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What if I Told You … You Can Be Organized Too

Before starting my doctoral program, I never anticipated how much time I would spend developing learning skills like organization. Graduate school requires organization in many forms. Students must organize calendars, literature (paper or digital), deadlines, multiple e-mail accounts, research and writing projects, computer folders, to-do lists, and personal and professional responsibilities. Luckily, other GradHacker authors have written about some of these areas, including how to organize your computer, email, research, and notes.

A common question I ask other graduate students, as well as professors, is: “How do you organize your work?” Responses to this question have taught me that even professors struggle with organization and their workflow in general. Some folks respond that they are not good examples of how to be organized. Others are willing to share detailed accounts of how they do things, and from these I’ve learned that there is no perfect way to organize. Throughout the years, I’ve aimed to learn about organization and workflow from as many people as possible. In this post, I share details about part of my current system. A special thank you to all the folks who have shared their methods with me and helped me put my system together!

1. Semester plan

I learned about the semester plan from a dissertation bootcamp I did that was led by Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, President and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. You can learn more about the semester plan here. When I begin getting organized for a semester, I brainstorm everything that I want to do during the semester without thinking about dates and my calendar. I typically complete this process in an Excel spreadsheet with each major item as a column heading. You want to break each major task down as much as possible. For example, instead of having my entire dissertation as something I need to work on, I specify a major task such as a single chapter I need to work on. Then, I think about tasks that are smaller or more specific that go into that chapter, like the purpose section, the research questions, or the theoretical framework. Each of these smaller tasks form the basis of what I will do each week in my semester plan.

When you’re brainstorming your major tasks and the specific items within them, think about what specifically you have to do.  Which chapters or sections? What manuscripts are you working on and which sections need attention? When are conference proposals due? How do the proposals break down into smaller chunks?

2. Calendar Integration

Once you have identified the major tasks and broken them down into smaller items, start mapping out when you are going to complete the work. I do this in Excel by labeling each row of the spreadsheet as a week of the semester. When you do this step, account for holidays, conferences, or anything else that will take up time. You don’t want to allocate three tasks for a week when you are going to be away at a conference and won’t have time to work on them.

Once I have my spreadsheet set up, I flip over to my calendar application, Fantastical, and start adding all the tasks with deadlines. Fantastical is great because it integrates very well with OmniFocus, but any calendar application will work; you just need to be able to add weekly deadlines for each of the smaller/specific tasks you identified in your semester plan. In my calendar I make all my tasks due on Sunday which is what I consider the end of the week.

Now, it’s Week 1 of the semester, you have your semester plan done, and all your deadlines in your calendar. The next step is figuring out your weekly schedule for when you are going to work on these tasks. The first time I did a semester plan I broke down the term so that I had three things I wanted to get done, and each week I tackled each of these tasks in some way. The tasks were: 1) the analysis for my dissertation; 2) a book chapter; 3) a report for my job. I followed an approach I eventually called the 3 x 3, where each day I had three tasks I wanted to work on and I spent three hours on each. I put these work blocks right on my calendar so that I knew what I should be working on each day. Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega shares two different approaches to working in a post called “Move Every Paper Forward Every Day (MEPFED) vs Work on One Project Every Day.”

This 3 (tasks) x 3 (hours) was my ideal situation. Some days I did less, or nothing at all, but I found three tasks gave me enough variety for for my day and made me feel like I made progress on several things each week. You can play around with this approach but the point here is you want to schedule specific work time for the tasks.

3. OmniFocus

A while back, Dr. Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer) shared details of her workflow in a Google Document titled “Academic Housekeeping – a check list and explanation.” She first shares how she organizes her files and email accounts, and then breaks down how she integrates OmniFocus, a task manager and productivity software. I’m not going to go into all the details of OmniFocus, but I strongly recommend you check out the Academic Housekeeping post to see additional details about how you can use it.

I like OmniFocus for two reasons. First, it keeps me on track. Once my semester plan is complete with my tasks for the semester and each week, I go into OmniFocus and add each major item as a Project, and then also add each of the specific tasks with the deadlines I previously established. The software shows you what tasks you should be working on based on the deadlines you allocated, and tells you what deadlines are coming up. Fantastical integrates really well with OmniFocus, so I can see my calendar, all my projects, specific tasks, and deadlines right in Omni.

Second, when you complete a task, you get to put a big checkmark next to it. And, when you haven’t completed something on time, it lets you know. Seeing this little number two on the icon on my dock means I have two items that are past due (Oops!). This is very motivating to me because I’m always striving to not have this indicator and it is very satisfying when I don’t.

It’s easy to use and doesn’t take a lot of time to set up. I know what you’re thinking: This seems like it takes so much time to set up, and it costs money. Do I really need more apps? But the software took less than an hour to learn after I saw how someone else was using it. At the beginning of each semester, it takes me about an hour to make my semester plan and another 30 minutes or so to put everything into Omni. After just an hour and a half I have a plan for the semester and a program that will notify me when I’m behind.

4. Reflect

At the end of the semester, it’s important to reflect on how the term went. Did you get the tasks done? Why might you have failed to complete everything? How could you modify your semester plan or your weekly workflow to accomplish more? Reflection is important because you must look at where you can improve and make changes accordingly. When working on your organizational system, a variety of things can be customized to your needs, but you need to put in the time to find what works for you. You may want to, for example, incorporate an overall graduate program completion or dissertation plan, or an Everything Notebook.

Though my system has additional components like email and digital file organization and literature spreadsheets, I hope this post has sparked your interest in reflecting on the system that you use. And I invite you to share regarding your system below.

What planning do you do for your year, semester, month, week, day? What tools do you use to make it all work?

10 Habits of Highly Effective Students

The key to becoming an effective student is learning how to study smarter, not harder. This becomes more and more true as you advance in your education. An hour or two of studying a day is usually sufficient to make it through high school with satisfactory grades, but when college arrives, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all your studying in if you don’t know how to study smarter.

While some students are able to breeze through school with minimal effort, this is the exception. The vast majority of successful students achieve their success by developing and applying effective study habits. The following are the top 10 study habits employed by highly successful students. So if you want to become a successful student, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up, just work to develop each of the study habits below and you’ll see your grades go up, your knowledge increase, and your ability to learn and assimilate information improve.

1. Don’t attempt to cram all your studying into one session.

Ever find yourself up late at night expending more energy trying to keep your eyelids open than you are studying? If so, it’s time for a change. Successful students typically space their work out over shorter periods of time and rarely try to cram all of their studying into just one or two sessions. If you want to become a successful student then you need to learn to be consistent in your studies and to have regular, yet shorter, study periods.

Successful students schedule specific times throughout the week when they are going to study — and then they stick with their schedule. Students who study sporadically and whimsically typically do not perform as well as students who have a set study schedule. Even if you’re all caught up with your studies, creating a weekly routine, where you set aside a period of time a few days a week, to review your courses will ensure you develop habits that will enable you to succeed in your education long term.

3. Study at the same time.

Not only is it important that you plan when you’re going to study, it’s important you create a consistent, daily study routine. When you study at the same time each day and each week, you’re studying will become a regular part of your life. You’ll be mentally and emotionally more prepared for each study session and each study session will become more productive. If you have to change your schedule from time to time due to unexpected events, that’s okay, but get back on your routine as soon as the event has passed.

4. Each study time should have a specific goal.

Simply studying without direction is not effective. You need to know exactly what you need to accomplish during each study session. Before you start studying, set a study session goal that supports your overall academic goal (i.e. memorize 30 vocabulary words in order to ace the vocabulary section on an upcoming Spanish test.)

5. Never procrastinate your planned study session.

It’s very easy, and common, to put off your study session because of lack of interest in the subject, because you have other things you need to get done, or just because the assignment is hard. Successful students DO NOT procrastinate studying. If you procrastinate your study session, your studying will become much less effective and you may not get everything accomplished that you need to. Procrastination also leads to rushing, and rushing is the number one cause of errors.

6. Start with the most difficult subject first.

As your most difficult assignment or subject will require the most effort and mental energy, you should start with it first. Once you’ve completed the most difficult work, it will be much easier to complete the rest of your work. Believe it or not, starting with the most difficult subject will greatly improve the effectiveness of your study sessions, and your academic performance.

7. Always review your notes before starting an assignment.

Obviously, before you can review your notes you must first have notes to review. Always make sure to take good notes in class. Before you start each study session, and before you start a particular assignment, review your notes thoroughly to make sure you know how to complete the assignment correctly. Reviewing your notes before each study session will help you remember important subject matter learned during the day, and make sure your studying is targeted and effective.

8. Make sure you’re not distracted while you’re studying.

Everyone gets distracted by something. Maybe it’s the TV. Or maybe it’s your family. Or maybe it’s just too quiet. Some people actually study better with a little background noise. When you’re distracted while studying you (1) lose your train of thought and (2) are unable to focus — both of which will lead to very ineffective studying. Before you start studying, find a place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. For some people this is a quiet cubicle in the recesses of the library. For others it is in a common area where there is a little background noise.28

9. Use study groups effectively.

Ever heard the phrase “two heads are better than one?” Well this can be especially true when it comes to studying. Working in groups enables you to (1) get help from others when you’re struggling to understand a concept, (2) complete assignments more quickly, and (3) teach others, whereby helping both the other students and yourself to internalize the subject matter. However, study groups can become very ineffective if they’re not structured and if group members come unprepared. Effective students use study groups effectively.

10. Review your notes, schoolwork and other class materials over the weekend.

Successful students review what they’ve learned during the week over the weekend. This way they’re well prepared to continue learning new concepts that build upon previous coursework and knowledge acquired the previous week.

We’re confident that if you’ll develop the habits outlined above that you’ll see a major improvement in your academic success.

How to Eat Healthy in College (on the Cheap!)

What if you could get good, tasty, healthy, AND cheap food for your dorm room? This personal trainer and nutrition specialist explains how.

As a college student, you probably have barely enough money to buy ramen, much less fancy salads, salmon, and other healthy foods.

However, even though healthy food has a reputation for being expensive, it doesn’t have to be that way—even for college students. If you want to stock up on good-for-you foods to keep in your dorm room, use these tips. You’ll get what you need and save cash at the same time.

Learn the sales cycle at your local grocery store

All stores have a cycle for their sale and clearance items, and if they’re near your campus, they might be especially sensitive to cost-conscious college students.

Maybe you’ve seen their weekly sales flyers, which promote the deals for that week. If you can’t get these flyers in person, the grocery store might even share them on social media. At any rate, the key here is knowing when those promo cycles end, because that’s usually when surplus items go on sale.

Some grocery stores even offer double discounts on the day the old sales end and new ones begin. This may not sound like the cheapest technique, but AOL’s finance blog says this can save you as much as 50% off your grocery bill. All you have to do is plan your grocery trip ahead of time.

Buy simple foods and prepare them yourself if you can

Prepping your own meals is an easy way to cut costs and eat healthier in college. You might be surprised by how much healthy food you can keep in your dorm and even how much meal prep you can do if you have mini-fridge and/or microwave. And if you live in an off-campus apartment or an on-campus suite with a full kitchen? Well, the world is your oyster! (Except not really because oysters are crazy expensive.)

For example, pre-bagged salads are convenient, but you pay more for that convenience. To save on cash, grab a head of lettuce ($1–$2), along with carrots (less than $2 for a whole bunch), a cucumber ($1), and maybe a few more veggies of your choice (spend up to $5). Chop everything up at home and store in an airtight container in your fridge for an easy-to-grab base for lunch and dinner salads.

You can likely get at least five small salads out of that, which ends up costing less than $2 per salad. You can even bring some to the cafeteria and eat it as a side with an entree they’re serving.

But salad math is just the beginning. Other great cheap but healthy food choices for college students include:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Beans and/or lentils
  • Eggs (microwave mug omelets, anyone?)
  • Garlic
  • Hummus
  • Onions
  • Peanut butter
  • Popcorn (look for low-salt, low-calorie options, not the butter-drenched kind)
  • Rice, preferably brown (grab the microwaveable bag if you don’t have a stove top)
  • Rotisserie chicken (if you can’t cook a chicken yourself)
  • Salsa
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Tortillas
  • Tuna fish (look for low sodium/forgiving roommates)
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Yogurt, preferably plain, low sugar, and/or Greek

With all the recipes online, you’ll have no trouble finding easy, healthy dishes you can make in a dorm. (Editor’s note: if you have a full kitchen, we highly recommend this “epically frugal” rice and beans recipe!) And don’t forget, cooking is a super-handy life skill, so the more practice you get, the better.

Related: 5 Easy Recipes to Cook Up in Your Dorm Room

Shop bulk items

The bulk section is where you’ll save on the cost of packaging. You can get the same amount of most granola, nuts, and grains for significantly less, especially if they’re running a sale. If your grocery store has bulk bins—and you aren’t picky—go for the items that are on sale to get a lot of food at a steep discount. Supplement these dry goods with other perishable items mentioned above to make healthy meals and snacks right in your dorm room.

Then there are bulk stores. And just like you might’ve teamed up with your roommate to share big-ticket dorm items like your mini fridge or TV, you might be able to go in on a bulk store membership together. If not, why not ask for one as a holiday or birthday gift? (Just be prepared for a look of amazement from your parents.)

Shop around first

Sometimes the stores we assume are the cheapest are actually more expensive than we realize. While Trader Joe’s is known for their low prices, a recent grocery store analysis found that stores like Aldi, Publix, and Kroger came in above Trader Joe’s for offering the most weekly savings.

If you have access to more than one grocery store, shop around before settling on your go-to. To test the difference in pricing, do the same exact grocery trip two weeks in a row (buying all the same exact items) at two different stores. Compare the total to see where you can save the most.

Take advantage of coupons and pricing apps

Coupons are one of the best ways to save on healthy food. The local papers are packed with manufacturer coupons, and many brands are now promoting newer, less-processed foods, allowing you to save big on the stuff you want most.

You can also use grocery pricing apps that direct you toward the best deals and might even give you cash back for shopping.

Use your student discount

Most retailers and grocery stores in college towns offer discounts for students, so long as they show an ID. Use this to save on healthy groceries whenever you can. Not only is it the easiest way to save but the discount is also usually high, around 20% off in many cases.

Saving money on healthy food in college is totally doable. Whether you use an app, do your research, or rely on the bulk bins each week, you can get what you need without going over budget.

6 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS – AND HOW TO MAKE THEM STICK!

Making a New Year’s resolution is easy. Sticking to it is much harder. Here are some common New Year’s resolutions for college students, and tips on how to make them stick.

Study harder. It’s no mystery why this is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions for college students. Better study habits lead to better outcomes. We’ve posted a few blogs that will help you with your study mechanics (try this one and this one), but consistently putting these mechanics into practice requires the formation of habits. To make habits stick, you must commit to them for at least three to four weeks (studies often cite thirty days). Start simple and make it daily. If you only study sporadically, it’ll be much more difficult to form the habit.

Perfect attendance. For many college students, perfect attendance is like a unicorn. You’ve heard of its existence, it sounds amazing, but you’re pretty convinced it’s a myth. The truth is, the practical benefit of attending every class is worth the effort it takes to make it happen. You can’t control unexpected events in your life, but you can better prepare for them. Take care of yourself to avoid sickness. Plan on showing up to campus a little earlier just in case you have car troubles. It’s not the most glamorous of New Year’s resolutions, but it’s one worth pursuing.

Get more sleep. We don’t need to debate the merit of being well-rested. As a college student, your commitments often keep you from achieving that perfect eight hours of sleep. One way to combat this is by structuring your sleep the same way you structure important events in your life – budget and plan for it! Try studying earlier. Stay away from computer, tablet, and phone screens prior to hitting the hay.

Finish assignments at least one day in advance. Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something. It’s the decision to do something impulsive (often instant gratification) instead of sticking to a plan. To finish assignments early is the most noble of all New Year’s resolutions for college students. Here’s how you make it happen:

  • Start by writing down when your assignments are due. Make your due date one day earlier.
  • Tell at least three people you are completing your assignment a day early. This way, whenever you see them, they’ll be likely to inquire about your progress.
  • Break completing the assignment into small, manageable steps. Sometimes we procrastinate because the work seems overwhelming. Small chunks of work are more manageable.
  • Eliminate procrastination enablers. This includes and is not limited to Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, television, jump ropes (if you’re in to that), etc.

Make healthy choices. These types of resolutions rarely pan out because they aren’t specific enough. Being specific with your formula will help your resolution stick. For instance, if you want to get in better shape, your formula may look like this:

“I want to lose [blank] pounds by [date]. I will achieve this by getting [blank] minutes of exercise [blank] times per week. I will also get [blank] number of servings of fruit, vegetables, and whole foods per day.”

Being specific makes all the difference in the world.

Have a 5-year plan. You’re likely going to college to achieve a specific outcome (like becoming a Registered Nurse). What you do post-college should be about achieving specific outcomes as well. In essence, having a 5-year plan is similar to having an extended New Year’s resolution. Like all resolutions, be specific about what you want. Write it down. Tell other people about it. Five years is far enough in the future where you can start laying groundwork towards achieving your long-term goals. The best way to stick with it is to revisit your goals often. These should be regularly-scheduled times to determine if the steps you’re taking to achieve your goals are working or need to be adjusted.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Graduate Student Edition)

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Graduate Student Edition)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the lab,

Not a creature was stirring, not even an undergrad;

The lab coats were hung by the fume hood with care,

In hopes that our PI soon would be there;

Some grad students were nestled all snug in their beds;

While visions of publications danced in their heads

But my labmate with her tea, and I with my mocha (peppermint),

Had just settled down for a long-ass experiment,

When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my lab bench to see what was the matter.

Over to the window I trudged with a teeth-gnash

Tore off my latex gloves, and threw them in the trash.

The moon on the breast of our newly-parked cars

Highlighted our drudgery, in the lab at all hours,

When what did my watering eyes did appear,

But a Mini-Coop, and eight boxes of lab supplies…oh dear.

With a little old driver, much smarter and wiser

I knew in a moment he must be my advisor.

More rapid than peer reviews his orders they came,

And he mulled over, and pondered, then called them by name:

“Now glass cleaning! Now grading! Now culturing and DNA extractions!

On, lit reviews! On, data analysis! On, exams and presentations!

To the end of this semester! To the end of the fall!

Now, slave away! Slave away! Slave away all!”

As students to free post-seminar snacks fly,

When they find some more coffee, and get a caffeine high;

So over to the lab bench the grad students we flew

With our hands full of lab supplies, and our lab notebooks too—

And then, in a twinkling, I heard (though it’s not my strong suit)

The stepping and stomping of each loafer boot.

As I looked up from my research, and was turning around,

Down the hallway came my advisor with a bound.

… (Tra la la nose like a cherry, bowl full of jelly, tra la)

A squint of his eyes and a turn of his head

Soon gave me to know I had data to spread(sheet)

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the grant applications; then turned with a jerk,

And grabbing his laptop, from his office desk he rose

And giving a nod, out the lab doors he goes;

He sprang to his car, to his students gave a wave,

And away he drove, probably back to his research cave.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—

“Happy Lab-Mas to all, and to all a good night!”

Higher Education And Your Life Course After Graduation

 When individuals first enroll in college or university, it is a whirlwind of excitement, chaos, and uncertainty. The next three to four (if not more) years of one’s life are dictated largely by their dedication and ongoing efforts in their academic successes. Especially when one moves away from home to go to the school they want to go to, balancing everything can be one giant learning curve. Students not only have to maintain their studies, but many of them work as well, because the truth is that modern life (yes, even for students) is too expensive not to be working. It is a tough road to navigate, even to walk sometimes. The single best piece of advice that any higher education student will ever get is to treat their higher education experience like a course in itself.

Forging Lifelong Learning and Networks

Of course, the primary goal of higher education is to forge students into professional experts in their field, but more than that, higher education itself serves as the ultimate course. In what, you ask? Life after graduation, of course. The thing about college and/or university is that the students that make it through the rounds successfully are often the very same individuals who have no idea what their next step is after graduation. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this. What is important, however, is that students are made aware that they can – and should – use their time at college or university to build connections and begin to establish a reputation in their field.

Networking in university is much easier than when you have entered the workforce as people are generally more receptive towards students – relating to when they were once a student themselves. Doors open more readily and opportunities arise out of simple conversations. Every new contact which is added to one’s address book, brings with him a library of information, knowledge and experience. Take advantage of this. Getting to know the industry and its players as best you can, from all walks of life. As the saying goes: Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Furthermore, there is a slew of community clubs one can benefit from whilst in university: getting involved in cardinal service will not only build one’s repertoire and resume, it will also let you meet like minded people and build connections. From ladies in engineering to accessible education, there are over 600 student clubs at Stanford University that one may take advantage of. Even when you’ve graduated, you are also welcome to make use of the many alumni clubs out there and work them to your advantage.

Attaining Financial Independence

When it comes to the difficulties of savings, being a student can be an incredible way to adapt to the learning curve. Financial stability and security is something that is often difficult for many people to achieve, but it does not have to be. Being a student allows for the chance to study and work at the same time, effectively turning individuals into more driven, more responsible people. Students can save money while achieving independence, both skills that are especially handy after graduation. The reality is that students are often so busy, or so stretched for both money and time, that they are forced into a state of financial accountability. This is nothing but a good thing. Learned and practiced responsibility in all areas of life better prepares students for life in their fields come graduation.

A Final Note

Through financial accountability and academic responsibility, students who take both aspects of life in higher education seriously most often end up in the most advantageous of positions when it is time for them to pursue their careers. Through networking, financial independence, and academic success, students go on to become more well-rounded individuals. The single best piece of advice that anyone will give you as a student is to approach college or university as if it were a course in the evolution of life. In doing this, not only will students gain a stronger understanding of their own capabilities, but they will forge a substantial knowledge of how to navigate the next step in their lives – their career.

7 Things to Research When Applying to Grad School

A common trap students often fall into when applying to graduate school is insufficient background research! Given the pricey and time-consuming nature of most graduate degrees, you really owe it to yourself to make an informed and carefully thought-out decision when choosing a course and putting together your application. Get started with our list of seven key areas to research when applying to grad school.

1. Career prospects

For many, a graduate degree is also an opportunity to develop the expertise and connections required to kick-start a career, move up a level, or enter a new field. Save yourself time in the long run by pausing to consider all your options. What matters to you the most? Income? Flexibility?  Job security? What are your interests? What would your dream job be? What would your ideal employment prospects and earning potential look like? You might actually find that while you completed a bachelor of arts in film studies, you actually – deep down – really aspire to become an environmental journalist or a lobbyist. Which graduate degree would help you get there?

2. The faculty

This can’t be stressed enough. Researching the faculty and looking up some of the research published by key figures in the department could help you figure out whether a university is right for you, and also help you win over the admissions officers in your personal statement and interview.  While universities are expected to remain wholly neutral and academic, different departments do favor different methodologies, theoretical frameworks and perspectives on their fields. They also have different areas of focus, reflected in the expertise of faculty members. When researching grad schools, make sure you choose a department well-matched to your academic and professional interests.

3. Facilities

Depending on your research project and discipline, you might need to have access to various pieces of technology or special library collections. Researching the facilities will help you decide whether to pick school X over school Y, as well as making a convincing case in your application. When applying to grad school, it’s absolutely crucial that you sound as specific and focused as possible, and referring to specialized facilities will help you achieve this.

4. Location

You need to be in the right frame of mind to tackle all of the challenges academia throws at you. Ensuring that you pick the best city for your graduate degree – a place propitious to work, play, affordable living and job hunting – will go a long way toward helping you secure happiness and perform your very best! You might want to take a look at the QS Best Student Cities 2016, which ranks the world’s best student cities based on a mix of factors:  employer activity, affordability, desirability, student mix, and university rankings.

5. Fees & funding

Tuition fees and funding opportunities vary greatly by country. Some countries, such as Germany or Sweden, offer free tuition; while other study destinations, such as the UK or the US, charge hefty fees for their world-renowned programs – in some cases offset by full tuition waivers, scholarships and assistantships for a select number of students. So before applying to graduate school, make sure that you can afford it and that you’ve got a fool-proof funding action plan. You don’t want to find yourself unable to complete your degree because you’ve run out of money!

6. Course structure

Each university will implement its own course structure and reading list, and one course structure may be better aligned with your interests. Take a look at the syllabus outlined online in the course description. It might be worth shooting off an email to the course leader or other faculty members, to get a better sense of the course’s theoretical framework and overall structure.

7. Teaching and assessment methods

Some graduate degrees are mostly taught, leading up to an end-of-course research project, while others have a strong focus on independent research from the outset. You need to figure out which teaching and assessment methods work better for you. Do you need regular contact hours with a supervisor and peers, or are you a lone wolf/independent researcher? Would you prefer more hours in class amongst your peers? What about assessment methods? Are you a confident test-taker or do you thrive on coursework?

Get personal answers to your questions about grad school

If you’re keen to get more personal advice before applying to grad school, look out for the QS World Grad School Tour – coming soon to a city near you. This is a chance to meeting representatives of grad schools from around the world, attend free seminars, and get all your questions answered in one place. You’ll also be eligible to apply for exclusive graduate scholarships.

Source: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/admissions-advice/7-things-research-when-applying-grad-school

Graduate School Life | What to Expect

There are many ways in which graduate school life varies from the undergraduate experience. Even if you’re jumping into continuing education right after college, the lifestyle changes in particular can be very pronounced—affecting everything from time management and employment opportunities to day-to-day schedules and financial considerations.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in graduate school, and the changes (outside of the classroom) you should anticipate once you’re enrolled.

Grad school will take up a lot of your time

Whether you’re pursuing your master’s degree full time or part time, graduate school life will put your scheduling skills to the test. Although you may have fewer classes per semester than you did as an undergraduate, your course load will be significantly more demanding. From reading and writing assignments to potential research and field work, the bulk of your activity will take place outside the classroom—leaving you with far less free time than you might be used to.

If you have children, are in a relationship, or have other personal commitments, you should expect grad school to affect your usual routines and responsibilities in that realm as well.

When preparing to enroll, be sure to do the following:

  • Check items off your to-do list (before school begins). If you have any big extracurricular projects or plans that are still in progress, do your best to finish them before school starts. It will be much more difficult after you’ve started your studies, and getting these items out of the way will allow you to focus more closely on your work.
  • Create a workable schedule for ongoing tasks. Even after clearing your plate, you may still have plenty of responsibilities to juggle. Make a list of all of your recurring commitments and put together a timetable that works for you (and that allows for plenty of study time!). Listing and prioritizing agenda items will help you eliminate things you can’t handle during school, and keep you on top of the things you can.
  • Ask friends, family, and co-workers for support. Whether you’re navigating childcare, making time for your significant other, or other personal considerations, developing a healthy support system is critical to managing your responsibilities and stress levels during school. Reach out to people you trust early, and see how they may be able to help you balance the demands of graduate education with your other commitments.

Balancing graduate school life and work will take effort

Pursuing a master’s degree can feel like a full-time job, but depending on your situation you may also need to actually work while studying. This introduces challenges to managing not just your time, but also your energy.

The need to simultaneously perform at work and at school can create competing tensions (especially if you have a demanding job), and adjusting to these tensions is key to a successful continuing education. Here are a few tips if you’re planning on working while studying:

  • Discuss your grad school plans with your employer. Tell them what you hope to achieve, what your schedule is going to look like, and how your goals relate to your position at the organization. This will allow you to work together to set reasonable expectations and, depending on what you’re studying, discuss what sort of support your employer might be willing to provide.
  • Budget more time for yourself than you think you need. It can be difficult to know just how intense the work-school balancing act will be until you’re in the middle of it. As you transition into graduate school life, work with your employer to set generous deadlines and ease into accepting new projects so you can avoid burnout and work anxiety.
  • Remember the benefits of working while studying. Pursuing a master’s degree while working is definitely a challenge, but it yields myriad benefits, from networking opportunities after graduation to potential advancement in your current organization. It’s also a chance to apply your current skills and experience to your grad school work, which will help you thrive in class and make you an asset to your graduate program.

Graduate school will affect your finances

Whether or not you’re working during school, continuing education will have an impact on your financial situation—and you’ll likely need to make changes to your spending habits while enrolled. Here are a few things you should do as you prepare for these adjustments:

  • Consider your financial readiness before applying. Keep in mind not just the costs of tuition, but also of things like housing, books, supplies, and administrative fees. Also make note of any long-term financial plans you may have (such as buying a house), as graduate school will likely take priority over some of those goals.
  • Conduct thorough research into financial aidBeyond the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), there’s plenty of potential assistance out there for aspiring graduate students—including scholarships, student loans, and grants specific to your area of study. Be aware of all your options, and submit applications for aid early.
  • Save up before school starts, and cut costs wherever possible. Particularly if you aren’t planning on working during grad school, it’s a smart move to give yourself a financial cushion before you begin studying. This could mean doing odd jobs, putting in more hours at work, or cutting down on unnecessary spending.

In many ways, graduate school life will be different than what you’re used to—and while there are certainly going to be some challenges, it’s important to also keep the positives in mind, too. Continuing education will deepen your knowledge and expertise in your chosen field, give you the chance to connect and network with new people, and open you up to advancement opportunities in your career. It requires a lot of planning and sacrifice, but if you take care to prepare, graduate school can change your life for the better.

Source: https://www.idealist.org/grad-schools/blog/grad-school-lifestyle-changes

How to Pay for Grad School: 5 Strategies for Students

Getting an advanced or professional degree can be full of challenges. One of the toughest arrives before you even take a class: figuring out how to pay for graduate school.

You can finance your education with graduate student loans. But before taking on debt, use these strategies to reduce or eliminate how much you need to borrow.

1. Earn fellowships, scholarships and grants

Fellowships, scholarships and grants are the best ways to pay for grad school because you typically don’t repay them. However, you do need to earn this financial aid — for graduate school, free money is usually based on academic merit, not financial need.

Universities may offer fellowships to get you to choose their programs, or you can apply with a private organization or the federal government for a “portable” fellowship. For example, the Department of Defense offers a three-year fellowship for selected science and engineering students that covers tuition and fees at the recipient’s school of choice.

Look for fellowships on the websites of government agencies or professional organizations, like the American Historical Association, or use a fellowship-specific search engine like ProFellow.

While fellowships are the type of free aid most closely associated with graduate school, traditional scholarships are available as well. These will likely be tied to your specific degree — for example, law school scholarships or pharmacy school scholarships.

2. Use a portion of your paycheck

When reviewing graduate financial aid, it can be easy to confuse fellowships and assistantships. Both let you earn money by working at your school, but assistantships are more like federal work-study.

Graduate assistantships are typically teaching and research jobs for which you’ll be paid a salary or stipend. Graduate teaching assistants earn an average of $36,390 annually, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ideally, you can use some of that money to pay for grad school. Practically, that may be difficult, especially if that stipend is your entire income. Working on the side may help cover your living expenses — just make sure you can balance that job with your other responsibilities.

3. Get help from your employer

Many graduate students don’t enroll right after getting their undergraduate degree. If you’re already working, see if your employer offers tuition assistance.

Employers can provide up to $5,250 tax-free annually to help with college costs. Some may opt to pay more. For example, global consulting firm Deloitte offers full tuition reimbursement to help pay for business school. Discounted tuition may also be available if you or an eligible family member work for a university.

If you use employer assistance to pay for grad school, ask your human resources team about any conditions associated with the funding. For example, you may have to agree to stay with the company for a set amount of time after earning your degree.

To use employer assistance, you’ll likely need to enroll part time while continuing to work. Forty-three percent of graduate students enroll part time, according to a 2017 report from Sallie Mae. Think about how an extended timeline will align with your long-term career goals.

4. Plan ahead to pay for graduate school

If you’re already collecting a paycheck, put money aside for grad school as part of your overall savings plan. Prioritize long-term financial goals first, like building an emergency fund then saving for retirement before adding to your grad school fund.

If you’re still an undergraduate but know an advanced degree is in your future, find out how much you can expect to pay for graduate school.

For example, the average graduate student debt was $71,000 in 2015-16, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. But specific professional degrees can be much more expensive — the average veterinarian debt is $183,014, for instance.

By limiting your undergraduate borrowing or other expenses, you can keep your total debt for your education manageable once you’re in repayment.

5. Cover any remaining gaps with loans

Once you’ve exhausted the previous options, you can turn to federal or private student loans to pay for grad school. Federal student loans will be best for most students; those loans offer benefits like income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs that private options lack.

You can take out up to $20,500 annually in unsubsidized federal loans; subsidized loans for graduate school aren’t available. If that’s not enough to cover your remaining grad school costs, you can take out up to your cost of attendance (minus other aid received) in federal graduate PLUS loans or private loans.

Private loans may make sense if you won’t use federal benefits and have excellent credit — or a co-signer who does. Compare the interest rate you’d qualify for to what PLUS loans offer. Keep in mind that PLUS loans also come with an origination fee that most private lenders don’t charge.

You typically don’t have to pay student loans during graduate school if you’re enrolled at least half-time. But interest will accrue on all graduate student loans, increasing the amount you owe.

Source: https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/ask-brianna-paying-graduate-school

TOP 10 COLLEGE ADMISSION TIPS FROM A PRIVATE COUNSELOR

The college admission experience involves plenty of variables and unknowns, which is why it can be helpful to have a counselor advising you through each phase of the process. Unfortunately, not all students have access to a counselor through every phase. That’s why I’ve put together this list of tips based on the work I have done with high school and college students for the past decade.

If I had to pick the 10 best pieces of advice to share with any high schooler before they embark on this proverbial journey, here’s what I’d share with them.

1. TAKE YOUR COLLEGE RESEARCH SERIOUSLY

The time and research you commit to finding your college fit is an invaluable part of the process. As you do your college research and begin to develop your college list, write down two or three specific things you think you want or do not want in a college, such as big campus vs. small, close to or far from home, liberal arts vs schools that specialize in certain subjects. This will help you narrow down what’s important to you, what to look out for when finalizing your college list, and will help form questions you may want to ask admissions officers. Also, the more specific and detailed you are, the easier it’ll be to write those supplemental essays when the time comes. If/when colleges ask you, “Why Us?” you won’t have to start thinking from scratch. If you’re looking for some tips on how to structure and conduct your college research, these two resources from CollegeData are a great starting point: How To Start Your College List and Mining for Gold on College Websites.

2. TAKE UNIQUE APPROACHES TO CAMPUS VISITS

In-person visit experiences like open houses, tours, and information sessions can help you figure out if a school has what you’re looking for. However, it’s sometimes hard to find out what it feels like to be a student there because you’re walking around in a group of people, and usually one or both of your parents. The next time you visit a college campus, bring a backpack, and walk around by yourself for 20-30 minutes after your official visit with the admissions office and/or tour guide is complete.

Without a tour group and your parents by your side, you may look and feel like more of a college student. Take this time to head over to the campus store or get a bite to eat and observe what the vibe is like on campus. Exploring a campus on your own might give you a glimpse of what life could feel like as an enrolled student there.

3. YOUR TEST SCORE ISN’T A LIFE-OR-DEATH SITUATION

It’s easy to attach your worth to what you scored on the SAT or ACT. Compass Prep’s Guide to Admission Testing lists standardized tests as only the third-most important aspect of admissions. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the testing landscape with many schools now no longer requiring them. The SAT or ACT is a test that’s taken one Saturday morning during high school. Your score and even whether or not you take the test doesn’t necessarily determine whether you can accomplish your goals in college or be successful after you graduate. The classes you take and the grades you earn as well as the activities you are involved in may end up being more important.

4. DON’T WAIT UNTIL DEADLINE DAY TO SUBMIT APPLICATIONS

A good college counselor will work hard to help students submit applications prior to the actual day of the deadline, and for good reason. Every year, we hear about technical glitches with various application platforms around major deadline dates because so many people are trying to submit applications at the same time. Colleges sometimes extend deadlines because of these issues, but not all the time. Don’t run the risk of not submitting an application that’s already complete because the website isn’t working properly. If you experience technical difficulties when submitting your application, make sure you contact the admissions office immediately and inquire about alternative methods for submitting your application.

5. KNOW THE ADMISSION POLICIES OF THE SCHOOLS ON YOUR LIST AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE

Rolling admissions is great because the earlier you apply to a college, the earlier you’ll get a decision in your hands. If there are schools on your list that have rolling admissions, try and submit your application by Labor Day weekend. You will likely have a decision in your hands before November 1 and before some Early Action deadlines. Having an acceptance in your back pocket early in the fall is a huge confidence boost and can relieve some stress.

6. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS

This seems like a simple concept, but during a stressful process, such as completing college applications, directions can be overlooked or misunderstood. Whether it’s adhering to a word count limit on your essays, submitting documents by a certain deadline, or providing the admission office with specific information, follow all directions that are stated in the application. It’ll make the lives of admission officers easier, especially since they process, read, and make decisions for thousands of applicants every year. Also, mistakes or missing information in your application can impact admissions decisions, so do your best to make sure your submissions are accurate, complete, and on time.

7. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT COLLEGE

You might feel a lot of pressure to try to find the “perfect fit” school. However, there are multiple schools you can love and thrive at. A colleague of mine recently shared an excellent analogy — when you put on a pair of jeans for the first time, it may feel a little stiff. It takes some time for the jeans to mold to you and for you to get comfortable wearing them. The same is true for life at college. Whether you attend your top school or the last safety school on your list, it may take time to adjust.

8. DECISIONS DON’T DEFINE YOU

College admissions can feel like a deeply personal process. Nobody enjoys getting denied from a school after putting so much work into an application and working hard throughout high school. Did you get into your dream school? That’s awesome! But that’s only the beginning of the journey — you still must attend that college and do the work necessary to earn a diploma.

Didn’t get into your dream school? That’s okay — your worth isn’t measured by admissions decisions. What you do while you’re on a college campus may be more important than where you do it.

9. STAY IN YOUR LANE

There is a lot of talk in the high school community about “Jane and Johnny” and their GPA and test scores and XYZ factor that got them into X university. That talk is often just that — talk without any factual basis. Do your best to tune out the opinions and conjecture. Focus on your own path. You’re the one who will be going to college — not your friends, family, significant other, or any other influential person in your life. Be sure to listen to the advice of your parents, counselors, and mentors but remember to also pay attention to your own feelings and goals, as well.

10. IT TAKES A VILLAGE, SO BE GRATEFUL

It’s the job of school counselors and the other professionals in the counseling office to send your application materials (like your official transcript) to colleges, but they’re constantly overwhelmed with requests each fall. Your parents are probably excited to visit colleges with you, but it takes time and money to make it happen. Your teachers aren’t required to write your letters of recommendation, but they enjoy helping you achieve your dreams. Be sure to stop and say thank you to everyone who has helped you along the way.

There will be times when this process feels stressful — that’s just the way it is, especially in the fall of senior year. However, applying to college can also be fun. Who doesn’t want to visualize and imagine what their immediate and long-term future could look like? Be serious when it’s necessary, but also enjoy yourself when you’re able to — because it may lead to one of the most exciting times of your life!

Source: https://www.collegedata.com/resources/getting-in/top-10-college-admission-tips-from-a-private-counselor