7 Essential Grad School Tips from a Professional Career Consultant

Balancing grad school and your personal and professional lives can be a challenge, but you can take certain steps to make it work. Here, a professional career consultant weighs in.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 

  7. 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.

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