A fresh pot of hot coffee awaits you in the quiet of midnight, its aroma calling to you as you settle into a book on social theory. The dark quiet halls envelop you, lit occasionally by the glimmer of a late-burning reading lamp. Your fellow graduate students, you realize, are burning the midnight oil with you…
This could be your nightlife as a student in graduate school when the realities of obtaining your degree materialize. Expect late nights and loads of reading. In fact, expect a lot more work than you ever dreamed of as an undergrad. And when we say more, we mean MORE! There’s more reading, more writing, more research -- and all with less time to do it. In spite of the workload, though, graduate school is a world where you finally get to start digging into your academic interests and demonstrating your skill and knowledge to your peers. From the piles of books on your floor to your final thesis poised for your defense, those long nights of staving off sleep will pay off when you walk across the stage, diploma in hand.
Needless to say, the coursework in graduate programs is a world away from the academic life you knew previously. You’ll be expected to work independently, take initiative, and monitor your own progress. Motivation and discipline are absolutely necessary if you hope to achieve your goals in a graduate program, as well as the confidence to persist when you’re not getting much feedback from your professors. You’ll need to interact effectively with others since grad schools aim to make you a colleague of your fellow students, as well as of your professors. In some graduate programs, you may need to work as part of a team for requirements such as research labs or group presentations.
Don’t expect to have a pop quiz every few days, or to sit quietly taking notes in class while your professors lecture. Your graduate program classes will generally be small and interactive, requiring your active participation in intelligent and dynamic conversation with your peers and professors. Your experience will become much more about learning, and much less about grades.
As far as grading goes, you can generally expect that your grades will be based on your performance and scholarly interaction, rather than a percentage of how many answers you got right (that how graduate schools do it). Think of it as a little more like a job evaluation with some traditional grading thrown in on things like exams and papers, which you’ll inevitably need to complete. Each professor will have their own style of assessment and grading, and will usually let you know their expectations of you when classes begin. However, regardless of how your grades are assessed, most grad schools will expect you to maintain a C average (or higher) to complete your graduate program. It’s expected that as a graduate student, you are capable of high achievement. Anything less and you may be retaking classes or just not graduating at all.
Whether you’re looking at a master’s or a doctorate, one thing’s for sure -- the workload and expectations of a graduate degree will give you the opportunity to master the skills of efficient time management and effective organization.