Tips for Grad School Success

Tips for Grad School Success

The decision to pursue graduate education is rarely simple, especially if you are a working professional with multiple responsibilities and a full life. That being said, there is sound advice available for anyone considering a return to higher education:

  • Prioritize. There will be a lot thrown at you from the minute you start graduate school, and it’s up to you to figure out what’s most important to do now, and what can wait until later. Don’t procrastinate: Big projects may need to be tackled piece by piece, and you’ll be responsible for not letting all of your other work and responsibilities slide in the meantime.
  • Get organized. Much of what you do on the graduate level will be useful down the line, whether that means an assignment will become a part of a portfolio or the research you do will find an eventual place on your resume. Come up with a system where you can compile anything you may return to after graduation, separate from any thesis materials you already know you’ll need.
  • Expect to be busy. If you struggled with time management as an undergraduate, you’ll need to think about breaking that bad habit as soon as you start your new life as a graduate student. The assignments you’re given will be more involved, the exams you take will take more preparation, and you’ll be spending more of your time on academic work, whether that’s on research, a thesis paper, or keeping on top of your studying.
  • Take initiative. There isn’t much hand-holding in graduate school, and you’ll largely be expected to figure things out on your own. The time to become more independent is now. If you do have questions about your financial aid, a big assignment, or anything else, it’s up to you to find the answer. Your professors will definitely appreciate you coming to them sooner rather than later.
  • Study now. It’s much harder to procrastinate on graduate level work than it may have been when you were an undergraduate so stay on top of your studies. The best way to avoid burnout (and all-nighters) is to manage your time. Keep a calendar, to-do list, or whatever will help keep you on track, because we guarantee the coursework and assignments expected of you will be more intense than those you may have been used to as an undergraduate.
  • Revise your approach. Starting graduate school with the attitude that it will be a breeze just because you were a stellar undergraduate probably isn’t the best idea. Pursuing an advanced degree won’t be the same as pursuing your bachelor’s, nor should it be. Go into the experience with high expectations for yourself, and the attitude that you’ll need to devote more time to your academic life to be successful.

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Finally, take care of yourself:

  • Manage stress. Adequate nutrition, sleep, and regular exercise are fundamental to your success. Our level of function is highly dependent on our diet and adequate sleep according to research; exercise helps keep stress hormones at an appropriate level. Your health is key to reaching the goal of earning your degree so take care of yourself.

Other resources for prospective and current graduate students:

Tips for success in online courses:


About the Author:

In her role as the Director of Student Affairs and Faculty Services, Carlie Houchins supports students through academic advising, registration and policy guidance, while maintaining a safe and effective environment for students, faculty and staff. Houchins received a BA in education from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and an MBA in marketing management from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. She is currently completing an Ed.D. in educational leadership at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

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