A Gal’s Guide to Transitioning to Grad School (Without Going Nuts)
The last two weeks leading up to the start of school were always full of anticipation as a child. Summer was waning and a new school year was on the horizon. I would wonder to myself, who would be in my class? Were my best friends from the previous year going to be there? Would I be so lucky as to be assigned a seat next to a cute boy? What style did I want to go for in terms of outfits? Would I *finally* reach Hermione Granger status in terms of grades and achievement?
Now, after four solid years in the working world, I’m returning to school. The anticipation is still real, but my focus has certainly shifted!
Establishing a routine is always key. Once you’re familiar with where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, the rest is second nature, so it has been key for me to figure out ahead of time how I’m getting to campus, where I’ll be parking, where my classes are, and what could stop me from getting to where I need to be (rush hour, getting lost on campus, running into a friend and getting caught up in a conversation). Establishing logistics will definitely come with experience as well, but it’s important to try to prepare in advance, because once this is out of the way, you can get down to business studying it up.
Grad school will be hard! This makes community even more important. I think it’s important to have two forms of community. The first would be your peers in your program who you can study with and who can let you know if you missed something in class. The second is a faith community. It could be found at your university, however, I’d recommend looking outside of it as well. When you’re in the midst of the storm that is grad school, you will need community members who can remind you the world is bigger than what you’re living through. They’ll also need to speak truth into your life regarding matters of the faith when, as happens to all of us, you may be going through moments of doubt.
If you’re a fulltime student such as myself, any sort of income you receive will probably come from odd jobs such as housesitting (or, if you’re lucky, cat sitting, although admittedly, only we cat people would say that) and then, of course, student loans or scholarship money. Just because you’re not working, however, doesn’t mean budgeting isn’t important. Schedule 30-60 minutes once a month to take note of what you’ve been spending. You may just want to devote that time to studying, but the peace of mind both in the short term and long term of knowing your spending habits will be worth it.
Grad school feels both like drinking from a fire hose and playing an intense game of dodgeball. So much is coming your way, and you want to take in the good and avoid the bad. And no matter how capable you may be, you cannot do this without God. Set aside 15-30 minutes of prayer each day, whether that’s daily Mass, Adoration, or coffee with a devotional. Go to your Father with your needs, worries, and desires because in this whirlwind that you find yourself, you will need a compass.
Why am I there?
School isn’t forever; in a year or two you will be in the working world once more. So connect with your purpose. Why did you choose this program? What do you hope to achieve? Try to find 30 min a week to reflect on your purpose and career goals.
Be Gentle with Yourself!
You might dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, and still arrive late to class, forget to order a book, get stuck in traffic, etc. If you struggle with perfectionism, you may need to work especially hard to absorb these mistakes (which are a product of your human nature) with grace and perspective, learning to see them as opportunities to grow in dependence on God, humility, and experience. When I’m sweating the small stuff, I ask for St. Therese of Lisieux’s intercession and remember her teaching that our flaws attract God’s grace in a special way. A source of consolation for me has also been this video of Saint Josemaria, urging us to overcome ourselves every day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF2yioZsCHc
While there’s probably many more tips and tricks to starting school, I hope this guide works as a good starting point! May God bless you as you set out on this new educational endeavor!
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