If you’re thinking about applying to graduate school, you should consider how different it will be from your undergraduate experience. There are a lot of differences between undergraduate vs. graduate school, and this list can help you decide if grad school is the right choice for you.
In undergrad, it can be easy to get by with skipping classes, submitting late assignments, or even partying every weekend with your friends. Grad school requires a little more responsibility and maturity. Not to say you can’t have fun, but at this point in your life it’s important to focus on classes and potentially a part-time job or internship in your field. No one expects you to have it all together, but professors and advisors are not going to cut you any slack. You’re expected to be mature enough to handle your workload and take your education seriously.
As an undergrad, you were probably part of a few different clubs, went to football games weekly, and even spent a lot of time out with your friends. Grad school can feel very different from undergrad for a few reasons. One may be feeling disconnected from your campus. This can happen when a majority of your friends leave campus or the city after their undergrad studies, if you’re going to school part-time, or if you attend an entirely new school where you don’t know anyone.
If you are going to a new school, be prepared to have little to no involvement on campus outside of class. I went to a new school in a different state and felt no true connection to my grad school. I was hardly involved in school activities outside of my major and didn’t hang out on campus nearly as much as I did when I was in undergrad. For me, my purpose on campus was to go to class, study, or meet with class groups. I worked part-time and interned, so I hardly had any extra free time to be more involved on campus. While there are still plenty of activities for grad students, and even grad clubs to take part in, just keep in mind that this new experience will be an adjustment from your undergrad experience.
Professors have higher expectations
A big difference I noticed in grad school is that professors and university staff have much higher expectations of you as a student and as a young professional. Going to grad school is a choice you make for several reasons. It may be for career advancement, a change in career paths, wanting to increase your skills in your field, or simply because you want another degree. Whatever the reason, professors expect you to take their courses seriously. There’s no cutting corners or sliding by with not being prepared for class.
You have to solidify what you want to do
You’ve made the decision to go to grad school! Now it’s time to come up with your one to two- year plan, which will be somewhat different from completing four-year degree requirements in undergrad. Your grad school plan should not only include the courses you want to take, but also internships you’re interested in, companies you may want to work for, and available positions in that city (or a city you would like to move to). You should also decide if you will be attending school full-time or part-time, and construct a plan based on your personal time and availability.
For me, my plan was to attend graduate school full-time for two years. While attending school I decided I would work part-time to have an income, and intern for school credit so I could use those hours to gain work experience. While the work-school-life balance was difficult to manage, I was able to graduate on time and with more work experience under my belt because I made a plan and stuck to it.
Networking matters more
Network, network, network. This is something that we’re told from the moment we walk into undergrad. Don’t forget it! That old saying, “It’s all about who you know,” holds true to this day. Getting a master’s degree means nothing if you can’t get a job in your field afterward. It’s important to make connections and keep in contact with professionals you meet over time. Even if it’s just through LinkedIn. That person may open the door for you or introduce you to someone who thinks you’d be a perfect fit at their company. You’re more likely to get an interview by knowing a couple of people at the company you’re applying to than just submitting your resume online and hoping for the best. Colleges and universities typically have their own student and alumni network. Use that network to your advantage and find people within your career field to connect with.