9 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grad School

Last week, I was hanging out with some of the other interns in my office discussing what our fall plans would be. I will be heading back to class to finish up my last semester of grad school. But some of the other interns, who are recent college graduates, aren’t so sure what their next move will be. I told them now to worry, that having no idea what to do post graduation is par for the course these days. No one has it figured out right away.

But still, it got me thinking about what I was doing a year ago, as a fresh faced college graduate. When I graduated I had two very different options available to me. I could take the full time job offered to me, or I could stay in school, in an accelerated program, and have my masters in a year and a half. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, but a year and a half later I’m confident that I made the right choice by getting my masters. It’s something I have always wanted to do, and if I left school, I don’t think I would have ever gone back.

But that doesn’t mean my grad school experience has been easy. Grad school is tough. Really tough, and it’s not at all what I imagined it would be like, even after speaking to other grad students. There are so many things I wish they would have told me to help me prepare (mentally anyway). So I thought I would share some of those things with those of you headed off to grad school in the fall.

1. It doesn’t come with a built in social life. Everyone in your classes has a life outside of school. Jobs, families, relationships, and responsibilities that they’ve committed to. And after class, they go back to them, not back to the dorms.

2. You’re going to question whether or not you’ve made the right choice. When you’re in the library, bogged down with books and assignments you can’t figure out the point of, you’ll wonder if it was really worth it to get your masters.

3. You’re probably going to cry at some point. The other night I went out to dinner with two of my friends who also happen to be in grad school. Over a few glasses of white wine we all casually admitted that we had cried once or twice throughout the semester.

4. There are a lot more group projects. And while they prepare you for life and all, they’re also super time consuming and hard to organize.

5. You’ll simultaneously envy and feel bad for your friends who have started working. You’ll sit in your 6-9pm classes thinking about how you would be at happy hour if you were a working woman. Then you’ll meet up with your friends and find out they’re too tired to make it to the store to buy supplies for dinner, never mind happy hour.

6. You’ll constantly be waiting for your real life to begin. Because your current life feels a lot like college, without all the fun stuff.

7. Suddenly every internship you look at will be asking for undergrads. What exactly is with the bias against grad students? I mean we’re more educated and more experienced than college students. Shouldn’t that be a plus?

8. You’ll never really feel settled. My masters program is only a year and a half. I’ve spent the past year looking forward, trying to figure out what was going to come next. I’m starting my last semester. I still don’t feel ready for what comes next, despite the fact that I’ve spent the past year anticipating it.

9. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Are there any other grad students out there reading this? What do you wish you knew about grad school? Let’s commiserate share.

Jenn is a communications grad student and a social media fanatic who spends her free time reading, writing, watching too much tv and shopping for shoes she can’t afford. At least that’s what her Twitter bio says. Follow her @jenninzetta.

[lead image via Stokkete/]



    1. Alexis says:

      oh my– #5 for sure. I spend 90% of my time torn between being bored by my free time and jealous of my working friends with no free time.

    2. Jules says:

      Law school for me, and I question it all the time. I'm beginning to realize it's just an endurance game and I only have 9 months left. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to take a deep breath and everything will work out. But I truly hate school, I hate the fact that it never ever ends, there is always something more to do and it doesn't end when my workday would, and I haven't known what a stress free weekend feels like for the longest time.

    3. Mellissa says:

      Good article, senior in college and trying to decide between grad school and this other program. Not sure what to do because I can't decide if its worth it and I am really stressed out!!!

    4. Julia says:

      Starting grad school this fall – for my master's, and afterwards I'm going to go on for a PhD. I keep thinking I must be mad, but it's what I need to do in order to do what I want to do – which is teach – but I'm not sure if this is going to be as awesome as my last few years in college were. I'm starting to get really frightened, really…

    5. Breezy says:

      I am starting my second year of my master's program and having a little different experience than this. There is a constant state of doubt– that's for sure– but not just doubt about whether this was a good idea. There is also a considerable amount of doubt about whether or not you are academic material. Undergrad and grad school are two completely different things– be sure you really love what you are studying, because it is going to need to be your top priority, not something you do equally with socializing, romance, and work. Grad school is a job, and a demanding one.

      Even if you get funding, you still may have to take out loans to make ends meet. Again, make sure you are committed and passionate about what you're going to study. I took two years off in between, and it was a great decision for me. By the time I went back, I was refocused and more disciplined than I had ever been in undergrad (two years as a social worker was motivation enough for me!)

      Other advice? Don't complain, adapt. Don't burn bridges, even if someone else started the fire. Start building up your CV (academic resume) from day one because even if your department isn't competitive, the job market is.

    6. lawstudent says:

      I am a third year law student. (Kind of like a Masters, but we lie to ourseles and call it a "doctorate")

      Yeah, it sucks. A third of our people fail or quit the first year. Only 3/4 of those who graduate ever get licensed.

      Then again people cry about "only" making $160K the day after they pass the bar (I know poor them, I bet I will endup in civil service at a legal clinic making $30K)

    7. […] to read the final 6 things no one tells you about grad school? Finish reading over at CollegeCandy! […]

    8. […] Want to read the final 6 things no one tells you about grad school? Finish reading over at CollegeCandy! […]

    9. […] Want to read the final 6 things no one tells you about grad school? Finish reading over at CollegeCandy! […]

    10. Alice says:

      I'm about to take my GRE for grad school, and this is helpful I know it's going to be hard work but I know it's going to work out for me.

    11. Jessica says:

      I read this article at just the right time, haha. I graduated from college back in May and decided to go straight into the work force, since at the time I had no idea what I'd pursue at grad school (I was an English major and didn't want to teach). A few months later, I came around to the idea of teaching. At the community college where I work, they said I could teach a class with only a Bachelor's — which I didn't about. When people asked me about teaching, I only ever thought of middle school/high school — but I actually like the idea of teaching at a college! After much thought, I'm taking the GRE next month and apply to grad school next year with the intention of teaching Film Studies/Creative Writing at the university level:)

    12. Erin says:

      In my first year of a five-year PhD program, and yes, these are all true. I love it–I truly do love every minute of it–but I've cried more times than I can count on both hands, I've doubted myself and my choice, and so on and so forth. But YES it will be worth it.

    13. nel says:

      I would add one more piece of advice.

      And that is to take time off to work, pay back some student loans, and make sure that grad school is really, really worth it for you. Just going because you are scared of the job market or are unsure of what you actually want to do is a huge mistake and most definitely will not advance your career like you hope it does. I am so glad I took a few years off to work in the industry I wanted to be in, and see where exactly my graduate degree would make a difference.

      Now I'm in grad school, in a great program, and I love it. Lots of work, yes. But I made sure it was the right program and most importantly, at the right time for me.

      Oh and maybe one other bit of advice – it's not college. Grad students (at least in my non-science/math/law field) try to spend the absolute least possible time on campus as possible.

    14. […] Want to read the final 6 things no one tells you about grad school? Finish reading over at CollegeCandy! […]

    15. Alaina says:

      This is ALL true. I got my Phd. I had a boyfriend when I was doing this and I was real busy, stressed, and cried a lot. I had no time for him and we ended breaking up cause of how busy I was. He didn't understand. I did have my concerns am I doing the right thing for me or not? If you don't like people you will not like grad school there are A lot of group projects but don't think it's fun group projects like in high school there is no fun in the word grad school. Its not easy at all hard work but I wish I never have done it I could have got a job without grad school I'm not talking walmart or anything.

    16. Nadia says:

      I just finished my Masters and although all this is true, I feel like it applies only to the second of the 2 semesters of my program. I had lots of fun at the beginning of the year and hanged out with people who apprecieated happy hour a LOT; I was also studying in a foreign country so that added to the whole experience. But after spring break EVERYTHING changed: assignments, hours in the library, depression, sleepless nights and an entire summer spent on my dissertation. Still, I'd do that all over again in a heartbeat, basically because the state I'm in right not pretty much sucks: no job, back to my parents' house after living alone for 5 years, not sure what to do next.

    17. Josie says:

      The situation where I live (in Scandinavia) is a little different – here, it's very common to stay at uni after getting your bachelor's degree and continue on with your master. I've loved the whole university thing – inspiring lecturers, equally inspiring coursemates sharing the same values and passions as me – so grad school was definitely the right thing for me.

      However, it often gets lonely. And above all, it requires you to be ridiculously disciplined – procrastination will be your worst enemy. And as someone already mentioned, you never really have time off from your studies. Sure, I can decide to go travelling at any time, since we're not required to be present at lectures, but a) I can rarely afford it and b) I'll always be aware of the huge amount of schoolwork I need to get done.

      For me, grad school brought along a lot of freedom and a lot of stress. It's still been an amazing time, and I truly enjoy writing my dissertation now.

    18. Jay says:

      My PSA: do NOT go to law school. Or read and then don't go to law school. Done and done.

    19. […] 9 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grad School ( […]

    20. Noah Schmesser says:

      I am currently in grad school now for music and I must say I do not enjoy it at all. I will admit that I am immature for my age, but I miss being part of a social scene of a college dorm. Grad school feels like a job without the perks (aka I’m investing a ton of money into this and not making anything in return) I would absolutely recommend taking time offer before rushing into grad school like I did. I personally am not ready for the work load and the isolation. Feelsbadman

    21. abby says:

      finally someone i agree with😀
      it's my 2nd year at university and seriousely I thought it would be just learning a bit for the exams,
      well damn I spend all my time working on papers , papers and more papers –'

    22. a3709266 says:

      I’ve said that least 3709266 times. SKC was here…

    23. marellasunny says:

      I am yet to finish grad school.I've taken a sabbatical since it was all too much for me,I was so stupid that I jumped straight into grad school fresh out of undergrad.So,I've taken a year off to come back to core research and realize that I am damn good in math.I wish I chose a applied math grad program but went with the flow and chose mechanical engineering.Anyway,one must finish what one has started,so I'm sweating myself out to get back.BTW,SUPER article.You illustrated the feelings a grad student goes through in the 2 years and this makes us more aware and prepared to react to such situations.kudos.

    24. thesis says:

      I will admit that I am immature for my age, but I miss being part of a social scene of a college dorm. Grad school feels like a job without the perks (aka I'm investing a ton of money into this and not making anything in return).

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