Making the transition from undergrad to graduate school is more than just extra studying and a few more years of classes. Graduate school—whether you’re pursuing a master’s degree or a doctoral degree—comes with a whole new set of expectations from faculty. So if you’re taking the plunge into grad school, here are five differences you will likely encounter.
Going to college has become fairly commonplace for high school graduates—so much so that many are sent by their parents whether they like it or not. Securing a job post-college is the next logical step—that is unless you have aspirations that require additional schooling. The choice to attend graduate school is one that’s decided by the student himself. It’s not always a required part of starting a career, and therefore the students who make that choice are doing so because they actually want to. You’ll notice a whole new mindset to graduate students: more engaged, interested in coursework, and immersed in their field of study.
Graduate school professors anticipate students to be much more interactive throughout the semester. The college days of attending class and sitting in silence are long gone. Instead, graduate students collaborate with their peers and faculty members on a different, more engaged level. Classes have greater participation, discussion, and engagement compared to undergrad courses. There are also often fewer students in grad classes, which results in more one-on-one interaction with faculty. So get ready to speak up.
Whereas undergrads become proficient in their subjects, graduate students become masters, experts. There is a whole new approach to learning, where students are expected to not only learn the material but also apply it. Because of the intensity of the curriculum, graduate students often find themselves spending more time on course work than they did as undergrads. You might have enjoyed a spring break trip to the beach during college, but as a grad student, you’ll spend breaks researching, writing, attending conferences, and fulfilling internships.
In a nutshell, graduate school is more rigorous—but the rigor is narrowed to a specialized focus on which the student is interested.
Many graduate students are full-fledged adults—some of which go back to school years after graduating from college. It’s not uncommon to find yourself among people who have full or part-time jobs in addition to attending classes. Or parents with small children to care for beyond their schoolwork.
For that reason, many grad classes offer flexibility that is not seen in undergrad life. Graduate students are expected to become highly independent—there is no hand-holding in grad school. Faculty anticipate regular office visits and communication on course work. You can no longer get away with never having spoken to or gone to your professor’s office hours throughout the semester.
One of the biggest changes when it comes to course assignments is that grad school is comprised largely of written projects, culminating with a final thesis or dissertation. Students may have been able to get away with not proofreading their papers in undergrad, but that certainly will not fly in graduate school. Instead, be prepared to read, re-read, and re-read again until you’re sure there are no typos. Grad school is highly professional in nature, therefore written (and oral) communication skills are necessary and expected.
Attending graduate school is not a goal or need for every person or career path, however, those who do choose to pursue it should be prepared for the differences they’ll encounter. A highly enjoyable experience for many, graduate school is yet another building block on the way to a successful career.
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Jennifer Craven has taught at the college level for the past 10 years. She is currently an instructor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA. In addition to teaching, she is a freelance writer, specializing in parenting, lifestyle, and fashion industries.