Graduate school is an amazing opportunity to deepen your education, develop your professional identity, and meet others with like-minded interests. However, many grad students experience both rewarding and challenging periods of adjustment.
It is common for graduate students to feel a mixture of anticipation, excitement, hope, insecurity, and fear during the first several weeks as they adjust to graduate school. Many will experience physical and emotional symptoms during this time, and international students or students who have moved away from their partners and families can have a particularly difficult time adapting to graduate school.
That being said, graduate school can be extremely rewarding. And, there are many ways to prepare yourself as you navigate new territories, and learn how to adapt to new class schedules. Knowing how you work best, managing your time wisely, and surrounding yourself with a community, are just some of the many ways you can adjust to your new program.
Let’s discuss these important ways to adapt to graduate school.
1. Know How You Work
Graduate school can be a monumental amount of work. It’s much more in-depth than undergraduate studies. In order to keep up with the demands of grad school, you should know how and when you work best. For example, if you know you work best in the morning, schedule your study sessions in the hours before your classes. Conversely, if you do your best work at night, you can ensure you get adequate sleep in the morning and schedule your studying for the evening, after your classes are complete.
Of course, this is not a one size fits all approach. Sometimes you will have to adapt, but knowing when you are most productive (and when you are not) will prime you for the utmost success in your classes and future career.
2. Have a Strategy
Runners training to run a sprint will train very differently than marathon runners. The same can be said of undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint, and in order to succeed, you’ll need to pace yourself, eat, hydrate, and converse your energy.
For example, instead of simply reading textbooks for the information, grad students should “read with purpose” by looking at the organization of a piece, the headers, chapter headings, and bullet points. Furthermore, consider why you’re reading the article in the first place.
There are so many exciting opportunities and tasks to achieve in graduate school. Having a strategy ensures you can accomplish them while still finding time for the important relationships and activities in your life outside of school.
3. Self-care and Community
Self-care, especially when adapting to graduate school, isn’t just a buzzword or hot topic. It’s an essential component of surviving and thriving in grad school.
This can look like consistently scheduling personal time to put away your work. You may decide to read something for fun or get involved in an activity outside of school, like a service organization or sports league. Additionally, learn to embrace the power of “no” and know that prioritizing your health and happiness is more important than a job or your degree.
Further, remember that you attend graduate school with others, not alone. Identify the friends, family members, significant others, and members of your cohort who you trust. Help them understand how and when to be supportive, and know when to give you the push you need to accomplish your goals. You can do the same for others, too.
More than likely, your peers, colleagues, and cohort are experiencing many of the same fears — such as imposter syndrome — where you might believe it’s a mistake you are in grad school in the first place and no one is qualified to be there. That is simply not true. You worked hard to gain acceptance into your graduate program and by reaching out to your cohort, trusted friends, and family, they will be able to remind you of this.
You are all in this together, so strengthen your community bonds by having dinner together, celebrating birthdays and accomplishments, and don’t be afraid to say when you are struggling. Chances are that others will be too. Then, you can offer each other support!
4. Focus on Learning over Grades
Many students are surprised to discover that graduate school is less about acing a test and more about retaining information long-term. Graduate school involves more than just taking classes and earning good grades. It prepares you to become a professional, understand people, and work with others. These skills are often more important than academic knowledge or assessments.
Thus, it’s important that you also develop relationships with your advisors and cohort and ensure you are conducting the research required for your program, not just studying for the next exam.
5. Adjusting to Grad School isn’t Easy
Our last piece of advice on how to adjust to graduate school is simply to accept that adjusting is an ongoing process. Bumps and hurdles will happen. Unexpected events such as your advisor going on sabbatical, family or personal emergencies, and in recent years, a global pandemic, could happen along the way.
You can set yourself up for success by predicting how long, laborious, or difficult a task will be, setting realistic goals for yourself, and setting a plan for these goals to be revised.
Staying adaptable is paramount when it comes to acclimating to grad school. Remember to reach out to your community for help on how to do so. You may also tap into resources available at your institution. At University of Bridgeport, for example, students have access to a wide variety of support services including academic mentoring, counseling, career planning, and personal advising. Your graduate school should always be there for you.
And remember, many students struggle to know how to adapt to graduate school. There is not a one size fits all approach. But, there are always things you can do, like managing your time and leaning on your community or school for extra support, that will make things a little easier as you navigate your graduate program.
Graduate school is not the end of the road. Rather, it’s only the beginning of the next step in your life and career as a lifelong learner.