As my previous posts have illustrated, starting graduate school isn’t always easy. During your journey in graduate school, you’ll likely experience a lot of different feelings, emotions, and life events that’ll help shape how you approach your degree and, subsequently, your life outside of class. As anyone currently in graduate school can attest, your first semester is one of the most crucial as it helps set your pace in your program, if you don’t belong to a strictly-designed cohort. During these first few months of your program, you’ll not only have to complete your first prerequisite courses, but you’ll also have to begin networking as you meet your fellow classmates and professors, learning how to navigate your department, planning out your degree program, determining your course load for future semesters, and researching internships and job opportunities. Oh, and then you can’t forget planning for graduation.
Yes, I did just say “planning for graduation”.
In your first semester.
Don’t look at me like that.
By now, you may be wondering why, of all things, I’m discussing graduating from your graduate program when you barely have made any progress towards completing your first term. Regardless if you spend a year, two years, three years, or more in your program, time will pass by so quickly. So, while it’s important to enjoy your time in your program, it’s also important to at least begin planning for graduation as you get adjusted to it. As someone who began planning for graduation soon after starting my MLIS program, I can attest that starting sooner rather than later will help ease a lot of stress because it’ll help focus you on the tasks you have to complete right in front of you versus distracting you with tasks whose deadlines are a little further off into your near future. Since most programs ask students to apply for graduation at most a year before they anticipate finishing, it’s essential for you to note early on in your program how you can best prepare for graduation, even if you’re literally just starting your graduate school journey. So, here are some recommendations I have for those in the early stages in their graduate programs so graduation doesn’t sneak up on them (relatively) unannounced:
- Get Familiar Fast: Before starting your first semester or, at the latest, during your first few weeks, please do yourself a favor and take time to familiarize yourself with your program’s requirements, available specializations, job and networking opportunities, and different department-sponsored resources available for students to utilize during their time in their respective program. Since a lot of the information you may seek about your program, including but not limited to graduation, may already be posted somewhere online; it’s important for you to bookmark that information for later so you can properly plan for a deadline before it arrives and/or don’t miss any important information regarding updates to program standards, structure, or offerings, among other things. For example, since departments may revise their curriculum or course offerings while you are in the program, it’s important for you to be aware of and anticipate any changes that may be made so you can realistically plan your degree out and progress to graduation easily.
- Know Who to Ask and When: Now, some information you may need may not be readily available to students based on its nature and department protocol. So, before that may occur, you should take time to meet, if not just locate contact information for, your academic advisor and related staff so you don’t stress yourself out more than you already are trying to locate information you need. Since these people are there to help you with any program-related inquiries or issues you may have while you are attending, you should bookmark their contact information and/or locate their office location early so they can help you make your graduate school journey go as smoothly as it realistically can.
- Find Community: However, I do acknowledge that, sometimes, contacting someone you don’t know or know well may be a little uncomfortable, depending on various factors. So, another information source you may want to consider is your peer group. Since many programs may already have established online or in-person social groups for current students to join, you may find community, as well as the information you need, among the same people you attend class with. I can speak from personal experience that these groups are invaluable resources as they provide a more colloquial and honest insight into how to successfully navigate your program in addition to your life outside of class. You can also establish a lot of great friendships and professionally connect with peers within these groups. So, I would seek out these groups as soon as you start your program, if not once you’re admitted to your program, because they may be able to provide you with information that your academic advisor or professors may not on how to navigate your way from being a first-semester student to a recent alumni.
- Create Your Own Path: Thus, once you find your footing, so to speak, in your program, it’s important for you to determine how your graduate school journey may look for you and how it could change as you complete your degree. Since your life may not exactly mirror those of your peers, as I know from personal experience, it’s essential for you to figure out the best way for you to navigate your program so you can graduate from your program within a realistic time frame. For some people, that may be two years while, for others, that may be five years, more or less. Thus, this is another arena in which you’ll likely have to anticipate change as course rotations, professor availability, and curriculum revisions, among other things, all may impact how your path ultimately unfolds. So, regardless of where you are in your degree program, it’s important for you to plan for graduation even when you’re just starting your graduate school experience because there are so many factors to consider.