Starting grad school can be scary, whether you’re coming in straight out of undergrad or returning to school after some time out in the “real world.” While there’s no substitute for school-specific experience (which is a great reason to seek advice from students who are already enrolled in your program), these five actions will probably make the first day go a little more smoothly. As an added bonus, having something constructive to do will probably give you a sense of control, which is often sadly lacking in the weeks leading up to the semester’s beginning.
1. Find the coffee.
Maybe your department is small enough to have a lounge with a communal (free!) pot; maybe you’ll be forced to make frequent Starbucks runs. Know where to find the caffeine, because it’s the fuel on which most grad students run.
2. Be sure that you’re in sync with the university’s computing requirements.
If you’ll be using a laptop in class, take it to campus a few days ahead of time to get your wireless access running smoothly. Some campuses require that you download specific software or have a username and password, and those aren’t things you want to be dealing with on your first day.
3. Get a day-planner.
You might use your smartphone, or maybe you’re the old-fashioned type and prefer paper-based calendars—just find something to keep yourself organized. The first few weeks of grad school will probably include many meetings, lectures, and required appointments with advisors; you need to be able to keep all of that straight with minimum fuss.
4. Have some business cards made up.
Or make them yourself. In many programs, the academics are only a small portion of the value of grad school. Networking opportunities abound, especially at the beginning of the semester when introductory events are common. Have some simple cards ready with your name, program, and contact information; hand them out to new friends and classmates to make forming study groups and other social connections easier.
5. Figure out the transportation situation ahead of time.
Will you be driving, biking, taking the bus? Drivers should find out where the most convenient parking is, whether they’ll need change to feed the parking meter, and what kinds of backup plans are available—you don’t want to miss your first class because you’re circling the block, waiting for a metered spot to open up, not knowing that there’s a parking garage on the next block. Bikers should research the local bike laws and routes to be sure that they can get where they’re going safely and legally. And bus riders need to know what the fare is, whether it requires change or a pass, and what the schedules are. The first step to succeeding in grad school is actually getting there.
Do you have some wisdom to share about the first day of grad school? Put it in the comments!