Originally Posted: Mar 27, 2015
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2015
We know it’s a bold claim. But hear us out . . .
Whether you’re starting grad school as soon as the ink dries on your brand-new undergrad degree or waiting a few years to gain some professional experience, you’ll realize pretty quickly that graduate school is very different than undergrad—and that’s a good thing.
By nature, graduate school is much more focused on academics. As an undergrad, you probably divided your time between some combination of going to class, hanging out, finding your social niche, choosing a major, doing some work-study, and extracurricular activities. And that’s exactly what your undergrad experience should be: exploring your options, discovering who you are, and choosing a professional direction while having some fun along the way.
Fast-forward to graduate school, where your professors and colleagues assume you’ve had those formative experiences and that you’re ready to take the next professional step. The pressure in grad school and undergrad is different, although both can be intense. Undergraduate students face more external pressure from family, friends, professors, even potential employers, all of them offering overwhelming amounts of life advice. For grad students, that pressure is often internal; they are better tuned into their gut instincts and career path, so they tend to be more selective with the professional guidance they choose to follow.
Once you’ve gotten in the routine of your grad school classes, you can immerse yourself in the aspects of your field that truly spark your interest and passion. Sure, you had a major as an undergrad and focused on specific topics within that major, but you probably just scratched the surface of those topics before graduation. In graduate school you’re encouraged to dig deeper and make new contributions to your area of study. You might be studying and conducting research with some of the brightest minds in your industry. It’s an opportunity to dig in and learn all you can about the lost manuscripts of an obscure 18th century Italian poet. To travel to the rainforest to conduct firsthand research about a rare plant thought to have strong medicinal properties. To examine a piece of legislation that you feel strongly about and can improve the lives of millions. To find a way to improve the small business enterprise system. Your learning will be more personal and likely more engaging too.
In grad school you’re surrounded by other like-minded individuals who share your passion. This will likely mean noticeably different conversations from your undergrad years. Your fellow grad students will be colleagues, not just classmates. Perhaps you’ll collaborate on a groundbreaking research project or team up to write a paper for a respected academic conference. You may still face an all-nighter or two, but as a grad student, both the circumstances (you probably weren’t just putting off writing a paper) and the results (you’re presenting important research to a roomful of professionals whose work you greatly admire) will be different from your undergrad years.
The best part of graduate school? Maturity. You’ll have a stronger sense of self and be ready to seek out answers to some of the most persistent questions in your field. And you can still go out after class for a couple of beers with your classmates—your professor might even come too.