Originally appeared on helloitssonia.com
After spending four or more years of matriculating through college, the thought of going to graduate school can be daunting and overwhelming. When I reached the end of my undergraduate career, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I did not feel prepared to enter the workforce and I wasn’t quite ready to leave the classroom setting so I decided to apply for grad school. As a first generation college student, getting a master’s degree felt like the equivalent of walking on the moon; a task only some were qualified for and only a few could actually accomplish. However, once I was accepted into my graduate program, I knew it was something I could accomplish as well. I also knew obtaining a graduate degree would make me more marketable when I was ready to enter the workforce. According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with master’s degrees earn approximately 30-50% more than their peers with bachelor’s degrees. While master’s degrees aren’t necessarily a requirement for some occupations, obtaining the additional education is never a bad thing. Here are five tips to get you through the grind of grad school.
Funding is Your Friend
The first thing I did after learning I had been accepted into graduate school was research opportunities for funding. Most graduate programs often offer the option to apply for traditional scholarships based on outstanding academic performance or some other unique circumstance. Other graduate programs offer graduate assistantships which are similar to internships, where the student works part-time while attending school in exchange for a stipend and tuition waiver. I was able to secure a graduate assistantship working in the Student Affairs office at my university during the day and I would attend classes in the evening. The benefit of my assistantship was that my master’s degree was practically free and I also made enough money to cover my living expenses.
Study Buddy Besties
Having a strong support system in life is great. Having a strong support system in graduate school is a necessity. My first semester of my master’s degree program, I made it a priority to find classmates and peers that I could partner with. I was lucky enough to meet two ladies who entered the program when I did and stuck with these ladies until graduation. There are vast benefits of having close relationships with classmates, especially if (when) you miss class or simply someone to bounce ideas off of. Most importantly, you’ll have someone who understands your struggles and frustrations of what you’re dealing with.
Practical Makes Perfect
At the end of most graduate programs, students will be required to complete a comprehensive exam, a thesis, or some combination of the two. One strategy I wish I would have known early upon entering graduate school was writing in preparation for my thesis. A thesis is a document containing a summary of research conducted on a topic relating to student’s area of study. Since graduate school requires constant paper writing, a practical graduate student should always try to write papers or research projects related to their thesis topic. I guarantee this will make the thesis process much easier and somewhat painless.
Network (work, work, work)
Graduate school programs most often cater to individuals who are professionals, some working in the field with years of practical work experience. Furthermore, professors and instructors teaching graduate level courses also have experience in the field of study, making them suitable to teach in their respective programs. This is why you want to network. It is extremely important to make valuable connections with your colleagues and peers, because they may be able to help you obtain professional opportunities. My graduate program created a Facebook group for program participants, alumni, and professors. The beauty of this group is that it allows graduates of the program to share job opportunities or just general information about the field. I was lucky enough to benefit from the group and secure a position in my field of work that was shared by a fellow program graduate. Also, there are professional organizations that cater to graduate students. These organizations host conferences that graduate students can attend to present research projects and network with other grad students from across the country or even internationally. Nonetheless, membership in these organizations provides access to job boards and of course, looks great on a resume.
Go Ahead and Just Do It
Take Nike’s advice and just do it! Grad school goes by quicker than you can imagine. My graduate program was a two-year program, literally just four brief semesters and a short summer semester of evening classes. I was enrolled as a full-time student and I took three classes each semester. My classes typically met for three hours once a week during the traditional fall or spring semester. During the summer semester, I was enrolled in two classes and each class would meet once a week for about five hours. While I understand everyone’s experience won’t be similar to mine, I encourage everyone to experience graduate school.
These are only a few brief tips on matriculating through a master’s degree program. Like any life experience, the grad school experience is what you make it. Graduate school can be fun and worthwhile if work hard and stay committed to it. You’re never too old, too busy, or too broke to gain more education!
If you’ve attended graduate school, what are some tips you have for being successful? Share below!
Sonia Daniels is currently at doctoral candidate at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA studying Public Policy. She also works as an HR and Administration Manager at a local children’s museum and has a master’s degree in Public Administration. In her free time she loves to blog and travel.