Let’s get this out of the way. Graduate school is different than college.
Getting a master’s degree or Ph.D. is a different experience than earning a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Sure, all require you to attend classes taught by experienced professors, but that is the extent to which they are similar. Where undergraduate programs provide you with a basic foundation in your field of interest, a master’s degree or Ph.D. program builds upon that knowledge, allowing you to specialize within that field. Your work is more directed, and you are less supervised by professors who serve more as a guide and mentor than an undergraduate professor.
Because most class sizes are smaller, participation is especially important.
Having prior work experience can help immensely with the transition into life as a graduate student. Undergraduate students may complete an internship before the end of their senior year, if they plan on heading right to graduate school. Some people choose to wait a year or more after graduation to get their master’s degree so they can gain real world experience that will help them with their research.
So what exactly is it like to attend a master’s degree program? Expect to do a lot of reading in your graduate program, maybe more reading than you’ve ever done in your life. Keep up with it as best as you can. Do not expect to go to class and have a professor read an outline to you, detailing all information in the assigned reading. This practice is reserved for undergraduates who are just being introduced to the material for the first time. Rather, master’s degree and Ph.D. professors will conduct discussions on the topic, allowing room for questions, concerns and new ideas.
Depending on your focus and the undergraduate school attended, your prior research paper assignments may have not been held to the strictest of standards. An acceptable graduate research paper will demonstrate more complex sentence structure and will be more scholarly in nature. Rather than answering a broad question, you will delve deeper to examine a small, but relevant aspect of the topic. With these research papers, you should expect more criticism from your professors and your peers. Learn from this criticism, and you are well on your way to becoming a successful graduate student.
Your research assignments should prepare you for your writing your thesis, or your final research paper required to get your master’s degree. Choosing a thesis topic can be seem overwhelming if you’ve never completed a project of that size. Keep in mind that successful thesis papers are written by organized, planned and dedicated students.
A graduate student is a leader and an independent thinker. Thus they must lead and fully participate in discussions and seminars. If they don’t understand a concept after class, they do not wait for someone to hand them the answer. They remain proactive in their education, trek down to the library and research to answer their question. The speed at which the internet can retrieve information is especially valuable for graduate students. Often students have links bookmarked to help them in their graduate studies. Because most class sizes are smaller, participation is especially important. Sometimes, you will have to support your thoughts and ideas during a discussion or debate.
Graduate School Research
Beyond the classroom, you will be sharing your research with others by presenting it at seminars and by having your papers published. Your research will culminate in writing a thesis or a dissertation. Don’t be modest or humble about your research. You never know who will be interested in it, and more importantly who is willing to partner with you to conduct it. For both research and class work assignments, reading and keeping up to date on the industries practices are important to having the most relevant research.
Networking is especially important at graduate school. It is here that you have the potential to form long lasting friendships and business partnerships. In graduate school, most networking is done at these seminars. Nobody is going to know what you are interested in, or what work you have done unless you present it. Networking is also common at an internship or apprenticeship completed while doing their graduate studies.
Life After Graduate School
Graduate students who already have a career, and were taking the degree program in order to advance in that career have less to worry about after graduation. However, those students in their last year of studies and do not have a job in their prospective field should begin their career search immediately. There’s some good news and some bad news when it comes to the job search. Bad news first: The search process is most likely going to take a while. The good news: If you keep your search diligent and focused, you should expect to land a full-time position.
Because of the still shaky state of the economy, some graduate schools have extended their career services to recent graduates who are having trouble securing a job. For example, in 2009, Cornell University’s S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management assigned career advisers to each student at the beginning of the school year. By the end of the year, 95% were well on their way to starting their careers.