10 Tips for Grad Students from a Grad School Survivor

I just hit submit on my final grad school term paper. The final keystroke to conclude my collegiate years and make the $xxx,xxx investment (hopefully) a good one.

Now, as a survivor of the graduate school experience, I can shed a little light on some tips for those looking to take your education one step further or who have already made the leap.

1. Only go if you have to


Everyday it seems like some millionaire dropout is saying that higher education isn’t necessary or a publication is putting out a think piece about how the education system is failing students blah blah blah.

And they’re right, except in instances where they’re wrong and you need a certain piece of paper hanging on your wall to take you to where you ultimately want to be. For me, I needed those 150 hours to sit for the CPA exam, so I was off to another year of school, so I can pay New York State more money for another piece of paper.

However, had I not needed it or did not have goals that required grad school I definitely wouldn’t have gone. A year or two in the workforce (while not as fun as college) would have been extremely more valuable, as by this time you probably know, you learn more on the job than in a classroom.

2. Choose your next destination wisely


If you have the luxury to pick from a few schools or programs take full advantage. A lot of people (again, me) weren’t quite ready to take a big step from home out of high school and grad school serves as a second chance to branch out.

Had I not decided to pursue a relatively new program that essentially limited my options to Upstate New York or Buffalo, somewhere Southern with a big time football team would’ve been my calling and if you’re lucky enough, I highly advise heading out of your comfort zone.

3. It is not undergrad


For a lot of people (you guessed it, me yet again) undergrad is more of a 4-year (or more) vacation before the real world consumes our hopes, dreams and innocence that is spent binge drinking and chasing those “remember that time…” stories.

And in grad school that is still important (I repeat, is still important), but now you’re out of AA and into AAA, on the verge of the majors and your peers will more focused and more dedicated and if you’re not you’ll be left behind. And at this point it becomes easy to tell who is the smartest kid in the room and who… well… isn’t. Don’t be the latter.

4. Established a group of trustworthy peers


It’s important to adhere to #3, come in ready to be productive and be an asset to your classmates, so then they will be one to you.

Chances are you’re going to have grueling projects and brutal tests and it’s important to have a group you can reach out to for help. At the end of the day you’re all in this together and having a support system in your same situation is invaluable.

5. Know what your time is worth


There will be an impossible amount of work, reading, classes, responsibilities, etc. that you will be expected to take on. And unfortunately as your work increases the hours in a day do not, so it’s important to know what deserves your time and what has to be sacrificed.

If you have a teacher who doesn’t take attendance and you know is just going to stand at the front of the classroom and read off of PowerPoint slides then perhaps when a project or essay is due you skip that class. If an assignment if worth X points in one class, but you have one due in another class that is worth Y, maybe you take the L in one instance so you can thrive in the other.

6. At some point you’re going to get kicked in the teeth


Without fail you will be sitting in a test or staring at a blank word document and your world will come crumbling down as you see the future you’ve put years of work into slipping away.

But, don’t worry it’s not. However, I assure you it will feel like it.

I remember sitting in a Tax exam that made up 50% of my grade thinking “this it it, I’m going to flunk out of school, I’m not prepared for this.” Just take your deep breaths or however you cope and remember you’ve made it this far for a reason and power through.

7. Do not have a boyfriend/girlfriend in grad school


Relationships are distracting. Relationships are a lot of work. Especially new ones when you’re in that honeymoon phase when all you want to do is you know what and that is not a recipe for productivity. Having a clear mind and ample time is crucial at this point and you can’t afford to have those fleeting hours dedicated to someone else, this is a time to be selfish.

8. Disregard #7


All that stuff I said about not being in a relationship? Forget it, because see #6? You know what really helps when you just want to put your head in your hands and sit in the fetal position? Having someone who can be your rock.

As much as impending adulthood gives us this sense that we have to independent and our own form of motivation, we all need cheerleaders sometime and a person who can tell us everything is going to work out. So, while on paper having to dedicate a good portion of your time to someone else seems like a bad idea in grad school, having a person who unconditionally cares for you is a benefit that cannot be understated.

9. Do something for yourself everyday


Whether it’s go to the gym, read, draw, whatever, just have time set aside that is absolutely for you. When your life revolves around studying and projects and all that you need an outlet where for an hour or however long each day is for you.

Knowing that you have an escape from stress coming makes the moments writing a term paper or studying for an exam seem more possible.

10. Give yourself the opportunity to cut loose


While it is important to budget your time and dedicate the necessary hours to your school work it’s just as important to celebrate the victories and mourn the losses, within reason.

If you just busted your ass on a project, treat yourself. A night (or several) here or†there spent at the bar won’t derail you. The best way to stay on track is to get a little weird here and there.

And if you just got your ass kicked, well shit, wallow in a beer for a little bit, just remember that after its over you have to get back it. And let me tell you, that “I just finished grad school” beer will be the best tasting one you’ve had to date.

This is†admittedly corny, but a big thank you to my family for their support (not just through this, but for the past 24 years), my friends for aiding me exceptionally†well with #10, my girlfriend for being my biggest cheerleader and for the entire staff at Two Buttons Deep for dealing with my painfully irregular writing schedule.

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