If you’ve gotten into grad school and you’re all set to go, you might be feeling a mixture of emotions. It can be confusing to sift through feeling elated yet nervous and anxious at the same time. One of the best ways to relieve some anxiety about starting your grad school studies is to prepare for everything early. But what exactly do you need to do to get ready?
We’ve put together these top tips on how to prepare for grad school to help you navigate this exciting time in your life.
Prepare Yourself Financially
No doubt you’ve already looked into the financial side of things when you were preparing for graduate school. Paying for grad school is no joke, after all, since it can cost thousands of dollars per year. But, even if you’ve already looked into the financial aspect of things, there’s still a fair amount of financial preparation you can do just before starting grad school.
For example, you can perform all the prep and paperwork necessary for any student loans you took on.
You can also prepare a budget that will allow you to live comfortably as you study.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to go to grad school without having to change their living arrangements. Some people end up having to move cities or states, and some may even move across the country (or world) just to complete their graduate studies program.
If you find yourself having to move for your education, make sure that you take the time to find the right living arrangements well before school starts.
If on-campus accommodation makes the most sense for you, get started finding a room. If you’d rather have your own place (or a shared place with roommates) off-campus, do your best to find the right place well before your program begins so you have time to move and get settled comfortably.
It might be a good idea to arrange visits before you fully commit to moving in. To save time and travel expenses, you may want to see some living arrangements while you also go to check out your future campus.
One thing to try and tick off your grad school checklist just before your program begins is taking time for yourself.
Grad school will be a busy endeavor, and you’ll likely find yourself struggling for free time — especially if you’re maintaining a job while you study.
If you can, it might be a good idea to take yourself on vacation. At the very least, you can take a “staycation” by taking a few days off and staying at home doing nothing but relaxing and doing your favorite things. Now might just be the time to binge-watch that TV series you’ve been meaning to see.
Know No One Will Spoon Feed You
One thing that you might find to be an adjustment is that grad school is completely different from undergrad. In a graduate studies program, no one will spoon feed you. You’ll have to figure things out on your own and find information on your own.
In undergrad, you may have still had a safety net: your professors. In grad school, it’s a good idea not to expect the same amount of assistance. You may get some guidance here and there, but you’ll likely have to do the work yourself.
Find Good Mentors and Make a Good Impression
A mentor can help you make it through your graduate studies with a little bit more guidance, which is why it’s important to find a good mentor early on in your program.
You don’t necessarily have to do this before going to grad school, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind when it finally begins. Make it a point to connect with the faculty. Connect with professors and try to make a good impression through your academic performance and by talking to them during visiting hours and at any department events.
Remember, your professors, and most especially your adviser, are the ones who will be making recommendations about any opportunities such as fellowships and jobs. Cultivating positive relationships with your mentors can make your life easier in the long run.
Pick Other Graduate Students’ Brains
When you go for your campus visit (which we highly recommend doing, by the way), you may want to talk to other graduate students in your programs and pick their brains. Offer to buy them a coffee while you talk to them and ask them a thing or two about their experience so far.
We’ll always recommend talking to other graduate students as one of the best things to do before starting grad school because it can:
Give you insider info that would otherwise take you a while to figure out
Help you know what to expect with each professor
Help you form strategies to get through the program
Allow you to make friends in the same field and give you a potential support system
Although no two grad school experiences will be the same, knowing what you’re in for can help you mentally prepare for the future.
As the start of grad school looms ever closer, one thing you might want to try is to be as organized as possible. The amount of research, school work, and paperwork you’ll be doing through your program means you’ll end up with mountains of information. If you’re not careful, you might end up with a mess that’s too difficult to untangle right when you’re pressed for time.
Here are a few things you can do to help you stay organized:
Label everything properly. Whether you’re making handwritten notes in a notebook or typing things up on your tablet or computer, make sure you’re labeling everything properly. When you save your research or your work, carefully choose file names — don’t just save everything as untitled1, untitled2, and untitled3! Organize your files into folders and nest those folders as necessary.
Scan and save any hard copies. If you have anything on paper, such as work or feedback from your professors, scan those copies and file them away. The good news is you don’t even need a scanner these days since many modern smartphones will allow you to take clear photos of any hard copy documents (just make sure you have good lighting). Some phones even have a dedicated “scan” or “document” mode on their camera apps.
Keep backups of your backups. We’ve all heard stories about people who’ve lost years of work because their laptop broke or got stolen, and they didn’t have any backups! Save yourself the headache and heartache and invest in a physical storage solution like a USB stick, an external hard drive, or an external SSD. It might even be a good idea to keep two backups — one on physical storage and one on the cloud, such as on Dropbox or Google Drive.
Take time to reorganize your files every now and then. Even if you try to keep organized as much as possible, there will be times when you’re in a rush and can’t file everything properly. Taking some time to make sure you file everything properly can be a lifesaver later on.
Remember that what works for everyone might not necessarily work for you. Figure out a system that suits you best.
Refamiliarize Yourself with Creating Citations and Bibliographies
In grad school, you’ll most likely have to prepare many reports and papers along the way. It’s important to get familiar with creating citations and bibliographies, as you’ll need to be familiar with this process to make your work more credible. It might also be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the APA writing style and format.
Try to Create a Schedule
As you start getting more information about your courses, it might be a good idea to begin creating schedules. Organize things around your classes and make sure you don’t accidentally create a mess for yourself. Try to space things out enough to allow you to take a breather here and there.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of logistics and actual preparation involved when prepping for graduate school. But it’s important to look beyond your grad school checklist and also make sure that you’re mentally preparing yourself for what’s coming next. Here are a few things that might help:
Try Not to Overload Yourself
Don’t take on too much right off the bat. It’s easy to feel like you can handle more than you actually can, especially when you don’t know how much work will be involved just yet. However, even if you were doing well in undergrad and didn’t feel like life balance was a problem, it might still be a good idea to take it slow.
You might want to wait until you at least know what to expect from your courses before you pick up more units. Talking to other students in your program might help you understand what to expect earlier on.
Do Your Best Not to Procrastinate
Nearly everyone has a complicated relationship with procrastination. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to procrastinate, but sometimes it just gets incredibly difficult to motivate yourself when you’re feeling blocked or in a funk. Sometimes, procrastination can just feel kind of “good” for the soul.
Regardless, it’s a good idea to avoid too much procrastination.
Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be good to get a thing or two out of the way every single day. It can be something small or something important. What matters is you do the work necessary to avoid things piling up and causing you bigger problems in the long run.
When things get rough and busy, many people end up throwing self-care out the window because it feels like it’s not necessarily the most important priority at the moment. But part of preparing for grad school is remembering that you need to take care of yourself while studying. It could be something as simple as making sure that you always have your favorite snack stocked. Or, you could make sure you always have what you need to relax and unwind, even if it’s only for a couple of hours.
Getting your “self-care kit” ready before your program begins is a great way to make sure you can always take a break when you need it most.
Bonus: Remember to Ask for Help If You Need It
Grad school is a wild ride that can be stressful and overwhelming at times. If you find yourself struggling to balance your studies with your other responsibilities like your family, health, or job, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Having someone take a load off your hands might mean the difference between burning out or being able to finish an important project.
Asking for help isn’t just for the times you’re feeling overwhelmed, either. If you feel lost or unsure how to proceed in your program, seek help from your adviser and professors. You can also talk to other students to see what strategies might be working for them.
In the end, as long as you’re not breaking any rules, there’s nothing wrong with getting some help.
Conclusion: You Know How to Prepare for Grad School Best
Preparing for grad school is an individual experience that will differ from person to person. What someone did to prep might not be the same things you’ll need to do to feel ready for your program. In the end, you’ll know what you need best, so trust your own judgment!