Graduate school can be one of the most rewarding times of your life. But even if you think you’re ready, it’s still easy to be thrown by the reality of your new academic environment. A good work ethic and passion for your subject aren’t enough. Below are five common mistakes grad students make, especially when coming straight from undergrad—don’t let this be you!
Not having a clear goal
Before you even consider committing time, money, and energy to a graduate program, think about where you want to go professionally and what you have to do to get there. If you’ve settled on a field you love and want to stay in long-term, look at your potential advancement opportunities and if you even need an advanced degree. Be sure that you’re continuing your education for the right reasons. If you’re about to graduate with your bachelor’s but aren’t sure about your career path, consider your options. Speak with a career counselor or line up a few informational interviews with folks in different fields to learn more about their jobs and their education. This may save you from enrolling in a graduate program you’re not fully passionate about. Don’t apply to graduate school just because your college friends all seem to be following that path; their career goals and professional interests could be completely different from yours.
Not charting your own course
Many students get their first taste of living on their own during their undergrad years, where mastering the laundry is no small feat. Graduate school takes personal responsibility to a new echelon. Rather than meeting with your advisor to schedule classes for the next semester, as a grad student you’ll find that you seek out advice or guidance from professors or your advisor as needed. Finding the right graduate advisor and developing a strong relationship with them is actually hugely important to your success. However, even with their assistance, in the end, you are responsible for making your grad school experience what you want it to be.
Not developing good time management skills
Grad students have different demands on their time, varying more widely than ever with the vast assortment of graduate school options now available (online, hybrid, part-time, professional programs, etc.). Juggling a job or family responsibilities in addition to course work, research, and other aspects of the program is not uncommon. Developing good time management skills and prioritizing your commitments will help you stay on track both in and out of the classroom.
Not building your network
You never know what opportunities may come your way, but you’ll never be considered for them if your professors and colleagues don’t even know who you are. Grad school is a prime time and place for networking—you're surrounded by colleagues and experts in your field—so don't squander the opportunity. Start building relationships with professors, classmates, and other professionals. You might be surprised by just how much you can help each other grow and succeed professionally, from recommending jobs to introducing helpful colleagues.
Not looking at the big picture
Sure, graduate school has its pressures and it’s easy to get discouraged. When the stress gets to be too much and you get overwhelmed, remember why you’re in the program and what you hope to accomplish. This is what you want to study more than anything else, so make the most of it and enjoy making new discoveries.