From Undergrad to Grad: Becoming a Professional Student

Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
5th Grade Teacher; MA in Administration & Leadership, Georgian Court University, NJ
Student with backpack smiling and holding book and coffee.

Transitioning from college to the working world can be eye-opening and challenging. There are different expectations, and many of your norms change. Making the decision to go to graduate school while in the working world, becoming a professional student, or even continuing it after college, presents even more challenges on how to balance your life. There are many points of feeling overwhelmed and of exhaustion, and it is not easy, but it can be done.

What is Expected of a Graduate Student? 

Graduate student expectations are different from undergrad expectations in a number of ways. As a graduate student, the coursework is significantly tougher, as the academic curriculum is more rigorous. You are expected to come into graduate school with a certain level of knowledge and a skill set and be able to apply these from the beginning.

There is a level of personal and professional growth expected of graduate students. Networking amongst new classmates, professors, and a new school community is a must. You must be able to balance your career alongside graduate school courses and be able to be successful at both simultaneously.

A professional student needs to do a tremendous amount of research. You are constantly researching various topics within the scope of the course you are taking. Additionally, analyzing data is a big part of graduate school. Learning how to find and collect the data, analyze it, and base strategic plans and goals from it are all important expectations of a graduate student. Many times, the data you collect and analyze can be used to positively impact the school or district you are working in.

Prioritize Time Management

I constantly tell people that prioritizing my tasks was my best takeaway from graduate school as a professional student. On a personal level, that was always a struggle for me, as I had the tendency to view everything as important and urgent. Using the Eisenhower Matrix was a lifesaver for me, giving me the ability to prioritize my tasks according to urgency and importance.

It was also important to create time for myself and some sort of balance between school, work, and the rest of my life. Self-care is often times put the wayside, but giving yourself some time to relax, go for a massage or maybe get some acupuncture, are all ways to best use your time wisely and keep you feeling good. Taking a break for a night to reconnect with friends or spend quality time with your family are important to your graduate school success, even though it is hard to force yourself to do so.

Through graduate school, you gain more independence in the fact that you take ownership of your assignments. Many times, the assignments are open to your interpretation, and you gain what you put into it. The professors are experts in their field and have high expectations academically for their graduate students. You grow professionally as you learn more specific details of your field at the same time as developing a more global understanding of education.

Importance of Focusing on Learning Skills That Can Help Advance Your Career

From being a teacher in the classroom, we all are aware that some of the best lessons learned are not the academic ones. Many of the takeaways from graduate school are more along the lines of developing better time management and prioritizing, as was mentioned above. These types of skills can help in your graduate school success and career advancement due to the simple fact that you get your work completed. You develop coping skills that can help you to counteract stressful situations and handle them in a calm, cool, and collected manner.

Many projects that are completed in graduate school can be utilized within schools and districts for the increased achievement of the students. Depending on your ultimate career goal, these types of projects can do a couple of different things for you. It can help you to network with administrators in the district and put you on their radar, as well as give you items for your portfolio when applying for careers in the range of your degree.

You learn to complete tasks on short deadlines and under extreme amounts of pressure with each time being a little bit more “comfortable” than the time before it. You develop more confidence in your abilities to problem solve and fit a “circle into a square,” for lack of a better term. As Jonathan Kellerman said, “the stress of grad school can drive anyone mad,” but you come out of it being prepared to take on anything!

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