Graduate studies: can you hack it?


Tempted by the thought of a whole string of letters after your signature? Here are some points to consider when thinking about studying at the Masters or PhD level.

While no one can give you a magical formula for succeeding at school, here's a little food for thought when it comes to deciding whether or not you'll continue your studies at grad school.

I can barely keep up with my coursework now! How will I handle the intensity of grad school courses?
Good question. On one hand, if you're currently being dragged down by work-intensive courses that don't really relate to your major (e.g. breadth requirements), you won't have to worry about that so much in grad school. Your course load will be much more focused on courses that relate to your interests, and many students find that they are energized by finally getting to study what they're really interested in. Being among a small group of like-minded students will help too.

On the other hand, if you're currently taking courses that interest you but you're struggling to pass, graduate level studies might not be for you. Most graduate programs are looking for students with high academic averages (usually higher than B+) who will be focused and committed to their program of study.

I'm sick of school. I don't learn anything in classes with hundreds of other students.
Nobody wants to be "just a number", and there are few of us who really enjoy being in a gigantic 101-level class where the prof speaks with a microphone and half the students are checking their e-mail rather than listening to the lectures.

But, with very few exceptions, that is a scenario that is restricted to the undergrad level. Many schools pride themselves on their small graduate-level class sizes, which involve group discussion, presentations, and profs who know your name and are interested in hearing your opinion.

Personally, I've always learned best in small group environments where hearing the ideas of the prof and other students inspires me to think of new ways of looking at problems and texts. So why not contact a few prospective grad schools and ask them about their class sizes? You'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

What about essays and exams at the grad level? Aren't they super hard?
Well, I can't promise you they'll be easy… But remember, when you get to grad school you will have been working toward it for years. Grad schools are pretty smart - they only admit candidates who they're certain will pass and go on to do work that enhances the university's reputation. So if you get accepted, you can be pretty confident that you're going to do great!

Preparing for grad-level tests and exams isn't so different from preparing for undergrad ones. You've got to plan ahead, set goals, figure out what you need to study and research to get there, make a timeline, and just do the work!

And even more so than during your undergrad, you're going to have professors and colleagues who are there to support and guide you. You will be able to go to them when you're stuck or confused or feeling like you're falling behind and they'll sit down with you to figure out how to solve the problem. (And just between you and me, there are many academic graduate programs in which deadlines are much more flexible than their undergraduate counterparts!)

So... think about your priorities, think about where you see yourself in the future, and think about what it'll take to get there. Studying at the graduate level will be challenging, but we suspect that you - like most people who have completed a graduate degree - will find that it is a worthwhile investment in yourself.

Modified on April 23, 2009