According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the fall of 2012 saw 2.9 million graduate students attending degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the U.S. There is no doubt that more and more college graduates are seeking higher and higher degrees in the hope of acquiring a more meaningful career path.
If you’ve recently received your bachelor’s and are considering continuing your education, you’ve probably heard a lot about accruing additional debt and the like. Most likely, however, no one has told you about these grad school facts.
1. Grad school isn’t like undergrad.
As an undergraduate, you were most likely discovering yourself — your academic interests, your political views, how much you can party and still get work done, and so on.
By the time you’re into your graduate studies, however, much of the exciting self-discovery has been settled and what’s left is the work, which is extensive. Graduate classes tend to be longer, smaller, and include more work outside of the classroom. In a word, the days skipping the readings and keeping your head low during class are over.
2. Research takes priority.
Most graduate degrees will require some form of research. In some cases, you will select a faculty member with whom you’ll work closely. For other areas, your research may be done individually. In either case, research not only requires a great deal of time and motivation, but it also demands that you’re attentive and actively engaging your coursework. Ideas for research topics are fleeting. You’ll need to keep your mind open and absorbed in your work.
3. You have less time to get more done.
It’s no surprise that graduate coursework is more extensive and sophisticated than undergrad studies. What you may not realize is that, outside of school work, you have more to do.
When you were in college for the first go around, the extent of your responsibilities were minimal. Perhaps you had a part-time job. Maybe you had a few hobbies you kept up with. However, now that you’re older, you may have a full-time job or family to worry about in addition to your studies. In many ways, taking on the burden of grad school is like having a second job. Be sure you can lean on your loved ones, and budget your time to make room for this new extension of your work life.
4. You’ll need to be a self-starter.
Unlike undergrads who, for the most part, have their hands held through their four years at a university, graduate degrees demand students to be self-starters. Advisors will not seek you out if a problem arises. Instead, you’ll need to track your own courses and find the people you need to speak with when issues bubble up. When it comes to research, you may work with a faculty member as an advisor, but when it comes to writing or conducting research, no one can push you in any one direction. You’ll need to be the captain of your own ship.
5. Networking is key.
Having a degree in hand won’t guarantee you a job. The only thing that you’re ensured is a new well of debt. Your relationships with faculty members and fellow students are important. If you’re attending a conference or seminar, put yourself out there. Meet the people who are where you want to be. You’ll never know from whom or where your next job will come.
If you want more advice on how to effectively network, check out “5 Tips to Make Networking Less Painful
The road to a graduate degree is a difficult one. In many ways, you’ll be traveling it alone with only your academic and personal wits to guide you. Budgeting your time effectively, seeking help where you can get it, and pushing yourself when you need it will make the process all the more rewarding.
The Condition of Education - Postsecondary Education - Characteristics of Postsecondary Students Indicator May (2014). Retrieved September 13, 2014.