How to Prepare for Graduate School

How to Prepare for Graduate School
portrait of Adreon Patterson
By Adreon Patterson

Published on August 5, 2021

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So you've chosen to enter graduate school. You've done the hard work of finding and applying to schools, and you've been accepted into a program. Congratulations!

Now you need to think about what comes next. If you're starting to feel a little overwhelmed in your planning process, don't worry — that's a common feeling. There's a lot to figure out when you're just starting your new program. Wondering what to prioritize? Here are some basic tips for preparing for graduate school.

How to Prepare for Grad School in 5 Steps

1. Find and Secure Housing

Finding living accommodations is one of the first things you'll need to do when preparing for graduate school. You may be able to live on campus in graduate dormitories or residence halls. Look into application deadlines for any on-campus housing options.

Other students may prefer to live with family, or rent a house or apartment with roommates. When it comes to renting, it's all about timing and location. Securing a house or apartment may require you to start looking weeks, if not months, ahead of time. You can start checking local listings online and on social media, and spread the word to your new department that you're looking for a place.

2. Determine How You'll Cover Costs

Although some grad students have their tuition and expenses covered by stipends, not everyone is so lucky. As a graduate student, you can apply for federal financial aid by filing the FAFSA. Many students use any leftover funds after paying for tuition and fees to help cover everyday living costs.

In addition to federal aid, grad students might need to take out student loans or apply for research funding, scholarships, or fellowships to fill remaining financial gaps.

If you also need to seek out part-time or full-time employment, try to find a flexible job that won't interfere with your grad school schedule. Also, look into any employment rules that your graduate program may have.

Some aspiring graduate students already have an employer. In certain cases, employers may offer incentives such as tuition reimbursement or special scholarships to long-time employees looking to attend graduate school. If this applies to you, double-check the rules and regulations for these programs and see what documentation you need to provide.

3. Figure Out Transportation

When setting your budget and determining where you should live, you'll also need to figure out your transportation to and from campus. For many graduate students, public transportation is the best option.

Another viable option is using a ridesharing app or carpooling with other students. Driving to campus may be the best — or only — option for graduate students living far away from campus. Remember to look into typical traffic patterns in the area before planning your route and timing your departure.

4. Create a Class Schedule That Suits Your Needs

When picking classes, try to create a class schedule that suits your needs and path of study. Do you need to take classes in a certain order? Is there a class offered this semester that won't be offered again soon? Do you have other work or family obligations that require classes at certain times?

You may not be able to create your perfect schedule, but hopefully you can find a balance between the classes you need to take and the classes that fit your lifestyle and interests.

5. Consider Getting an On-Campus Job

Sometimes, securing outside employment isn't feasible when attending school. If you find yourself in this situation, working on campus might be your best option. Apply for your school's work-study program, look online for other on-campus jobs, or find open research and teaching assistant positions.

Working on campus in some capacity can help you build rapport with others at your school, and it can be a great way to make important connections and build your network.

Helpful Tips for a Smooth Grad School Experience

Once you've got the basics like finances, housing, and transportation figured out, you can focus on making the most of your time on campus and staying on top of your school work. Here are a few additional things to prioritize early on in your grad career.

Plan Out Your Schedule

Planning is important to success in grad school. Creating a weekly schedule can alleviate some of the stress attached to the grad school experience. Try to block out time for studying, papers and projects, and personal needs such as socializing and exercise. Your schedule will likely be a work in progress — you'll probably need to adjust what isn't working as you go.

Stay Ahead of Your Course Load

Reviewing course syllabi in advance is one way to stay ahead when faced with a heavy workload. Understanding a syllabus allows you to create a realistic work schedule, as the load may vary from week to week. Prioritizing your time can also help you break any unhealthy habits from undergrad, such as pulling all-nighters and procrastinating.

Form a Strong Support Network

Building a strong support network in graduate school can help you maintain your mental health. Parts of this network can also serve as the foundation for your professional network. Chat with fellow students before and after class, organize study groups, volunteer for activities, and arrange fun events to get to know your colleagues better.

Your peers can also be great resources to help keep you accountable and grow in your academic career. Nurturing those bonds early is a great way to set yourself up for success.

Become Part of Your Campus Community

Campus life isn't just for undergrads! Feeling connected to a larger campus community can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and form relationships with other students, staff, and faculty outside your department.

Get involved on campus and see what organizations, events, and clubs are available for graduate students. Explore campus resources like libraries, gyms, and student centers. If applicable to your situation, see whether there are carpools you can join or volunteer for.

Connect With Faculty

Don't wait to start building a rapport with faculty members. Introduce yourself to your professors and attend department activities. It's important to make professional connections in your prospective field and find academics whose interests align with yours. Building these relationships will benefit you when it comes time to serve as a teaching assistant or put together your thesis or dissertation committee.

Additional Resources for Graduate Students

Graduate Admissions Guide Best Online Master's Degrees and Program Guide Financial Aid Guide for Graduate Students

Feature Image: Solskin / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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