The Value of Your Cohort in Grad School

Rachel Geren
Rachel Geren
Fourth grade teacher; M.A. in Educational Leadership-Principalship, Ed.S.
A group of mature college students collaborate on a project together.

Deciding to go back to school after you have entered the workforce can be a daunting decision. Graduate school is a huge commitment and can feel incredibly overwhelming and nearly impossible to tackle. Whatever your situation, connecting with others who are in your same position can take a weight off your shoulders and allow you to step out of your solitary work zone. You can find this support through a graduate program that offers a cohort model.

A huge number of programs are available to further your education as an educator, and the majority are fully online. This can lead to feelings of isolation as you work through your studies late at night, after you’ve had a full workday and maybe even spent time cooking dinner and tending to your family.

What is a Cohort in Graduate School?

In graduate school, a cohort meaning is the group of people whom you will work through your program with. Generally, you will work with this same group of people the entire program. If your program is all online, you will be participating in discussion boards together, and perhaps even group projects. You will begin to recognize the names of the students in your classes and feel more comfortable interacting with them.

With in-person classes, you will get to know your fellow cohort members very well, as you will spend a great deal of time together. I have worked with a cohort in both of my graduate school programs and was actually lucky enough to be in a cohort model during my undergraduate education program as well. It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to be working closely with other students in your same classes, working through your same assignments, and having many of the same professional experiences.

What are the Benefits of a Cohort in Graduate School for Educators?

The benefits of working with a cohort are many. First and foremost, a cohort provides the support that so many graduate students are desperately searching for. Graduate school is a juggling act for many, as most grad students are already balancing a full-time teaching position, possibly a family, and many other responsibilities.

The grad school experience is a unique experience that is hard to understand, except by those who are also experiencing it along with you — your cohort. These will be the people you can go to with questions about assignments or due dates, who you can study with for big exams, and who will even remind you when it’s time to apply for graduation or request a transcript. A cohort is truly a built-in support system that is assigned to you by the university. In my professional life, I learn a great deal from my colleagues and fellow teachers.

A further benefit of a cohort in graduate school for educators is that you are automatically surrounded by a group of teachers from many different backgrounds. This is like professional development on a whole other level. I found many of our class discussion boards to be extremely thought-provoking and enlightening, as I was learning from educators who had experienced things that I hadn’t.

Thanks to my diverse cohort, I could open my eyes to facets of education that I didn’t learn in my undergraduate studies. As you near the end of your graduate program, you will be able to utilize the other members of your cohort to begin networking with your new degree. You have now built relationships with educators from numerous districts and communities. If you are looking for a new position, you immediately have multiple contacts you can work with. You don’t have to start from scratch with the “cold call” approach to job applications and interviews —  you already have your foot in the door.

How to Get Involved with your Cohort

Virtually

Getting involved with your cohort could be considerably easy if you are attending graduate school in-person. However, many grad programs these days are fully online, which means you may have to get creative in ways to connect. In most grad programs, you must interact with your cohort through weekly discussion boards.

These are nice for discussing the assigned topic, however if you are looking to utilize your cohort fully, you will want to connect in other ways as well. The last few years have made Google Meets or Zoom calls comfortable form any of us, and these are both great ways to get some facetime in with your cohort. The great thing about meeting in a virtual environment is that you can work around many differing schedules, and everyone can meet from the most comfortable place. While all of this is nice and convenient, there’s nothing like fully interacting with your cohort in-person.

Face-to-Face

Organizing meetups is a great way to get a jump start on that networking — perhaps a monthly coffee date, a gathering at the park with your families involved, or even a quarterly standing dinner. Building relationships with the other educators in your cohort will allow you to utilize them as the support system they are intended as, and you will build relationships that could last for years beyond your grad school program.

Ultimately, the decision to continue your education is a highly personal one that will require you to consider many factors. Choosing a program that utilizes the cohort model will lead you to connect with classmates, forge relationships with other educators, and build a supportive network that will allow you to complete your course of study with a team mindset rather than individually and in isolation.

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