Well, I’ve done it. I’ve survived my first week of graduate school in the MSW (Masters of Social Work) program. Going into this week, I was excited and full of energy. It’s my first year as a graduate student in the MSW program, and my schedule includes 16 hours a week at an internship (all day Monday and Tuesday) and 5 classes (15 credit hours). By day 3 of this first week, I was stressed. Despite my love for academia and learning, there were moments I asked myself what I had gotten myself into. However, I also know that big changes are always overwhelming in the beginning, and as I take the time to develop more of a solid routine, things will hopefully begin to fall into place (somewhat, at least…I hope).
That being said, here are 10 things I’ve already learned regarding graduate school (and what it will take to be successful here):
- Keep your planner with you at all times. Seriously, document everything. In my case, each of my classes only meets once a week. In fact, one of them only meets once a month. Therefore, having all assignments written down (with due dates!) is essential. I already had to go buy a bigger planner because I was running out of space to write everything down. Also, I’ve started color coding in my planner. In the past, I’ve never bothered. However, in order to keep my sanity, I think it’s going to be necessary over these next 2 years.
- Get to know your professors (and start early). I knew going in to graduate school I wanted to be sure and get to know my professors. After all, they will be the ones writing recommendations for me when I’m applying for jobs after I’ve graduated. Therefore, ask questions. Use them as a resource. After all, that’s what they are there for, right? Additionally, start early. It takes time to develop a good mentor relationship with professors. Give your professors time to really get to know you so that when they are writing a recommendation letter for you later on, they’ll have plenty of information to pull from.
- Intern with organizations you’re interested in (and with those you’re not sure about). Internships are a great way to figure out specific positions in the field you might like. However, they are also a way to realize certain positions in the field that are not a good fit. Be willing to try internships at places that immediately interest you. However, try out the places you’re not sure about as well. You may discover a new interest, or you may figure out specific areas you would definitely not feel comfortable in. Either way, you are learning, and specifically coming closer to the position in your field that is just right for you.
- Don’t stress about grades. This was a tough lesson to learn, and it’s definitely one I’ll be working on throughout my graduate school career. The main thing I’ve had to remind myself is that I’ve come to graduate school to gain knowledge and learn skills to be able to perform accurately within a certain profession. At the end of two years, when I’m out looking for jobs, my potential employers aren’t going to care what my graduate school GPA is. They’re going to want to know if I have the skills, knowledge, and experience to perform my job to the best of my ability.
- Stay connected with close friends. Even after just the first week, I can see how graduate school could lend itself to responses such as: I can’t remember the last time I talked to my best friend. I’m just so busy. Yes, graduate school is stressful and definitely keeps you busy. Try not to lose contact with close friends though. Even if it’s just a “hey how are you?” text every few days, keep them in the loop. You’ll need their support over the next 2 years, especially when you may just need to vent about how stressed or overwhelmed you are. Plus, the potential for getaway weekends every now and then can definitely be a stress reliever!
- Don’t forget to sleep (regularly)! Thankfully, I’ve never had a problem with getting good sleep, even when I’m stressed. Without it, I’m crabby and unable to retain new information quite as easily. In my case especially, I’ve found that I do better if I go to sleep once I’m tired and then get up early to finish assignments (if I’ve gotten behind). It works better for me rather than staying up really late. It may take time to figure out what works best for you.
- Eat good snacks that’ll give you energy. Yes, sugary things and lots of caffeine may sound good in the moment, but they’ll cause you to crash quicker. I’ve found that I’m set if I just bring a bag of carrots and a bottle of water with me to campus. (Although, I will say, coffee does wonders for those 8am classes)!
- Network, network, network! Get to know your professors, for sure. However, don’t forget about your internship supervisor and others at your internship in a similar field you hope to enter. These days, it’s as much (if not more) about who you know as opposed to what you know.
- Practice self-care. I’ve started practicing self-care by implementing a regular yoga practice back into my life again. Though I am a bit sore after this week, I know it’ll help me both mentally and physically get through graduate school.
- Do one thing every week that makes you happy. Whether it’s having time to sit and read a book without interruption, making yummy baked goods, taking a long bubble bath, or Skyping with your best friend, try to do one thing every week (or even every day) that makes you blissfully happy. Though this way fall by the wayside every now and then, try not to let it. Though you’re busy with graduate school, remember what ultimately matters: your happiness. 🙂
Best of luck, fellow graduate students. We’ve got this!