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How to Succeed in Graduate School

October 28, 2020


By Caleb Jones

You’ve decided to pursue a graduate program, but it dawns on you that life doesn’t wait two or more years for you to get your graduate-level degree. What happens then? Bills still need to be paid. Kids still need to be dropped off at school. Your hectic schedule is filled to the brim. How are you supposed to be a successful graduate student amidst the unpredictability of life?

Creighton University is committed to helping you discover the methods of success needed to excel in a graduate-level program, even in the midst of a busy schedule. We are here to give you the confidence you need to succeed. Hear from current graduate students and a current graduate-level advisor on what they think it takes to succeed in a graduate-level program. Here are the tips they say help ensure success in graduate school amidst the difficulties of everyday life.

For parents, these tips may apply to you differently. We recommend taking a look at this excellent article by The Princeton Review about how to balance grad school and kids.

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Time Management – The first and perhaps most important tip: Work hard to master time management. Often times first year graduate students have not experienced the combined assault of class workload, personal responsibilities and ongoing semester projects that come along with a graduate-level program. The solution for each student may vary. Anything from agenda setting, calendar writing, and to-do lists could do the trick. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, suggests that “if you know that you tend to put off doing important stuff, set yourself some internal deadlines and take them seriously. Stay up all night before your self-imposed deadlines if that’s what you need to do, and then let your work rest for a while.” Likewise, second year Creighton graduate student Mary Bean makes the following suggestion: “Do everything early. Do not put off work… One of the best ways to succeed in graduate school is to try and finish assignments early, so that you can receive feedback and have more time to revise your work.” Whether it be through setting deadlines for yourself or planning out your work well in advance, putting effort into completing work well before it is due can help take the pressure off an already busy schedule.

Make Connections with Your Peers – “Make some friends” may sound like what your mother told you before the first day of elementary school, but it was good advice then and it is good advice now. The support and fellowship offered by other members of your grad program can make all the difference. “You will make friends that you’ll learn to lean on, and who will lean on you in return” says second year Creighton graduate student Natalie Torres. “If you rely on the people around you, you will excel… Here, we’re family.” Even during a pandemic, there are still ways to make connections with fellow students. Whether it be through group messages, direct messages, phone calls, or video chat software like zoom. No graduate student exists in a vacuum. Learning to utilize the support of your peers can further reduce the pressure on your already hectic schedule.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself – Is graduate school a challenge? Yes. Should you slow down every once and awhile and take care of your mental health? Absolutely. In the spirit of the Jesuit value of “unity of heart, mind, and soul,” remember all aspects of your life during your efforts in your graduate program. If things start to feel overwhelming, take a breath of fresh air and remember why you chose to pursue a graduate level education in the first place. Whether it be to better yourself professionally, academically, or financially for you or your family. We are wholistic beings, and as a Jesuit university we encourage you to care for your whole person.

Make the Most of Your Program – Use every service, every connection, every form of assistance and support offered by your program. Get scrappy, and don’t be afraid to dive headfirst into what your program offers. Use your faculty too. Many professors are happy to assist you in your research and study. “Remember that grad school is school for adults, meaning you are expected to advocate for yourself,” says academic advisor and professor of English, Dr. Kurtyka. “Your professors should not have to track you down. You should be able to keep in regular contact with them about what’s going on with you in your personal life that might affect your graduate work. Having seen appeals from students who failed out of grad programs, 99% of the time the problems could have been avoided if the student had maintained contact with the professor about what was going on that prevented them from completing their work successfully.” Being honest with your faculty and leaning into them for help with issues you may face, both personally and professionally, can make all the difference. For parents, check and see if your university offers child care.

Every student’s life is different and will require differing amounts of discipline and engagement to succeed in grad school. Even so, consider these tips and apply them to your graduate-level education. Graduate school can be a challenge, but if approached with the proper techniques, success is more than possible. Even in the midst of a hectic life.