General Education

“Alternative” Ways to Prepare Yourself for Graduate School

“Alternative” Ways to Prepare Yourself for Graduate School
Graduate school can be one of the most wonderful experiences ever. But it’s not a bed of roses, and you need to prepare yourself for the rocky parts. Image from Unsplash
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John Tures December 6, 2019

Work as a Disney costumed character in Los Angeles. Give away two-thirds of each paycheck.

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Are you thinking about going to graduate school? Do you want to get ready for the experience? You may think it involves engaging in some crazy endeavors. But maybe there’s a more practical way to prepare for this academic challenge.

Playing “Dungeons And Dragons,” and prepping for pregnancy.

I can remember playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. A magazine (I believe it was called Dragon) tried to explain how our beloved “D&D” game was more fantasy than reality. To illustrate it, they explained how many bowling balls we’d have to lug around to “carry” 1,000 gold pieces, as our characters were likely to do without a second thought. Or we’d have to shower with several cats strapped to our body to simulate losing 25 “hit points” in combat.

I also remember a viral Internet email that made the rounds while my wife was pregnant, telling expectant mothers and fathers how to prep for the little tyke in advance. I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember it would involve handing over all of my cash to the grocery store, and giving blank checks to pharmacies. My wife would have to lug around a heavy sack of sand, and then pour out 10% after nine months.

So you want to be a graduate student? Can you manage these herculean tasks?

Well, there’s a similar way to get ready for graduate school. And here it goes.

  • Orientation: Attend a meeting of the world soccer organization “FIFA.” Attempt to obtain the formula for how teams are picked for group play before the World Cup finals.
  • Library research: Go to your Great Aunt before her annual Christmas Party where she bakes everything from a 1950s Betty Crocker book. Try and find all of those lardlike ingredients at your nearest “Whole Foods” store.
  • __Being a teaching assistant and discussion leader:__ Volunteer to teach Sunday School for the kids at a local church. Have the lesson be about the Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, the section on asceticism. Be prepared to answer all the questions. Sorry…no glue, construction paper or uncooked macaroni is allowed, nor can you use the normally obligatory juice and cookies.
  • __Dealing with student excuses for late papers:__ Attend a pet adoption promotion before Christmas, entering “the love room” at least twice. You must leave empty-handed, or the simulation will fail.
  • Living on a stipend: Work as a Disney costumed character in Los Angeles. Give away two-thirds of each paycheck first.
  • Applying for grants: Head to a small Southern town, and try to convince the local council to give you funds to perform the play “Inherit the Wind” about the Scopes Monkey Trial at the local church academy.
  • Meeting with your advisor: Go to the local Social Security Administration Office. See if you can get the case officer to change your number to 867-53-09.
  • Taking comprehensive exams: Attempt to obtain a driver’s license in Canada by memorizing every single law in the country, in English, and in French. Be prepared to pass a series of written essay exams and orally defend your answers.
  • Writing a thesis or dissertation: Find a county whose entire records from 1830-1850 were destroyed in a courthouse fire. Offer to research and rewrite them from scratch.
  • Defending your research before the committee: Go to your local high school gym at the best athletic school in the city. Offer a solo challenge to the entire basketball team in a game of “dodge ball.”

Now here’s what you should actually do to prepare for graduate school

Of course these are just exaggerations. And graduate school can be one of the most wonderful experiences ever. But it’s not a bed of roses, and you need to prepare yourself for the rocky parts. If you can get through each of these Herculean tasks, nothing in graduate school should touch you…maybe.

But here’s what you should actually do.

1. Research the heck out of your graduate school before you choose it.

Talk to professors and current graduate students before you go about the studies and the experience. Doing this helped me decide which graduate school to go to, and it assisted me in making an excellent choice.

__2. Ready yourself for the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or other entrance exam.__

Take one of the practice courses, buy the booklet (new or a recently used copy). Study with a partner. And give yourself time to do the exam, where you have a few weeks or nights to prepare. I didn’t do that the first time, and I was “Just OK.” But the second time I took the GRE, I studied hard, with a booklet, and a friend, who was also taking the exam. She and I were classmates, and we both quizzed each other repeatedly, boosting our scores impressively.

3. Work hard to get a research assistant or teaching assistant position.

The pay isn’t much, as indicated above, but when combined with the tuition waiver, it’s pretty helpful. The extra work will also give you the experience you need, as a professor or expert in your field.

4. Read all you can, especially in your area of study.

You’re going to be doing a ton of it in graduate school. And getting smart in your subject will definitely help you on those exams and essays you’ll write. But take a little time for fun reading too, as all work and no play might burn you out.

5. Relax a little before you start.

That’s because you’ll need to buckle up for one of the most challenging, yet likely rewarding events of your life. But when I talk to my colleagues about the experience, nearly all would do it again if given the chance, findings that mirror what surveys say about graduate school in general.

And don’t do those wild tasks I suggested above. Graduate school might be tough, but it’s not as hard as working at Disney.

Questions or feedback? Email

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at His Twitter account is JohnTures2.


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