5 Things To Expect When You Go To Grad School
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
My capstone is officially submitted. Classes have ended. My anxiety level is down to like a...seven. Grad school is over.
Fifteen months ago I started my graduate studies at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University as a member of their Comm@Syracuse Online Master's Program. It wasn't easy by any means, but my cohort and I have finally crossed the finish line. While I applied to graduate school with the goal of learning more about Public Relations and transitioning to the communications field, grad school ended up teaching me quite a bit about myself and life as well. Here are some expectations for those of you heading to grad school.
1. There may come a time where your only "why" is you, and that's okay.
In undergrad I was always motivated to finish school because of all of the people I felt were counting on me. My parents, mentors, professors I'd become close with over time - they all expected me to finish what I'd started and to do it well. Grad school didn't quite come with the same motivation. This was an endeavor I'd chosen freely. I was living independently, and had a full time job that paid well and was pretty enjoyable. There wasn't an incessant need for me to finish grad school, and sometimes I questioned whether my selfish reasons for wanting my master's were enough. Turns out? They are.
It's perfectly okay to go after a huge goal when your only reason for wanting it is personal satisfaction. After finishing classes I can definitely say those types of accomplishments probably feel better than anything else.
2. School might affect your mental health, and it's okay to talk about that.
I've written in previous posts how my anxiety took a turn for the worst in 2018. Grad school was a huge factor in the level of stress I was under on a constant basis. I initially had a difficult time understanding why I was so much more stressed out this go-around than I ever had been in undergrad, but I didn't realize until recently that I'd had so many more outlets back then to relieve stress than I did this time.
In undergrad I was in marching band, wind ensemble, jazz ensemble, and had a student ambassador position. My friends lived right next door, upstairs or even down the hall at times. I was surrounded by people whether I wanted to be or not. I had a social life despite being busy, and things to do that were unrelated to my classes. That changed in grad school, which consisted of working full time then coming straight home (I live across the street from my job) for class, then homework. I occasionally hung out with my sister and had some fun, but for the most part I had a routine that consisted of work then being alone in my apartment in front of a computer almost every day.
I began to isolate myself without realizing it, and when my anxiety because unmanageable I was so used to not speaking to people that I didn't know how to reach out to anyone about it. Fortunately, my sister and some close friends reached out when they could. Eventually I sought therapy which helped me to find a healthy balance between work, school, and getting out to have some fun. If you are thinking about graduate school, please take your mental health into consideration. Make sure you find a healthy balance between school, work, and self-care. Your degree is useless to you if you aren't okay.
3. You won't know everything, and you never will.
One thing I loved about my grad program is that all of my professors kept repeating phrases like "the world is always changing." While we were being taught some pretty awesome things about our field, they always reminded me that things can change. My knowledge has to keep expanding. I am always a student, even when I become a specialist. If I am not constantly trying to learn, then I have failed myself.
I also had great classmates who constantly gave suggestions on projects and work ideas. The process is made easier when you keep your mind open to critiques and suggestions. Having a Master's degree now doesn't feel like I've finished learning - it feels more like I get limitless opportunities to learn even more.
4. You'll want to say thank you, often.
When you're working toward a big goal you often don't realize how many people support you on the way. People call to check up, they send a text every now and then, they feed you, listen to you vent, watch your cat when you have to fly off on weekend residencies (hey Alea.) My classmates and I even created a group chat after one of our first weekend residencies and kept each other motivated, laughed with each other and just tried to make the experience a bit easier when things got tough.
There were so many people in my circle making sure I was okay while I tried to keep my head straight - and if I tried to name them all I'd probably leave a few out. Still I'm so grateful and trying my best to say thank you in any way that I can. Be sure to thank the people who support you in little or big ways - from recommendation letters to making sure you've eaten that day. Say thank you.
5. You'll realize that you're capable of so much more than you ever thought possible.
Finally, one of my lessons from my 2018 reflection post makes a return.
Grad school and a master's degree can feel impossible for some. I didn't think I deserved a master's. I didn't think I was even capable of going that far. Something my therapist (and my boyfriend) both helped me realize is that I didn't have a single reason WHY I wasn't capable of it. I had done the work. I had done the research and dedicated the time. If I wasn't capable of a master's degree then how had I even gotten admitted? How had I gotten this far?
Ever since that conversation I've adopted the phrase "You are a big f****** fish."
It may sound silly, but I use it to remind myself that although the world may look like a gigantic ocean, unexplored, intimidating and scary - I am a big fish. I am capable of facing it all and not falling short.
And I mean....here we are. Ready to swim.