Starting a graduate program requires adjustments — in your schedule, your relationships and your expectations for yourself. Here are six tips for making sure you start (and finish) your degree smoothly.
1. Check in regularly with your support system.
You’ll be leaning on your spouse, family members and friends for help as you work on your degree. Keep the lines of communication open so that everyone understands when you need to prioritize schoolwork, such as while you work on a big project or prepare for final exams. If family and friends can give you space when you need it, everyone can enjoy re-establishing regular phone calls or social activities when the project is finished.
2. Create a “read later” file of intriguing ideas.
As you take classes and complete projects, keep a file — on paper, online (insider tip: we love the free project management tool Trello!), on your phone — of ideas and titles that catch your attention. Those articles, books and conference presentations that sound interesting might be good further reading, but they also might be telling you something: where your passions lie. When it’s time to apply for internships or think about your career, referring to this collection of notes will reveal what you’re most curious about.
3. Take advantage of campus resources.
Talk with your professors after class or during office hours, but don’t overlook other resources, like writing labs — in person or online — where instructors can help you with academic writing and make sure your papers follow the proper format. And get to the career center early (and often): The career advising professionals can help make sure you’re ready to jump into your new career immediately after graduation or help you navigate advancement opportunities with your current position.
4. Cultivate relationships with your classmates.
Graduate school is about people as much as it is about reading and writing assignments. Getting to know your classmates — and learn about their professions — gives you a chance to consider alternative career paths and make connections with other organizations. Take advantage of the networking opportunities, but also the opportunity to learn and grow with a group of people outside your normal sphere of influence.
5. Build bridges between the classroom and the work world.
If you’re working full time while attending school, talk with your supervisor about how you might connect class assignments with your job. Yes, you’ll save time by accomplishing two things at once. But you’ll also learn more by applying your classroom education, and your work projects will benefit from the new perspectives you’re gaining in your program.
6. Maintain balance.
Take care of yourself: eat healthily, exercise and get enough sleep. Remember that cutting corners may save time in the short term, but could harm your health in the long term. And try to allow time each week to set work and responsibilities aside and simply contemplate what you’ve learned (and if you’re really pressed for time, combine with a walk, jog or drive). Taking the time to reflect helps you stay motivated and inspired.
Designed for working adults who need to balance school and life, graduate programs at St. Edward’s University offer flexible class schedules, small class sizes and real-world curriculum taught by experienced professionals.
Robyn Ross is a special projects writer for St. Edward’s University.