By Courtney Herring, Guest Contributor
- Know why you are pursuing an advanced degree. That should be an obvious one, but you would be surprised to know that there are quite a few people that don’t know why they are in graduate school. Some are fresh out of undergrad, while some are going back to school because it seems like “the way to go.” The uncertainty seems quite counter-intuitive to the application process, but it really does happen to people once they get their acceptance letters. In order to get into a graduate program, you have to convince the faculty that you know why you want to be there, but the most important piece of advice I offer is that you have to first convince yourself of why you are there (or want to be there). I’m not saying that you have to have a rock-solid plan of study and thesis proposal once you hit the door, but it does help to have a flexible vision and some foresight. Most importantly, it’s necessary to know what you want to accomplish with the degree after you obtain it. Having a vision not only keeps you from wandering aimlessly, it also keeps you sane throughout some tough times when you seemingly want to give up and throw in the towel.
- Be prepared to work. This piece of advice seems common-sensical, right? But, once you enter graduate school, work takes on a totally different meaning. I mean, REALLY. Graduate school is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Three to four hour classes, massive amounts of reading, hours of sometimes boring discussion/lecture, and seemingly impossible exams for each course seems doable when you first start, but after a couple of weeks it can be draining. Having prepared a vision of what you want out of the experience before hand helps combat procrastination and plain old laziness.
- The above tip brings me to my next one…Be realistic about the course load you can handle. This is especially true for those of you who want to pursue or are pursuing an advanced degree in addition to other responsibilities, like work and family. Though classes usually meet once a week for three hours, one must still take into account the homework, group projects and exams that could accompany each class. While it’s great to want to finish up a degree in as less time as possible (and, perhaps with less debt), you must be realistic. Now, if you’re like me and happen to have a fellowship or an assistantship, depending on your program you may not have the option to be a part time student because you may be getting paid to be one. For those of you in my shoes, I still recommend that you choose your classes wisely. Most programs require a thesis or dissertation in order to fully complete the degree. So, not only do you have to choose classes that will inform the research that you are planning to conduct, you must also be strategic about choosing a schedule of courses.
Of course these aren’t the only things I have learned, so stay tuned. I have more tips up my sleeve! I would love to hear about your experiences, fears, and accomplishments in graduate school. Feel free to leave a comment or connect with me on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/courtneyherring