, finals and big papers — and stay sane in the meantime.
You’ve totally got this
If they let you sign up for classes, you can make it through. It’s the job of those folks in admissions to make sure that the people enrolled in grad school can make it back out into the real world again. Don’t forget how capable and smart you really are — but, again, don’t get too full of yourself. Study, ask questions early and often, kick butt and take names.
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