College Advice Blog

May 30, 2011

Tips for Transitioning from College to Grad School

Black Cardboard Graduation Cap
Your four years of undergraduate education are now in your rearview mirror and you’ve chosen to pursue a graduate degree. You might have left your alma mater only a few months ago, or you might have spent several years in the workforce getting to know yourself professionally; but either way, you are now embarking on a new stage of your educational and professional life. 

And one thing is for certain: Graduate school is vastly different from college.

The transition from college to graduate school can be a rocky one. You might very well encounter situations that seem familiar but that demand something completely different from you in order to be successful. Depending on the type of graduate degree you have chosen to work towards, you may now be expected to create knowledge, as opposed to consume knowledge.  Gone are the days when you can supplement your course load with fun electives like “Intro to Acting” and the “History of Rock and Roll.” Now, you mean business. 

Like any time of change, your transition from college education to graduate school education can be a bit of a shock to the system. But it’s nothing a little preparedness and foresight can’t help to alleviate. Here are three tips to help you better ease into the graduate school atmosphere:

Anticipate the Change
The skills you’ve gained during your undergraduate career are invaluable. They will serve you well once you move on to the graduate level, but you must keep your mind open to the idea that you will need to develop new skills and adapt to educational settings in a way that may be foreign to you. You cannot afford to be stubborn, to convince yourself that you already have all the requisite tools to be successful at the graduate level. By anticipating that you will need to change, that you will need to grow, it will turn what for many graduate students is a period of growing pains into expected stages of personal evolution.

Use your Classmates as Support
The nature of undergraduate education and the competitive aspect of the application process put you against your peers. Whether it’s beating the class average on an exam in college or having the best interview, you are hardwired to compete against your peers.  In graduate school, it is best to discard this competitive attitude in favor of a more cooperative mindset. You and your peers need not consider one another the opposition; instead, working collaboratively will enhance both the work experience and the product you put out at the end of the day. By jettisoning the distraction of needless competition and supporting one another, you and your classmates will gain deeper mastery of your subject matter.

Set goals
As an undergrad, you probably set goals for yourself that helped you to arrive at this point in your academic career. These goals could have been small (like setting deadlines for yourself) or they could have been big (like graduating with honors), but they were concrete enough for you to look towards and set your mind to achieving. If you are a habitual goal-setter, do not stop! Setting goals in graduate school may be even more helpful, as the curriculum and environment are very different. You are expected to do a lot of learning and researching on your own time, and setting goals will help you have a clear idea of the direction in which you are heading. 

All in all, transitioning from college to grad school is a very exciting time. While you are certainly well-equipped with the tools and skills you honed in your undergraduate career, you should embrace the fact that grad school is new and different and demands a new and different attitude to become successful. 

About The Author
This post is written by Jenn Pedde who is the community manager for the Masters inSocial Work program at the University of Southern California, which has one of the nation’s leading military social work concentrations.  She’s an avid traveler and loves photography. 

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