You’re in. Congratulations! Be excited and celebrate. Also, prepare. You want to make the best impression while in graduate school. And in order to make that impression, you need to be as stress-free as possible. If you can establish a good balance early on—studying, socializing, networking, and excelling at an internship—then you will be on track to succeed. Also essential to that balance is a solid living environment. As you can see, while there are many aspects to life in graduate school, they are all linked together and should work in harmony. We’re here to help you put all the pieces in the right place.
Summer time, and the livin’ is easy. That’s not entirely true, but you should make it a point to relax during the weeks and months of the summer before graduate school. Up to this point, you’ve likely been working hard, whether you were working a full-time job or completing the multitude of work necessary to graduate with your bachelor’s degree.
The best way to manage the weeks and months before graduate school is to budget your time well. Carve out time to breathe while getting some prep work done. One thing that will make your life easier is to calculate your financial budget several months before your graduate school program begins. Decide whether you will be able to take the summer off from work completely, or whether you will need those funds to make ends meet while in school. Some students choose to work full-time to make as much money as possible, and continue once the program starts—with a part-time course load. Others choose a full-time class schedule and part-time job. Others can afford to go to school full-time without working. Of course, this is ideal because graduate school can be rigorous and time consuming on its own. Everyone’s finances are different. The important thing is to take an honest look at your bank account and plan ahead.
Even if you aren’t working full or part-time before grad school, try to earn some extra money somehow. If you’re a writer, take on an editing project. Or, if you’re a graphic designer, accept some freelance work. Even if you have figured out how to cover tuition and living expenses with grants, awards, government and/or private loans, unexpected expenses almost always arise. If you have a car on campus, you might need a repair. You might need to travel unexpectedly. Or, you might want to take a partner out on a fancy date to celebrate an anniversary. In general, it’s smart to have a slush fund.
Try to check items off your to-do list and schedule those irritating annual appointments with doctors and the dentist, so it’s not another thing to worry about once classes begin.
One part of planning before graduate school might be to save money by living with family before your grad program starts. You can help your family with projects around the house and spend time with them before you’re swamped with work and research. And, in return, you can save funds that can be applied to rent in a few months.
At the very least, try to allot the last two weeks before you move into your apartment or dormitory to clear your head and gather materials. You’ll want to be prepared with the things you need. It’s a good idea to move early to allow time to get settled, especially if you are in a new city and living near a new campus. Once you arrive, find the library and on-campus coffee shop (for your own caffeine-fixes and so you’ll know where to go if someone asks you to meet). Check out the campus workout area and find the activities center, where you can look for events that interests you. While you likely won’t have a lot of free time, you’ll need to have some kind of social life.
Ask yourself how you are feeling and what you need to start on the first day of graduate school with a healthy outlook and lifestyle. By the time some students enter a graduate school program, they’re already burned out from rigorous senior year undergraduate seminars, internships and fellowships. Others find that their first job out of undergrad has fatigued them. Find a way to recharge and feel refreshed. That means something different to everyone. Read a book, visit friends, or take a small trip.
This summer is a transition. Make the best of it.
Before you pack, de-clutter. It will reduce your stress in so many ways. Bring clothes, of course, but only the ones that you wear several times a month. Don’t bring the dress or sweatshirt you haven’t worn for over a year. Don’t bring a ton of decorations, either (maybe just a few treasured photographs).
Bring a solid planner and wall or desk calendar. This way, you will be able to manage short, mid and long-term deadlines with ease.
Purchase and bring only the books you need ahead of time. Instead of buying them from the campus bookstore, try to buy them used online. If a book is particularly expensive, reach out to current students (or look on message boards) to see if it’s absolutely necessary. Reach out to students in your program to ask if someone might be interested in splitting the cost and sharing an expensive book. In addition, ask your program or university’s librarian which books are regularly available at the library.
On that note, a small bookshelf could be helpful, especially to organize academic and personal books. If your apartment doesn’t come with a desk, find one from Ikea or a nice used one from craigslist. Another good place to look: on-campus bulletin boards. Students often post fliers to get rid of their furniture for cheap. Inside the desk, you might want things like post-it notes and an organizer for small and large paper clips.
Keep in mind that some larger items are more expensive to bring than they are to repurchase. Take stock of what you have and what you will truly need and plan accordingly.
Make sure you have chargers for your mobile devices and laptop. If possible, even an extra. Also, if you have a vehicle on campus, bring a car charger for your cell phone. We all know how frustrating it is to have a cell phone battery die at an important moment.
Some city residents find that “granny carts,” or small foldable carts on wheels, are helpful for grocery shopping and moving heavy items. Consider buying one of those before classes start.
Consider bringing a couple of items purely for comfort or relaxation. Perhaps your favorite fleece blanket or slippers. Or you might want a spice rack that includes exotic spices and herbs for cooking your family’s favorite meals. Consider bringing a teapot and teas and the kitchen items you use at least once per week.
If your family asks what you might need for graduate school, it’s a good idea to tell them you would like gift cards for places like Costco, Amazon, and your favorite restaurant. Gift cards don’t take up much space and they come in handy.
Most of all, bring your energy and determination. Graduate school will test you in many ways. If you’re stressed, remember that a semester is a finite amount of time that will pass. Before you know it, you will be finished and walking across the stage to receive your diploma.
Graduate school will present you with many challenges, but this is perhaps the first one that you should anticipate: How do you get the most out of your program?
Graduate school tests students personally, academically, and professionally. Be like a sponge. Think about how to best use your program’s resources and absorb every bit of knowledge and experience. Initially, graduate school may feel unending. But the time passes quickly and you’ll graduate before you know it. You want to walk across the stage certain that you learned all you could and made every possible connection.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time in graduate school: