Earning a bachelor’s degree is an accomplishment worthy of celebrating! This significant milestone officially launches you into the professional and career world. But it doesn’t end there. A new academic world waiting to be conquered: graduate school.
To a graduate student, completing an undergraduate program is merely scratching the surface. Graduate school gives you an in-depth, more relevant hands-on learning experience and—more importantly—the confidence and competitive edge to secure a spot in a cutthroat job market.
We hear countless times about how tough and challenging graduate studies can be. If indeed you are pursuing graduate school, are you up to the challenge?
Top Reasons for Pursuing Grad School
Entering into graduate school may sound like a good idea. What are your reasons? Is it necessary, especially on the job you are planning to get?
Below are four of the top reasons why students pursue an advanced degree.
- Career Change. In a report from Aslanian Market Research, 80% of the respondents said career change is why they pursue graduate studies. When shifting careers, you’ll be surprised that your experience may weigh as much as your expertise obtained through further studies.
- Professional Development. Although a profession does not necessarily need an advanced degree, having one helps you stand out from the pack. For example, business school graduates can boost their ‘relevance’ in the field by pursuing a Masters of Taxation, Master of Accountancy, or Masters in Strategic Human Resource Management. Having a four-year bachelor’s degree was enough to reach your career goals back in the day. But in today’s competitive world, a graduate degree will set you apart.
- Possible Salary Increase. Naturally, advancing your career leads to higher pay. But if you have a graduate degree, an increased earning potential is very high. For instance, your work experience and the degree you earn will determine your pay scale in education.
If this is why you are contemplating pursuing graduate school, make sure you weigh the education cost (and your loss of earnings, should you go full time) and the possible salary you can get after graduation.
- Requirement for Filling A Vacancy. We all know that practice-based doctors are imperative for highly-regarded careers such as Law (JD) or Medicine (MD). However, this is also true for other professions. Typically, teachers are not qualified to become administrators if they don’t earn an MA in Education Leadership or a Supervisor’s Certificate. The same also applies to Counselling Psychology, Physical Therapy, Social Sciences, and Occupational Therapy fields.
Survive Grad School With These Actionable Tips!
Graduate school is difficult, no doubt about it. It is sink or swim— sans the swimming instructor to look out for you. Expect that by this time, you will read more, do more homework, and pay better attention and concentrate more in your classes than you are used to back in college.
Graduate school is a full-time, round-the-clock job where you need to spend at least seven to ten hours per class each week to obtain a high average grade point.
But don’t fret. Prepare yourself accordingly and know what to expect. While it’s challenging, graduate studies are also rewarding and maybe even fun. Below are 12 ways to learn to stay afloat and survive graduate school.
Tip # 1: Know What to Expect and Learn to Adjust.
Chances are, nobody has sent you a detailed brochure telling you what to expect in graduate school or explaining to you its difference from undergraduate school. You will have more assignments and readings than ever before by this time. Expect to work on even more tasks than you can complete, which can be overwhelming.
You are responsible for learning your materials independently (no more lectures that explain the readings). Sometimes, your colleagues may look at you as a competition (unlike college, where you treat each other as friends). And becoming a “good student” now means you have to always be in pace with your lectures (not just doing your tasks as well as you want to).
Of course, just like any other school, adjusting to graduate school is overwhelming at first. So many students feel a mixture of excitement, hope, anticipation, fear, and insecurities, especially during the first few weeks. Know that this is just normal, even the emotional and physical symptoms that go with it.
Tip # 2: Impact on Your Relationship. Be on Time for SKYPE Time.
Unless your friends, family, or partner have also attended graduate school, they will never understand how different graduate school is. Sometimes, this can lead to frustration, guilt, jealousy and can even impact each other’s sides.
When your sister interrogates you for the gazillionth time to elaborate what you’re studying, or your dad asks you when you can complete your thesis, or your spouse gets angry that “after three years, you are still working on your research?”, it will give you the impression that they no longer understand you.
While this is disappointing and sometimes discouraging, never take it against them. They may make you crazy at times, but remember they are the most important people in your life who supported you even before you started graduate school. If possible, commit to setting a time with them via cyberspace. Graduate school is nerve-wracking.
But the people surrounding you (no matter how they sometimes don’t understand what you’re doing) are the same people who will keep you grounded and sane. Your family and close friends will always be your most vital support system.
Tip # 3: Take Constant Care of Yourself.
There’s no other way to say it: graduate school demands a lot of you. Suddenly, you find yourself consciously ignoring physical or emotional satisfaction. A cup or two of coffee could help you pull an all-nighter in college—but those pale in comparison to the demands of graduate study.
In graduate school, things are different. You are constantly exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. The long hours you spend reading, and doing your tasks, hunched on your laptop, can add up quickly—and take a toll on your body. Before you know it, you start to have back pains that you never experienced before!
You try to make adjustments that work around your schedule. You try to get more sleep, plan your meals, exercise, and pause for a while. A good night’s sleep is rare in grad school, so investing in a bed, mattress, and pillows of excellent quality suddenly becomes a must. Waking up well-rested can make all the difference.
Tip #4: Stay Focused and Never Doubt Yourself.
You may sometimes, think “I am not as sharp as all my colleagues” or “the moment I hand over my research, my professor will wonder why I am here in the first place.” This is called “The Imposter Syndrome,” defined as “doubting your capacities and feeling like a fraud.” The syndrome affects over-achievers who find it hard to accept their accomplishments.
The Imposter Syndrome can make graduate students procrastinate and feel anxious, which some tend to over-correct by bragging about their achievements. Some may feel nothing more than being one of the many “big fishes” in a “tiny pond.” When shrugged off for long, these feelings can be rather disconcerting and radically change how you look at yourself and your capacities.
The trick is to commit to focusing on learning. Remember that grad school is more than just impressive grades. It’s about conquering new academic heights for extensive learning to be applied in your field. Graduate school should bring out the innovative, the disciplined, and the determined in you!
Tip # 5. Strive for Balance.
In the early days of graduate school, make sure you create a consistent schedule– not just for studying but for personal time as well. Everything has to be balanced. Once in a good while, read something nice and set aside your thoughts about the tasks at hand. Or make some extra food and freeze them in portions.
Get involved in some out-of-campus activities. Learn to say “no” to unnecessary things. Understand and practice what it truly means to do “enough.”
Tip # 6. Establish a True Relationship with your Advisor/Professors.
Know about the advisor’s expectations. Keeping it to yourself is not wise when you need help or have some things you don’t understand. It’s a good idea to create a list of professors you look up to– whose field of work is relevant to yours. Make time to visit them regularly and perhaps have a little chat.
Share with them what you are working on, and if needed, seek advice. Your professors are not just mere professors, perse. They are also there to guide you and connect you with important people. These professors are those that hook you up with the right job after you graduate.
Tip # 7. Make Friends.
While it’s normal to think of your colleagues as your most formidable competitors, nothing still beats treating them the same way you want them to treat you. Save the competition for sports. In graduate school, you and your colleagues are into it together. You don’t necessarily make them your best friends, but just commit to getting to know them better.
Once in a while, make plans for a weekend dinner together after your classes. Celebrates victories and birthdays together. Be each other’s support system. If you’re struggling, it’s okay to ask for help. Stay away from gossips.
Tip # 8. The People Around You Should Know What to Expect.
From the start, your significant other, your family, and the people you are close with should understand your graduate school, especially in the first year. Explain what you’re feeling and thinking. Be direct about what you need from then. That way, it’s easier for them to grasp the whole idea of what runs in a graduate study.
If you are in a relationship, make your partner embrace what you’re into. But this doesn’t mean you’ll neglect them from your regular weekly date! Find a way that works well for both of you without compromising your studies and relationship. Every month, check in on each other and see how the relationship is doing.
The same principles should apply to your entire family! Educate the people around you about your commitment and the impact it may bring, especially during holiday travel plans, thanksgiving, or summer.
Tip # 9. Read Smart.
This means you should easily understand and digest all the information you’re reading. There are several ways to ‘read smart,’ but the best one is to highlight and annotate what you’re reading.
Nevertheless, find the best system that will work for you. In general, underline and notate necessary passages inputs, read them several times, and don’t stress yourself in unnecessary ideas that don’t matter. For those reading pdfs and online articles, use online annotation tools like Diigo or hypothes.is.
Tip # 10. Find A Non-Academic Hobby.
Regardless of your commitment to your grad program, you will—at some point—crave a life outside your school. A way to keep a healthy balance is to practice a regular pastime you enjoy. Volunteer at environmental activities, take baking lessons or spend time at a nearby hospice home.
Although this is not always easy, it’s a rewarding way to get your mind off your hectic schedule. These minimal ‘breaks’ from academia once in a good while can keep you fresh and grounded.
Tip # 11. Eat Healthy.
Stay away from processed or packed foods. Yes, it’s easy to grab your ever-favorite ready-made burrito from that convenience store as you drive to your mid-morning lecture. But, hold your horses.
Packaged and processed foods have been proven to minimize optimum brain function. Avoid mistakes like these and nip them on the bud before you start practicing an unhealthy diet. Plan ahead.
Fill your cupboard with healthy snacks like dried fruits or trail mixes. Stay away from soda and limit your coffee and instead, sip on coconut water to keep you hydrated and satisfied throughout the day. And if you’re so tempted to open those chips? Just remember the ultimate golden rule: if you cannot identify at least three ingredients, don’t eat it.
Tip # 12. Be An Active Listener.
Taking notes on digital devices is the new norm in this modern age and time. However, studies show that students who go for the traditional pen and paper way of taking notes can process their materials and remember the lectures better than those who rely on gadgets. Laptops and other devices are distracting, and in most cases, students take notes verbatim. They transcribe and type based on what is being discussed in class.
But if you take down notes on paper, this will force you to choose and interpret the materials based on how you understand them, rather than just repeating information.
Tip # 13. Get Involved.
Here are so many ways to get involved in graduate school. Whether it is teaching assistantships, research opportunities, or simple extracurriculars, look for something where you can apply your studies to the real world. Employers find this valuable, and you will learn many things when you get involved.
Pursuing a graduate program is a decision that cannot be taken lightly! You may beat yourself up with questions like “Will it be worth it?” or “Will it really open new doors for me?” The statistics don’t lie: a graduate degree can take your career to greater heights. And yes, you are cut out for it!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Graduate School?
Graduate school is the academic journey that develops your expertise in your chosen area. An undergraduate study involves familiarity with different disciplines to prepare oneself for the work or professional setting. On the other hand, grad school is the mastery of a specific field critical to your career path.
Graduate school is not the same as college! Being a grad school student, you can take courses and obtain knowledge from your professors in a conventional teaching environment. However, you are responsible for doing your research, including compelling research works in your chosen field.
While graduate school may sound vital for career growth, this may not be ideal for everybody. The coursework is very challenging. Yes, the education you get is fulfilling and very valuable. But this means you need an ample amount of time and energy to focus on your graduate school.
Plus, this is not for you if you’re still in your career exploration phase because this may not give you the proper education relevant to your field. In graduate school, the focus is usually a determined area of study. You should know your career path before you enroll in graduate school.
Graduate School: Master’s vs. a PhD
A student can choose two-degree paths– a master’s degree and a Ph.D. degree in a graduate school.
A master’s degree is more of a career-focused degree program designed to help students develop critical skills in the specific field they want to study. A Ph.D. degree, on the other hand, is different. Also called a doctorate, this type of graduate school is a research-intensive degree.
Ph.D. students are focused on critical research and analytical and writing skills. This degree aims to fill knowledge gaps that degree students have as they enter the field.
Most master’s degrees have different types of courses. There are core courses that you have to complete to earn your degree. Electives are those types that broaden and improve your experience in critical areas that interest you. These are the courses that have concentrated knowledge in related subjects.
Master’s degrees also have a thesis or a capstone course. This is where your master’s degree culminates and often includes research.
A doctorate program comes with different sets of class types. There is the coursework where extensive courses are required. Most doctorate students have research courses and are often a part of research work. Sometimes, it includes actual research and writing, and analytical skills that can help students complete their dissertation efficiently in the end.
A doctorate program also has a comprehensive exam, which ensures that students have clearly understood all of the critical concepts relative to their field. When a student passes an exam, they can then start their dissertation.
This is the program’s final step, where the student works with a specific committee in identifying a research topic. Once the topic is established, the in-depth research follows until the dissertation is written and completed.
Why Should You Have a Graduate Degree?
Setting yourself ahead of your peers is very crucial. With thousands of undergraduate college degree holders out there, how will you stand out among everyone else? That is why taking a graduate study is very important, especially if you are still trying to establish a career.
However, deciding whether or not you will pursue graduate school is a tough decision to make. After all, it is very time-consuming and would need a tremendous amount of will and self-motivation so you can succeed.
Remember that there is so much more to studying graduate than just career advancement. Below are some compelling reasons why enrolling in a graduate school program is a wise move.
You will potentially become an expert. When you earn a master’s degree, you gain a more in-depth understanding of your career and specialty. The program will suggest credibility and expertise in a specific field, allowing you more freedom surrounding that field. This defined knowledge that significantly boosts your proficiency gives you an edge at this time when most employers have raised their educational requirements for critical positions.
Graduate school can give you a head start in your career. Some people who have earned a master’s degree have enjoyed what they call “the leapfrog effect.” Meaning, instead of starting at the bottom position in their field, these master’s degree holders ‘leaped’ over these jobs into higher and more important management places. Only 8% of the US population has earned a master’s degree. This leads to a highly competitive advantage among a sea of potential candidates.
More money means more freedom. Getting a graduate school degree is expensive, but think of it as an excellent financial investment in your future. For example, those who pursue a master’s degree earn an average weekly wage of $1,497, or $77,844 per year.
Their unemployment rate is lower than 2.0%, a figure that’s lower than bachelor’s degree holders. The thousands of dollars throughout your entire career means more savings, a more comfortable lifestyle, dream vacations, and financial security in emergencies.
Being a graduate degree holder also means opening better pathways into better employment opportunities in higher education. For instance, when you have a master’s degree, you are eligible to teach in your specific field of expertise at a university or college, either part-time or full-time.
Part-time teaching is an excellent source of supplemental budget and can make your knowledge updated in the field you’re in.
You get first-hand experience. Graduate school involves you even more in your chosen industry. Since this program no longer has general education prerequisites, it’s easier for you to shift your focus solely on your field.
Since you have the chance to try different areas of your chosen specialty in just a short time, you can better understand understand understand how you can narrow down the path you wish to pursue.
You become a lifelong learner. The majority of college students only work toward getting a bachelor’s degree to fill the minimum requirement for their career. But when you choose to pursue graduate studies, this gives you more valuable connections, gains the necessary professional skills, and promotes personal development.
You have gained a sense of developing and learning more from your passion during your college years. And when you continue to graduate school, you now have the chance to boost your learning with technological and scientific innovations that will affect everybody every day.
Making a bold decision to get a graduate degree will improve professional and personal development and your ability and self-sustainability.
You are secure, especially during a career shift. While there is no definitive source, many labor experts estimate that, on average, people change their jobs roughly a dozen times and their careers between three and seven times throughout their lifetime. With this alone, it’s easier to conclude that career change is not a matter of “if” but instead of “when.”
Unfortunately, not all careers are easy to transition to, especially if you have no prior experience. But if you have a graduate study degree, you have that sense of security in your field of expertise. You will have the assurance that you’re a strong candidate with a substantial degree of professionalism by the time you decide to make career changes.
And even if you decide to shift to an area you’re not entirely familiar with, the experience you lack can be compensated when you have a master’s degree.
This opens the door to relocation. Getting a graduate degree gives you the chance to relocate and study in another environment. You can save money significantly, especially if you enroll in out-of-state or private institutions if graduate research assistantships are options for the program.
In most cases, almost all graduate programs offer graduate assistantships. Plus, a broader scope of program options from different places will mean more career opportunities down the road.
Graduate studies can fulfill the requirements. Many industries and companies require a master’s degree for your entry or when you move to upper-level management. When you have a graduate degree, you have security in your qualifications as you move your way up your career ladder.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics said that by 2022, the number of jobs that will need a master’s degree (at the minimum) would increase by 18.4% from ten years (2012) before.
You will have that sense of accomplishment. Each identity is far more than your career or education level. But having a master’s degree is something you should be proud of. Securing a graduate degree means you earned more credibility and value that gives you a high level of respect, and a great sense of confidence, academic-wise.
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