Getting What You Want from Grad School

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014; by Derek Schardt

Derek Schardt portrait

I’ve been through four semesters and a summer session at UNL, and this fall’s my last semester! Here are three of the most important things I learned about getting what you want out of graduate school.

1. Graduate school prepares you for your goals.

I’m getting my MBA, so I tend to think about the cost and benefit of what I’m doing more than the average person. When choosing my program, two key factors for me were how much my program would cost and what my program could do for my educational and career interests.

To make your program even more affordable, there are a few things you can do. First, apply for scholarships offered through the University or your program. These are often competitive and cover some expenses. Students can also apply for research or teaching assistantships to cover tuition and additional expenses.

I chose the University of Nebraska-Lincoln because it’ll get me where I want to go. Not only am I doing my program at almost a quarter of the cost of the average MBA program, but the business school also has a good track record of helping students find great jobs after graduation. Simply put, UNL’s a great value.

2. Try to do everything associated with your program, but don’t overburden yourself with activities not related to your goals.

Many graduate students were probably highly active in campus clubs or involved with lots of activities outside of class as an undergrad. Graduate school programs take much more focus and time than an undergraduate program. Of course, being active on campus is an important part of being successful in a graduate program. But what some students often forget (myself included) is that the more distractions they have outside of their program, the more difficult it is to be effective in their courses and participate in their program’s extracurricular opportunities and activities.

Getting more involved with your program will help you meet and network with people who share the same interests and goals as yourself. You can:

  • Attend guest lectures related to topics associated with your program or research.
  • Join the student organization or club associated with your program or department.
  • Attend the research presentations of professors and peers in your program.
  • Regularly seek out opportunities to help your program’s professors or the department head with putting on department functions, including hosting guest speakers.

There’ll be many ways to be active in graduate school beyond just going to class and completing core requirements. Just make sure you don’t stretch yourself too thin with obligations!

3. Prioritize your daily schedule to support your learning.

This may sound obvious, but making and keeping a schedule is something I learned to do my first semester at UNL. I was a classic procrastinator in undergrad! I found that in grad school, the intensity of my classes and obligations made it essential for me to use my time outside of class wisely. I had to budget time so that I met program requirements and excelled in courses. Here are a few tips that will help you mange your time and learn more efficiently:

  • Schedule your classes so you have one a day.
  • Reread your notes after class and start any homework or projects assigned to you.
  • Set aside one or two days a week as your study day. Make this the day you spend in the library working on larger projects, researching, or studying for tests.
  • Have a day every week or part of every day when you can relax, catch up with friends and family, or do a fun activity. This is important for helping you relax and recharge.

I hope the lessons I’ve learned can help you plan your graduate life more effectively. If I had understood these lessons before I started graduate school, my schedule would’ve been a lot easier my first year!