What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to go to Grad School)

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Desi M. and I’m a second-year graduate student in the Clinical Psychology (Counseling Practice), MA program at Roosevelt University. I’m the first person in my family to pursue a graduate degree, and so I did not have a direct resource to turn to when first applying to graduate programs and schools. I’m writing this post for those who may not have a firsthand resource for all of their graduate school questions.

If you’ve applied to graduate school, received acceptance, and are freaking out (even just a tad) about what graduate school will be like, and how you’re going to juggle all of your time… I will now offer you my unsolicited advice about this subject matter!


Prioritize


Sounds pretty basic and very cliché, but it’s so true. As a graduate student, you need to prioritize your time well enough in order to balance the things going on in your life. You may need to miss the party/celebration of the year in order to study those few extra hours and get enough sleep. You may need to miss a family function or not have enough time to do the leisurely activities you normally enjoy. That’s not to say that you absolutely won’t be able to do all of these things, but just think about your time for school and if you’re using it wisely. It also just depends on what type of person you are. Do you procrastinate? Do you split your time evenly? Do you overexert yourself when studying? These are all things to consider.


Plan Ahead


I must admit, I underestimated the amount of work I would receive as a graduate student and was taken by surprise when I already had 4 assignments and 2 papers due the second week of classes, while still in the first week of school. Say “goodbye” to syllabus week in graduate school because that doesn’t exist anymore! My best piece of advice is to do your assignments for next week and a little more. It always feels like you have so much to do with so little time, and if you don’t want to be playing catch up by the end of your semester, then I suggest working ahead. Give yourself the chance to even the playing (working) field. A quick suggestion: try writing a checklist or having a planner. This will help immensely!


A Plethora of Reading


Get ready for reading, and more reading, and more, and more, and then some. No matter what your method of reading is (whether you’re a skimmer or not), just be prepared for a plethora of reading. We’ve all had those reading assignments that were just a tad too tedious or too wordy, and you will likely come across more than a few of those throughout your years as a graduate student. Just remember to take, at least, a five-minute break in-between chapters or sections to rest your brain and get a snack!


Sacrifice


Sacrifice intertwines with prioritizing, but I feel like this needs to be especially highlighted. There will be times when you’re so tired of studying, reading, and doing your assignments that you may want to go out with your friends or binge watch your favorite TV show, but you will likely find yourself having to sacrifice a “social life” in order to feel competent in the content matter of your respective programs. Even if it’s not your social life that you’re sacrificing, you will have to sacrifice some things for your studies. There’s this quote by Charlie Finley that I heard when I was in high school that really stood out to me, “Sweat plus sacrifice equals success” and this always comes to mind when I feel like I need some motivation. Again, that’s not to say that there aren’t people out there who can “do it all,” but this is just the experience that I’ve had, and that I know my classmates have had as well.


Take Care of Yourself


I can’t stress this enough! If you’re like me, then you may get so caught up in your studies, and trying to balance work and having a social life, that you may actually forget the most important thing of all: to take care of yourself! Self-care, what does that exactly mean? My take on this is allowing yourself to unwind, and to take care of your physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Self-care can encompass a whole host of things. I had a professor this past year who really made it a point for us to discuss self-care, what it means to us, and how it looks. Are you the type of person who finds catharsis through journaling, crying, or an intense workout? Do you like to get a haircut, have your nails done, take a walk outside, or just be alone? Do you stress eat and are you being nice to your body (via food, alcohol and other drug intake, sleep, etc.)? These are all things to consider. Just a friendly reminder: do NOT neglect your sleep! You may have been able to come home very late and wake up in the morning for work and be fine. I know I used to be that person, but since you’ll be working so hard you’ll probably find yourself being more tired than usual. For me, self-care can be accomplished by doing yoga, going to the pool to swim some laps, spending time with friends/loved ones or being alone, journaling, crying (yes, crying), and I love being outside and getting some fresh air. I also try my best to make it a point to eat healthier, cut down on my alcohol (assuming we’re all 21 and over of course), and making sure I’m getting enough sleep. I will leave you all with something else that my professor mentioned to me, “Self-care is not optional, but mandatory!”.

Good luck to you all with your respective graduate programs!

Desi M.

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