Steve Langerud has worked with more than 15,000 people, helping them in their professional planning, including making the decision to attend graduate school (or not). He’s a noted career expert, quoted in news stories from NPR to The New York Times. And he was once a grad student too.
Here he offers his top tips for making the most of grad school—seven expert insights that will make you feel like you’re getting a consulting session for free!
First things first: graduate school is not the place to figure out your life; graduate school is about preparing as an expert in your field. Have a clear goal, do your research to find the right program to position you well professionally, make a plan, and commit 100% to your plan.
- Have a picture of what you will be doing professionally when your degree is done. Do you need to go to graduate school to fulfill that picture? Too many people invest time and money in a degree that they don't need when a course, certificate, or specific skill would do just as well.
- Get someone else to pay for it! I'm always surprised by the number of undergraduates and working professionals who have no idea how graduate school works financially. Pursue assistantships, scholarships, fellowships, etc.
- Pick your colleagues and peers, not a program. For many people, the key issue in selecting a graduate program is their peer group. Between institutions, faculties tend to look more similar than students. These will be people on whom you will call for the rest of your working life. Choose them wisely.
- Be clear about how you learn. There is more flexibility in graduate school education today than at any time in history. The way you learn best can be accommodated. Determine what that is and seek it out.
- Define your schedule. Not everyone can go back to school full time. Be honest with yourself and people like partners, family, friends, and employers who will be affected by the time commitments you will need to make to your graduate studies.
- Don't take it personally. Going to graduate school is about creating a professional identity, and that means learning new things. Sometimes learning new things makes us vulnerable. But you are not alone! Take risks and be open to failure; you’ll grow stronger for what you learn from being open to learning.
- Ask for help. There are many people in your life, both professional and personal, committed to your success. Graduate school is a time to push your limits, meet new people, and position yourself for a new chapter in your life. Plan well, invest completely, and let other people help you make the most of a great opportunity.