What I Learned From My First Semester of Grad School

Andddd…. that’s a wrap!  Yes, you read that correctly, I am done with my very first semester towards my Master’s degree.  The time actually went by really quickly.  It’s not quite like undergrad where one semester is 1/8 of your college career.  One semester when you’re in a two-year Master’s program is 25% of your time there.  I’m not sure I’m ready to be done in another three… but, hey, time flies when you’re having fun (or are just so busy that you forget to notice the time passing you by).  I wanted to share a few things with all of you about how it went and what advice I have to share with people considering schooling past their Bachelor’s.

Things in my program were really crazy and busy.  My classes were pretty boring (I’m going to be honest), but my internship was really, really cool.  I spent a lot of time this semester helping children 3-10 understand grief and loss.  I found a real interest in this kind of work, and who knows, maybe I’ll end up in a job like this someday.  It sounds like really sad work, but it’s been so rewarding to watch these kids grow and learn what it looks like to live a life as best as they can while they’re missing someone who has died.  And as a bonus, I got to use a lot of theatre and music in helping these kids (so my Bachelor’s degree did not go completely to waste!).

I also got to go on a home visit (with cookies!), perform a psychosocial analysis on a client, meet some students in the medical school for a project, and perform a pretty basic research project.  But, alright, enough about me.  What kind of things do I have to say for you?  Well, if you’re someone thinking about going to grad school or are someone who is just curious what I have found to be helpful this year… read on.

Taking notes on laptops is the norm and I hate it.

Alright, folks.  I’m starting with this point because it has irked me all semester.  People walk into class with laptops and nothing else, and I don’t know how they concentrate.  It seems that the norm is to take notes on your laptop in class and to have your calendar available online, too.  I’m not a fan of either of those things.  You see, if I don’t write something down, I might forget it.  So, taking the e-note and e-calendar route is really hard for me.  I searched for a couple months at different stores for a huge monthly planner (not weekly, because I just like to look at things like due dates and work hours at a glance), before I finally found one.  And taking notes is difficult by hand because a lot of professors zoom through slide show presentations really quickly.  I managed to do okay this semester, because I use mini-notebooks to jot things down, but this paperless note-taking craze has got me wondering how people stay focused enough to learn anything in classes… anyone know?

Textbooks for graduate students are really, really expensive.

Okay, so maybe I just got too used to the nice prices of plays and short novels that I had to read as a theatre major in undergrad (granted, as a psychology minor, I did have to buy a few textbooks), but when I went to buy books at the beginning of the semester, I was floored by the prices.  I have always been one to rent textbooks, which has helped with prices a bit, but be prepared in graduate school to spend upwards of $300 just to rent your textbooks for a semester.

You’re going to be busy, but not as busy as you might think.

This is how my undergraduate career looked: weekdays were packed with classes, rehearsals, meetings, and scholarship requirements from about 8am/9am until 10pm or midnight; weekends were usually busy with things for my fraternity; and Sunday evenings were packed with rehearsals or meetings from 5pm until 10pm.

Here is how my semester looked this year: I spent two days a week from 9am until 5pm in the office at my internship, two days a week in classes from 8am until 3pm, and three evenings a week working with the kids at my internship.  My weekends were free, and I had an entire day each week to devote to studying or writing papers.

Now, maybe your undergraduate career wasn’t as busy as mine was, so jumping into a schedule with full days during the week seems really busy.  I don’t know, I guess it’s all relative. I’m not here to tell you that you won’t be busy, because you will be.

Living in a city is really fun, if you can afford it.

I looooooove living in Detroit (most of the time).  The parking is ridiculously expensive and sometimes I don’t feel very safe walking from my car by myself, but there is so much to do around here that I am never bored.  During the fall there was almost always a festival happening just down the street.

Professors are human (they make mistakes). 

I was taught as a child to be complacent and never to question adults and their decisions.  I learned quickly in graduate school that even adults make mistakes… and that it’s okay to sometimes call them out on it if your grade depends on it.  I have anxiety talking with people sometimes, but grad school really humanizes your professors, because you realize that they are professionals, but that they are there for you and your success as a mentor and friend.

Find a hobby or something that will keep you grounded and sane.

I go stir crazy in our little apartment, sometimes.  I found that playing guitar and writing blog content helped to give me something to do other than binge shows on Netflix or bake (even though baking is super fun, but being a stress eater makes having sweets around a little dangerous).

Make connections, it’s important.

Talk to people.  Get to know your professors.  Join a group, if you have time.  This is a crucial time in your life to network with people that will help you to land your dream job once you leave with your degree.

Meal prepping is hard, but worth it.

Okay, so, Dan and I started meal prepping about halfway through the semester.  It fell through, most of the time, but when we actually were able to meal prep, the entire day went a lot smoother and we managed to spend less money on fast food and carry-out.  I’ll probably post more about how to meal prep and what benefits there are to meal prepping for yourself or your family in the new year, but for now, just know that it takes a lot of time on your weekend (or whatever day you choose to devote to it), but it ends up saving you TONS of money and time in the long run.

Don’t go to graduate school unless you are very good at writing papers.

This is a hard lesson for some to learn as they get to graduate school, but graduate school is almost entirely graded based on papers.  Yes, that means that if you are not very good at writing papers, graduate school may not be the place for you.  I wrote almost 20 papers this semester, and only 3 of them were shorter than 8 pages at minimum.  Now, I also took 16 credits this semester (yes, they make us take that many grad-level courses at once, I think it’s insane), so maybe taking less would lighten that load, but writing papers is almost 100% of the game, here.  I adore writing, so graduate school has been amazing for me, so far.  Three semesters from now I will probably cringe at writing another paper, but for now, life is good.

Anyone reading have any other things they’d like to add to my list?  How was this semester for everyone else (grad school and otherwise?  — Let me know in the comments.

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