In just under two months, I’ll be receiving a master’s degree in Corporate and Organizational Communication, with a concentration in social media, from the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies (CPS). Based on my experiences and a desire to help others get the most out of their education, I’ve put together these five short tips for how you can get the most out of your graduate school experience.
1. Don’t go back just to go back.
Times are tough. Unemployment is still at frightening levels; the constant demand for new (read: digital) skills is rapidly increasing; and the cost of everything is skyrocketing—including an education. It’s so tempting to get that next degree in an attempt to escape the perils of today’s economy and job market. But education should never be an “out.” Think of any current or past success you’ve enjoyed and ask yourself, “Am I ready to commit to this at the same level?”
Then you should begin to look at programs. When you do, take the time to do your homework and don’t settle for a program that isn’t the perfect fit. I spent a year researching before deciding on CPS.
2. Trust your instincts.
This is probably the most significant lesson I learned. After seriously committing to CPS and my program, I had that positive gut feeling at each key moment—the application process, the acceptance letter, the first day of classes—that I had found what I was looking for. I knew it was right.
In my classwork, I took a few outside-the-box approaches that ultimately paid off. It often felt frightening to hand in some of my projects representing this kind of alternative thinking, but I feel that if B-level work is status quo—following instructions and simply meeting requirements—A-level work means making bold moves. It pays to push the proverbial envelope; to ask “Why” (or “Why not?”) —and to make it a habit.
3. Networking is everything.
For undergrads, forming relationships with professors outside of the classroom can be rare. But don’t let that set a precedent: In grad school, strong relationships should be the rule, not the exception. You’ll study under thought leaders in your field who will open doors for you, if you show your merit—not because it’s their job to do this, but because they are professionals who understand the importance of building the future of their industries.
The same goes for your classmates. Once you graduate, you could be working alongside some of the greatest minds in your field. And before that time, any of those people could be in your classroom; whether they’re in the back of the room, wearing a hoodie and jeans, or at the head of the class in Dockers and a polo shirt. Make friends, build connections and be ready and willing to learn from your peers.
4. Think of sacrifice as a necessity.
Graduate school is going to require time and money, and these things are of even higher value to you now than they were as an undergrad. But don’t think of the cost in dollars and hours. Think of it as time away from friends and family, the vacation you can’t take, the car you can’t buy. Even if your job will pay for school, working a full-time job while going to school—even part-time—is effectively holding down two full-time jobs. And if you’re not working, that probably means you’ll take on a lot of loans that won’t be going away anytime soon.
Come to terms with it. This is a commitment with costs that cannot be measured at face value, but the same can be said for the rewards.
5. Enjoy yourself.
Graduate school was responsible for what felt like the longest stretch of my life, even compared to attending undergrad for five years at two schools, with three majors. But it wasn’t the time, the cost or the balancing act between school, work and a personal life that made it feel this way: It was the fact that I never stopped learning.
Books and articles and theories and discussions will always be around, but graduate school is a time when you can—and should!—fully immerse yourself in them. The grad school environment fosters exploration, forming unexpected connections and self-discovery. That’s something to treasure, and it doesn’t last forever. So be sure to take every opportunity you can to enjoy the ride.