Overcoming the myths of Graduate School

Hi I’m Lindsay! I am a current graduate student in the Master of Accountancy program here at Georgia College and I also work as a graduate assistant for the Career Center.  In my free time I like to run, so there is a good chance you’ve seen me running around Milledgeville.  I’m still figuring out my way through grad school, but I have already learned so much through my transition from undergrad to grad school. I want to help you so that you can learn from my mistakes and know what to expect when you start preparing for this next step! Here are some common myths about grad school and my opinion on the truth of what it really is like.

Myth: Grad school is just like undergrad except more work.

Truth: Grad school is not necessarily more work, but more quality.  Grad professors expect their students to go the extra step and show that they understand the topics both in theory and practice.  They are not looking to give you large amounts of busy work, rather the professors strive to help you fully understand concepts and they expect more depth and critical thinking in your responses.  The complexity in the material you study will increase.  Keep in mind that grad school is not for everybody, and that is perfectly okay.  It may be helpful to research getting a higher degree and decide if this is something you want to invest yourself in. Determine if a graduate degree will actually help you get a better job or required for a specific job.  If you are aware of what to expect, in the right mind frame to pursue graduate school, and prepared for the changes from undergrad, you will be more able to tackle grad school from the get go.

Myth: Grad school is too expensive; I can’t afford it.

Truth: There are many options that can help in making graduate school affordable.  Graduate assistantships, for example, can help to cover your tuition and most schools, including Georgia College, offer assistantships that simply require you applying in advance for the position.  You may need to be accepted to a program first before you can apply for assistantships. These positions can be found specific to your program or, depending on the school, there may be opportunities outside of your program as well.  For example, I am an Accounting graduate student but I work in the Career Center department for 20 hours per week. Working here allows me to expand my network, use/develop different skill sets, and make money to pay for other expenses. Assistantship compensation can vary based on the position and university, but can include a stipend, tuition, fees, and sometimes, even more.  Also, an assistantship is  great way to work while going to grad school and gain skills/experience for resume.    Another helpful option is scholarships; some may believe these are only for undergrad, but that is not the case. There are plenty of scholarships still out there for aspiring grad students, but it may take some digging on your part. Scholarship websites like fastweb.com, awards offered through the university or your specific graduate program,  professional associations, or private companies or foundations may be great places to start. Finally, learn how to budget your money.  I have come to realize the hard way that this is one of the most important things you can do as a graduate student.  Live like you are a graduate student, meaning that you should not eat out every day and spend your monthly allowance in a weekend downtown.  I personally can relate to the struggle that comes with trying to balance your own funds, but try to save as much as you can because you never know when you’re going to need to buy another book for class or some other unexpected expense.  Student loans are also an option that many grad students partake in.  I would encourage you to try to take the least amount of loans as you possibly can and I would use this option as a last resort.

You can learn more about what a graduate assistantship entails and the requirements to apply for one, specific to Georgia College, at: http://www.gcsu.edu/financialaid/graduate-assistantships

Myth: I balanced undergrad so I can balance graduate school.

Truth: It is difficult to find a balance as a student period; this will be even truer as a graduate student.  However, you can balance graduate school.  It is going to take some effort to stay balanced. Keeping organized and staying that way play such a key role as a grad student.  Many students in grad school are on a job search, have a job/assistantship, have group projects, student organizations, and also have challenging studies. Having an agenda and planning ahead is so important in helping you maintain a low stress level.  In undergraduate you may have found yourself able to have those back burner classes where you were able to “cruise by”.  These classes usually do not exist in grad school, so try to keep a hardworking attitude in every area of your life.  In many cases, you may not be able to get below a B in a course without jeopardizing your academic standing with the graduate program, so you will definitely have to give a great deal of energy and commitment in order to meet the high expectations. Also, if you can learn how to tell people no, it will become one of your greatest assets. You will quickly realize that you can’t always do it all, so pick your priorities and make sure you stick with them.  If you prioritize your goals and continue to stay focused on obtaining them, I believe you will have a lot of success as a grad student.

Myth: I don’t need to look for a job yet because I’m still in school and they will find me.

Truth: Start looking for jobs as soon as your graduate program starts; take initiative.  Yes, your teachers may help you with networking (meeting people who might be able to help you get a job now or later) and yes, you have a busy schedule during school, but do not let this stop you from researching on your own the different job opportunities that interest you. A common misconception is that your major equals your career.  While you may find it more beneficial to start a career related to your major, you are not limited to that area and do not be afraid to expand your career search into different industries. Make sure to keep your options open; just because a business does not recruit at your current school does not mean that you cannot pursue a job with them.  If you stay persistent and reach out to jobs you are interested in, you have a better chance of widening your opportunities. Do not think that just because you are getting a Master’s degree that you will automatically be hired. Graduate school does not guarantee you a job so put some work into your job search!  Of course, the Career Center is a great resource to help you plan.

A resource for increasing your network during your job search is the Georgia College Alumni group on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/131199/profile
I hope that these tips can give you some realistic expectations as you prepare for grad school.  Grad school is a great opportunity and, if you enter into it with the right attitude and expectations, you will be ahead of the game.  Good luck!!

-Lindsay

 

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