Adjusting to Graduate Study

Finding Your War Buddies: Grad School Friends

At times, graduate school might feel like a never-ending battle. In fighting with your dissertation, coursework, grading papers, and any attempt to have a life outside of graduate school, you may feel overwhelmed at times. You probably have some friends and family members who have been supportive, but unless they have been to graduate school, they probably have no idea how hard you really have to work. The only people who will truly be able to understand and empathize with what you are going through are your fellow war buddies, your grad school friends.

From the time you start to the time you end your graduate program, you should use your grad school friends for support. Additionally, let these peers use you for support when they are feeling particularly down. Having a set of core friends/supports within your program can be very helpful in many aspects. First, having friends in your program can give you someone to whom you can vent and complain, which can be very cathartic for graduate students. Additionally, you can use your friends in the program as accountability partners, which are people who can help hold you accountable for everything you need to get accomplished. Lastly, fellow graduate students can also be good social outlets. You will likely be spending more time with fellow students than with people from most of the other relationships in your life, so have fun with your grad school friends. Just because you’re a graduate student doesn’t mean you have to be serious 100% of the time; joking around and being silly from time to time never hurt anyone.

One way to easily meet new people in your program is to reach out to your cohorts, which are other students who will start the program at the same time that you will. Depending on your program, your cohorts will likely be the students with whom you will be spending most of your time in graduate school class. Reach out to these students to make some grad school friends, and try to get to know them better on personal and professional levels.


Role of GPA: Before, During, and After Grad School

Some students automatically presume that the higher the grade point average (GPA) the better. However, this is not always the case because the role and importance of your GPA changes throughout your academic career. In other words, your GPA can signify different things to different people at different times depending on your current academic progress, your area of study, and your goals after grad school.

GPA Before Grad School

GPA is very important when you are transitioning from undergraduate to graduate study because admissions committees at grad schools perceive GPA as an indication of your long-term performance and potential as a student. Although actual requirements vary, most graduate admissions committees typically expect applicants to have GPAs from 3.0–3.3 for master’s programs and from 3.3–3.5 for doctoral programs. That being said, not all GPAs are weighed equally. For example, a 4.0 GPA on a transcript that primarily includes courses in pottery, belly dancing, and mixology is less impressive on a grad-school application than is a 3.4 GPA on a transcript that primarily includes courses in advanced statistics, research methodology, and rhetoric.

If you are concerned that your undergraduate GPA is too low to successfully apply to grad school, there are several things that you can do to raise your GPA. First, take challenging courses and apply yourself actively to doing the best you can. Second, take summer courses, which generally progress more quickly but which allow you to focus on one course at a time. Finally, you could even consider delaying your undergraduate graduation for a semester so that you have time to take a few more courses to improve your GPA. If this is not an option for you, remember that your GPA is only one element of your overall grad-school application; having strong scores on standardized tests, strong transcripts with a variety of challenging courses, well-written admissions essays, and glowing recommendation letters can offset below-average GPAs.

GPA During Grad School

By the time you enter grad school, your GPA will assume a drastically new meaning. You will likely have to maintain your GPA at a minimum standard to show academic progress, to satisfy scholarship requirements, and to qualify for fellowships, etc., but unlike during undergraduate study, a high GPA during graduate study is less impressive than is evidence of extensive scholarly research (e.g., publications, presentations, research collaborations). In fact, some professors may assume that grad students who have above-average GPAs are focusing too much on coursework and not enough on research. However, the reduced importance of GPA in grad school does not mean that you can totally neglect your grades on your coursework because the role of your GPA may change again depending on your field of study and your goals after grad school

GPA After Grad School

You may be wondering, “Why does my GPA matter after I finish grad school?” The answer depends on what you want to do next. For example, if you plan to continue in academia by seeking a professorship, then your graduate research and GPA will both be important elements of your job applications. Additionally, some nonacademic employers use graduate GPAs and institutional prestige for the same purposes as do admissions committees at grad school: long-term indicators of job performance and potential. On the other hand, other nonacademic employers may prioritize GPAs less highly than extensive practical professional experience (e.g., internships, field work, externships, apprenticeships, practicums). To determine the significance of GPA after grad school in your field, you should talk to potential employers and other professionals who are doing what you want to be doing to determine what qualifications (including but not limited to GPA) you will need to be successful after you graduate.

The Competition

Most individuals who end up in grad school were often in the top of their undergraduate classes, perhaps that is why they don’t think they need any “tips for graduate students.” Because you will be in class with the top of the top students, you might find it more challenging to stand out as a shining student. Here are some tips for graduate students to make sure that you stand out, even when the competition is rough.


By the time they enter graduate schools, most students have strong skill sets with regard to written communication, so it can be hard to stand out in your written work. However, a skill set that is often less developed by incoming graduate students is oral presentations. Regardless of your field of study, it is imperative to have a strong ability to give oral presentations and to be able to disseminate new information to your peers and colleagues. Take the time to refine this skill as soon as you can, and you will likely be able to start ahead of the curve.

Be Visible

A common pitfall is for graduate students to think that attending classes and making good grades is all that is needed to be successful in graduate school class. If you want to simply coast through graduate school, you might not need these tips for graduate students. However, if you want to stand out and shine as an outstanding graduate student, this approach will not work. Visibility is one of the most important tips for graduate students. Faculty will only get a small sense of your strengths in the classroom, so you will want to take advantage of every opportunity that you can to demonstrate your strengths outside the classroom. To do this, you will need to be as involved as possible. Many programs have student representatives, which is a great opportunity to spend more time with faculty members. Get involved on research teams beyond the minimum requirements of your program. Be aware of and jump at any opportunity for service within your program. Also, look for service opportunities outside your program in professional organizations and other groups in your field.


Treat Graduate School Like it's Your Day Job

What tips can you give me to help me finish graduate school?

Transitioning from an undergraduate program into graduate school can be an adjustment even for the most hard-working and disciplined individuals. Obviously, cramming for exams at the last minute or not completing the recommended readings for class simply won’t fly in graduate school. Although the amount of work you will have as a graduate student will depend on your field, program, school, and personal work ethic, it’s safe to say that you’ll be pretty busy over the next few years so you can finish graduate school.

Go to Work

One approach to managing your workload to finish graduate school is to treat it as a day job. As a full-time student, assume that about 40 hours per week may be spent either in classes or completing reading/writing assignments for your classes. Therefore, you should work a regular schedule (9–5 every weekday) in the same location (your home office or in the library). Give yourself a lunch break each day, and then return to work. Taking breaks is important to refresh your mind, but schedule your breaks so that you can remain efficient and can make the most of your time each day.

Remember to Go Off the Clock Sometimes…

Carve out a bit of time every evening or on the weekend just for “me-time.” If you must work and attend graduate school full time, then you may not have much time for your personal time. However, you should still learn how to prioritize and schedule free time to unwind and relax at least once a week. You will be more productive and will produce better quality work if you allow yourself some time to relax and reenergize..

…Except When it Comes to Networking

Just like in your career, you never know who you may meet and what connections you may make before you finish graduate school. Attend department and university events, and keep an eye out for people who may have similar research or academic interests to your own. Try to present yourself professionally at all public functions, even if the functions are not school related.

There Will Be Overtime

Treating graduate school like a job by setting and following a strict schedule, taking regular breaks, networking, and working overtime may help you better manage your workload and ultimately finish graduate school.

The Grad School Dash: Tips on How to Graduate from Graduate School

If you have ever seen the 400-meter hurdle dash on the Olympics, then you already have a pretty good sense of what it will take to graduate from graduate school. You will start out going as fast as you can, and every so often you will jump, sometimes praying that you will make it over your next obstacle and not eventually drop out of graduate school. The good news is that if you are reading this, then you have likely already jumped your first hurdle: getting into graduate school. The bad news is that there are plenty of more hurdles ahead of you before you graduate from graduate school.

During your course as a graduate student, you will likely have to complete a thesis and/or a dissertation, to serve on a research team, to pass comprehensive exams, to teach classes, to publish and present your own research, and to publish and present faculty research. Of course, all of this will be in addition to a rigorous course load. This may all seem very daunting, and it is; however, it is possible to finish the grad school dash and graduate from graduate school.

The following are a few tips to help you through the race of graduate school.

Prioritizing is Not Procrastinating

The one thing that is true of all graduate programs in all fields is that you will always have something that you need to get done at any given point, guaranteed. An essential skill to graduate from graduate school is learning how to prioritize what needs to get done. Now, let me be very clear here—prioritizing is not procrastinating. Procrastinating is putting something off because you do not feel like doing it at that moment. In contrast, prioritizing is doing what needs to get done first. When you prioritize, you may sometimes find yourself completing tasks at the last minute, which is an almost inevitable reality in graduate school.

Your Absolute Best vs. Your Best Given the Circumstances

Many graduate students often struggle with the gift and the curse of perfectionism. It’s true that many graduate students were likely the head of their undergraduate classes, some even boasting 4.0 GPAs; if you had not been one of these students, you probably would not have gotten into graduate school. There are times, however, when it’s ok not to be perfect. That’s not to say that now that you are in graduate school, you can start to slack off; it’s actually quite the opposite. However, it will be vital for your success—and for your sanity—in graduate school to learn how to be comfortable doing your best given the circumstance rather than doing your absolute best all the time. Over the course of your graduate program, you will get a feel for the standards of various faculty members, and you will be able to use this to your advantage. This will come in handy, particularly at 2:00 AM when you decide to proof your paper only one time instead of three times.

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