Congratulations! You’re continuing your path in higher education by earning an advanced degree–an accomplishment that less than 12% of the U.S. population achieves. Whether you’re pursuing a Master’s degree, or you’re in the long haul working towards a Doctorate degree, your experience will undoubtedly be different than undergrad.
For me, graduate school has been one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever been through, but at the same time, one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life. I’m certainly eager to be graduating in May 2014, but as I look back on my time at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, I’m incredibly thankful for the things I’ve learned–not only professionally, but personally. I’d like to share with you some tips for those of you embarking on this journey!
Check out these 10 great tips for starting or continuing your graduate career:
1. Get to know the faculty
Graduate programs are the mecca of expert professionals in your field or industry. Colleges and universities really focus on having incredibly intelligent, influential, and experienced faculty and adjunct professors to train and teach the next generation of professionals in the field. Take some time to Google and research the faculty members in your program–even read some of their scholarly publications and research. Their work may inspire you to study specific topics, and you may even find a mentor or advisor to guide you through your career. Plus, they’ll be impressed if you know about their work!
2. Catch up on current events
Specialized advanced degrees are meant to prepare you and provide practical experience for a career. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, to find that your coursework will tie back to real issues, problems, and topics that are currently happening in your field. Start getting into the routine of checking the news every day–whether it’s online, on television, or even on Twitter–to brush up on current events that could have real implications in your career field.
3. Join a professional organization or association
Graduate school should be considered the beginning of your professional career, where you’ll be regarded as a specialist or scholar in your particular field. You’ll be exposed to a large network of other professionals and have access to tons of resources to help you excel in your career. Every profession has a related association or membership club that provides professionals and students with relevant tools. Some are free to join, but most have a membership fee. They are usually worth the cost though–just remember to join as a student in order to get a discount!
4. Subscribe to industry publications and newsletters
While you’re scoping out the right professional associations to join, add yourself to the mailing lists of other relevant websites and blogs to stay on top of industry trends, issues, and even potential job opportunities!
5. Work on your resume/CV and set up a LinkedIn page
Many graduate programs will require that you complete an internship or have relevant work experience in order to graduate. Most programs even have a “Resume Book” for employers to search for qualified candidates from the program. You’ll definitely want to have your resume included in this! Check with the career services office within your school or program to make sure that your resume or CV is formatted according to industry standards. You should also create a virtual resume through your LinkedIn profile – another resource that employers use to seek candidates.
6. Polish your professional side
Now that you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you’ll want to ditch your collegiate persona. Whether you were the campus jock, the popular sorority girl, or the fun-loving socialite in undergrad, you’ll want to update your Facebook page and even consider creating a more polished Twitter account. People in your new professional network will certainly Google you and inevitably find your social network profiles. Make sure those profiles speak well for you!
7. Network with your cohort
“Cohort.” Fancy, right? You’re in graduate school. You get to use words like this now.
For the next 2 to 7 years that you’ll spend in your graduate program, you’ll be surrounded by the same eager, ambitious, and tortured faces. You and your classmates will be going through #thestruggle together; studying for exams; working together on group projects; calculating what your weighted grade will be; and navigating the many challenges you’ll encounter in grad school. This is not the time to be shy. These folks will not only be your friends in school, but they’ll be long-term professional contacts whom you’ll keep in touch with long after graduation (or more!).
8. Get organized for next semester
Graduate school will not only demand your time and energy inside the classroom, it will take up your time outside of the classroom. You’ll want to take full advantage of guest lecture series, attend helpful workshops, travel to conferences, take on an assistantship with a faculty member, fulfill an internship or job requirement, join a student club or professional association… oh yea, and study! It’s best to get organized as early as possible. Get started with a day planner or calendar and use it diligently. There are also really helpful websites and mobile applications that can keep you organized when you’re on the move. My favorite apps to use are Evernote and Google Calendar!
9. Scout out your favorite study spot
Full disclosure: you may have already found out that graduate school is not like undergrad. In undergrad, it may have been easy for you to get by on last-minute studying, or you may have been able to talk your way out of a penalty on a late assignment. But graduate school shows no mercy. In fact, for a lot of programs, grades that are lower than a C are considered failing!
Take graduate school seriously; it’s not worth your money or time to slack here. You’ll want to get into a routine of studying regularly. Find a place where you’ll be able to concentrate on your work and not fall asleep. For some folks it’s at home, for others it’s a library. Or maybe it’s a nearby coffee shop with free wifi. Wherever it is, find it, and start calling it “home.”
10. Relax and enjoy the summertime
By enrolling in graduate school, you have already determined that a quality education is important to you. So be ready for the tough stuff. Once next semester starts, you may have to again sacrifice your social life and free time, but trust me, it’ll be well worth it. Before classes begin, find some time to enjoy the summer – take a trip, check out a summer concert, hang out with friends and family (before you put yourself in exile), and reward yourself for making it this far. You’ve signed up for another 2 to 7 years of schooling – something that most people wouldn’t even dare to accomplish!