How to Succeed in Grad School

how to succeed in grad school

Graduate degrees are still viewed as good investments for personal and professional development!  For the 2019-2020 academic year, colleges and universities across the US awarded 843,000 master’s degrees and 190,000 doctorate degrees. How to succeed in grad school is probably the most pressing question in every graduate student’s mind.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 3.1 million students were enrolled in graduate programs in the Fall 2020 term. In the latest Council of Graduate Schools survey, there were slight increases in graduate school enrollment in the Fall 2020 term across most fields of study. Overall, first-time enrollment rose by 1.8% while graduate applications increased by 7.3%.

How To Succeed Grad School - fact

It is true that graduate school isn’t a top-of-mind option for undergraduates. As much as it promises greater career opportunities, it requires a full-time commitment as well significant financial outlay. It is an undertaking that demands the right attitude, focus, mindset, and set of skills. As a graduate student, you need to adapt numerous qualities related to time management, perseverance, and discipline.

Common Challenges in Graduate School
Online Graduate Study: Is It an Option?
Ways to Succeed
Resources for Success
The Winning Attitude
Best Grad School Practices

Challenges Faced by Grad Students

Accomplishing your graduate studies is an incredibly fulfilling yet overwhelming milestone. You will generally face some challenges for at least three years while you are on your way to earning your graduate degree. As an advanced awareness, we’ve listed some of the most common and biggest challenges that every graduate student will encounter.

Financial Constraints

financial

The majority of graduate students depend on other sources of income to finance themselves while studying. One of the most familiar challenges they encounter is the amount of money they need to maintain their personal and professional obligations. Unless your parents will finance your graduate studies or you own a thriving business, funding can be unstable and lessened while still in the middle of your program.

The total cost of attendance to earn a graduate degree depends on several factors including: 

  • The public or private status of the institution with the general rule being private universities have higher tuition fees; 
  • The type of graduate degree with physician education and MBA degree being among the most expensive; 
  • The format or delivery of the curriculum, which may be on-campus, hybrid, or 100% online; and 
  • The prestige of the program including its rankings, graduate outcomes and employability  

On average, a master’s degree can cost between $55,200 (education) and $72,800 (arts). For a doctorate degree, the average cost is $114,300 but it can be as high as $132,000 for a doctorate in psychology. No wonder then that graduate students take out student loan debts that can be in the six-figures!

Stress

With overwhelming school projects and paper works, piling up deadlines, and other personal and academic commitments, it’s normal to feel stressed out. This is because everything seems to be demanding your time and energy. A study says graduate students are prone to have mental disorders, more often linked to high levels of stress and anxieties.

Demotivation

Since pursuing graduate studies generally requires at least three years of study, it’s difficult for every student to maintain a high level of motivation throughout their academic journey. It’s common among graduate students to feel discouraged, demotivated, fed up, and lost. When things just seem heavy, and out of control, they feel overwhelmed and eventually feel uninspired.

Isolation

sad face

Graduate students generally work on their own or with a few people on their research or assignments. They are, therefore, more prone to feeling isolated and alone. Most of them skip essential events just to complete obligations related to their graduate program. This generally leads to feeling left out and feeling like no one understands what they’re going through at the moment.

Worrying about the Future

Aside from worrying about current projects, several graduate students feel worried about their future as well. In this ever-changing and uncertain workforce as well as a highly competitive job market, sometimes being a graduate-degree holder isn’t guaranteed to have a desirable and lucrative career (at least in the beginning).

Time Management

time

As cliché as it sounds, “so much to do, so little time” seems to be the norm for graduate studies. As a result, learning to say no to additional tasks and when to start a new endeavor is one of the essential skills to develop when you are a graduate student. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many obligations and manage things within your capacity.

Lack of Support System

If you are fully supported by your family, friends, and significant others, you are lucky. However, some graduate students don’t have the support they need from their loved ones. Sometimes, having a friend or a family member to listen to your frustrations and to talk to makes all the difference in keeping your mental and emotional sanity in place.

Work-Life Balance

Most graduate students already have careers and professional obligations to fulfill. Since they are juggling between studying after work, completing projects and paper works in the wee hours of the night, and being in the office during weekends, they commonly encounter challenges related to work-life balance.

Online Graduate Study: Is It An Option?

Over the past ten years, significant growth in distance learning was evident. There was growth in student admissions and university program offerings. According to the report conducted by the Sloan Consortium, online education admissions have increased for 14 consecutive years.

One of the main advantages of online graduate education is the flexibility and convenience it provides. Distance learning may be economical since many schools charge in-state tuition to their distance learners, regardless of the status of their residency.

However, obtaining a graduate degree through distance learning isn’t always the perfect option. If you are planning to pursue a research-based field of study, an entirely online program may not be the best choice. Likewise, there are programs, such as in the field of medicine and health psychology, that require patient contact sessions that can be challenging to comply with a 100% online degree.

Also, consider your learning preference if you are thinking about choosing an online program for your graduate studies. Can you stay focused and on track despite the absence of weekly class meetings or consultations?

Aside from your learning preferences and career aspirations, there are different considerations when choosing online graduate programs such as the following:

  • Accreditation from various agencies such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation
  • Assistance in Practicum and Internship Programs
  • Access to Faculty and Other Departments
  • Access to Campus-based Services such as Academic Advisors, Library Resources, and Career Counselors

Succeed In Grad School

This article puts the spotlight on some of the top skills and potentials every graduate student must try to develop and strengthen while pursuing a graduate program.

Here are some tips and recommendations for ensuring a successful and rewarding graduate student experience:

Resources for Success

Depending on your college or university, there is a dedicated team that is committed to helping you in preparing for a fulfilling academic journey as well as productive and meaningful career aspirations. They provide workshops, a personalized approach to advising, and other resources essential to your success in their graduate programs. These include but are not limited to:

Progress Reports

Some academic institutions require you to create progress reports. This report keeps track of your respective academic endeavors, such as awards, deadlines, and milestones, among other measurable benchmarks. Through this report, you and your academic advisors are both accountable for your academic accomplishments.

Brigham Young University, for example, requires its graduate students to complete their Graduate Progress Report  with information about their academic progress. The report contains information about course requirements and provides a summary of current registration, completed and deficient classes, and GPA, among others. Students and their advisors are then aware of possible issues with GPA, time limit and academic status. 

University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School also has different versions for its graduate programs, such as the Graduate Student Progress Report for the linguistics department and the Student Information Record Form for psychology students.

Grad Student Symposiums

Your college or university facilitates numerous research symposia annually that enable you to have the opportunity to showcase your work to your colleagues and the faculty. Your professors can serve as judges of your presentations and provide feedback. This is one of the opportunities that help you develop professionally and connect well with your instructors and other departments of your chosen school.

But it takes plenty of preparation to enjoy a successful presentation during research symposia! Remember that your audience members are among the top researchers and scientists in their fields and, thus, your research presentation must be above-par. Your presentation skills must also be at the graduate level, and these tips will be useful in their development: 

  • Prepare your presentation based on your audience’s benefit. Ask yourself, “Why would the audience listen to my presentation? What can they learn from it and what does my topic have to do with them?” 
  • Create an effective outline and speaking notes so that you can keep your presentation organized, effective and persuasive. 
  • Practice your presentation and get feedback from your peers and academic advisors. You can fine-tune it from their inputs.  

Workshops

Attending workshops is one of the best ways to learn, meet, and collaborate with like-minded people. Your school invites speakers to present topics that can be relevant and helpful to you at the time. Topics can range from networking, academic and non-academic careers, and even wellness.

Student Groups and Networking

To reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, you may join a variety of student groups that facilitate weekly or monthly programs such as outreach activities and gatherings. This presents an opportunity for you to interact with fellow graduate students and form a social network or support system.

Beyond the social interactions, networking is also crucial in the development of your skill set, particularly in learning the tricks of the trade. You will also be able to keep up with the trends in your industry, expand your job prospects and get better references.  

Suffice it to say that it’s vital for your career advancement to maximize these networking opportunities by: 

  • Getting involved in the activities and events instead of being just a spectator; 
  • Being helpful to others, perhaps even providing beneficial services or exchanging services; 
  • Staying in touch through emails or social media

Wellness Programs

Many wellness programs will help you maintain your mental and emotional well-being. You may sign-up for a yoga class or an exercise program to keep your physical, emotional, and mental health in balance. Having an exercise routine helps you sweat out toxins and negativity out of your system and regain the motivation you need for the week.

Writing Centers 

Graduate students are expected to possess excellent communication skills, both in the verbal and written aspects. Even the best and brightest will likely benefit from the expert assistance provided by the writing centers in their universities! The course papers can be up to 20 pages in length, not to mention provide clear, concise and accurate material. 

And then there’s the dissertation, an intensive research paper on your topic of choice that must be written according to high academic standards! Your English language skills will be put to the test along with your research skills. You must take advantage of the services offered by the writing center as often as necessary. 

Career Services 

Jobs that pay more than $100,000 per year usually require a graduate degree, such as physicians, aerospace engineers and astronomers. But these jobs are uber-competitive, too, because of the pay and prestige that come with them. Graduate students must then be prepared for the uber-competitive job market even while still in school, and this is where career services come in. 

You will find that career services are useful in your future career by providing assistance in the: 

  • Preparation of your resume and other job application-related materials like personal statements and teaching philosophies. There are samples that can serve as templates while the staff can provide assistance on revisions and refinements. 
  • Exploration of alternative career paths, a must for flexibility in planning your career after graduate school. Career counselors typically use career inventories and assessments for this purpose. 
  • Development of a professional mindset and behavior including communication skills.

YES, YOU WILL SURVIVE!!! CLICK HERE FOR MORE: How to Survive Grad School

The Winning Attitude

Indeed, mindset is everything. You may have all the resources you need, but without mindset, nothing is ever progressing. The only motivation you have is you. Let’s discover some of the best virtues that grad students should possess to develop and maintain while pursuing a graduate program.

Critical Thinking

Being a critical thinker separates you as a successful grad student from average students. It means you don’t just accept everything you’re being presented in your program. It helps you analyze the learning resources and topics being offered, think outside the box, ask relevant questions, and make sound judgments.

Confidence

Graduate programs are not for the faint of heart. You must have confidence in your ability to learn something new and be able to make it until the end, no matter how many challenges may arise.

But it can also be a challenge because of impostor syndrome, a common issue among graduate students! Impostor syndrome goes beyond self-doubt, too, because it can be a chronic feeling of being ill-equipped or ill-prepared for graduate school. You feel like a fraud succumbing to the extreme pressure to achieve. 

Fortunately, it can be resolved with the proper mindset including: 

  • Identifying, acknowledging and accepting your feelings of inadequacy. Trust us, every graduate student has felt inadequate at one point or another. 
  • Avoiding comparisons since every student has a unique progress. Instead, think of your peers and faculty advisors as partners in your progress toward earning your degree.
  • Remembering your reasons for being in the graduate program, from career advancement to personal fulfillment. 
  • Building your resiliency one success at a time. 

Most importantly, be your own fiercest cheerleader and champion! You’re not in your current position if you didn’t possess the knowledge and skills for it. 

Authenticity

Grad students develop independent research works through culminating projects and dissertations. In a challenging program, you must be an innovative thinker and create new concepts to stand out in your field of study. Let your creativity and sense of individualism flourish.

Flexibility

succeed in grad school

Unlike undergraduates, graduate students juggle several responsibilities, whether personal or professional. As a result, you must be flexible enough to manage your time for your career, projects or research works, study groups, and studying. Also, you must find time to rest and rejuvenate to avoid being burned out.

Passion for Learning

If you have the natural passion and interest in learning, you find it easier to navigate in your graduate program. You love to learn more concepts in your degree. Also, you readily absorb new information. Trust the process and don’t take it as merely a task to complete your graduate program.

Perseverance

Like every other personal and academic aspiration, there is no easy way. Graduate programs will challenge you academically, emotionally, and mentally. However, perseverance and dedication, despite the challenges that arise, are essential to succeed in a graduate program.

Self-Discipline

bullseye

Regardless if you’re in a traditional or an online program, having self-discipline is one of the most significant attitudes of students who want to become successful in their graduate program. Since you tend to have full schedules and to-dos, you should properly manage your time and avoid distractions and overindulgence of anything detrimental to your graduate studies.

Support System

No matter the perseverance, focus, and purpose you possess, you shouldn’t go through it alone. Having a concrete support system or moral support consisting of family, friends, colleagues, professors, and counselors can make a huge impact. If you or your colleagues don’t have the help needed, reach out to them. That alone will motivate one another and a win-win situation for both parties.

Work Smart

Some professors at the graduate program will push you to the limits to bring out the best of your abilities and to make sure you have what it takes to succeed. As a result, you tend to spend long hours finishing your projects and assignments. You should maximize your time. Instead of reading through learning materials, think about unique ways to progress.

Best Grad School Practices

To succeed in grad school, your success also hinges on practices that make you prepared for your academic journey.

Build A Study Group

light bulb

Graduate students must establish learning communities and good rapport with colleagues/peers to improve the quality of studying. There are times when a topic may be difficult to absorb; therefore, peer groups are important to help you comprehend a specific concept.

Be Patient. Allow Time for Adjustments

Enrolling in a graduate school can spark significant life changes. Whether good or bad, they often come with different levels of stress factors. These changes include relocating to a new city, leaving full-time careers, changing financial status or household situation, or even new responsibilities popping up. Whatever it may be, the beginning is always the hardest. It’s important to be gentle with yourself, indulge in self-care, and set realistic expectations. Be patient in dealing with difficulties along the way.

Ask for Help

Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness or failure. Emotional and financial struggles are draining and common in grad school. While it is sometimes difficult for you to ask for help, do not criticize yourself too much. Reach out to a trusted faculty member, a friend, a family member, or a physician.

Take A Break. Have Time for Yourself

beach

As previously mentioned, graduate school is daunting and challenging. There are numerous paper works/research/projects to accomplish, endless studying, financial burdens, career preparations, maintaining good grades, and more. However, it is equally important to have time for relaxation and break the monotony. Go out for a nice meal. Watch a good movie. Read a good book. Meditate. In a nutshell, do not neglect your well-being, and remember that all work and no play will burn you out eventually.

Don’t compare.

Similar to other areas of your life, comparing yourself to others is unproductive and unreasonable. Every grad student’s journey is unique. What works for other individuals may not work for you; therefore, it is essential to know that comparing yourself to others doesn’t equate to success. It is best to stay in your lane and trust the process!

In the end, your success comes from your own hard work! There’s no shortcut for it, too, so you must be prepared to work for your dreams – and to work smarter, not harder. 

NEED HELP? TAKE A LOOK:

8 Ways to Be Productive in Grad School

How to Create the Best Mentoring Relationship with your Professors

How to Prepare for the GRE

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor