Tips on Surviving Grad School

I have been a bit all over the place with posts lately. My intention is to post new stuff Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, I am taking accelerated summer courses. Holy moly. SO. MUCH. WORK.

Ya see, I am a graduate student. I think if you have a passion or a definite career goal it’s good to pursue an advanced degree. I am getting a Master’s in Counseling, and I’ve gained a lot from my program thus far. I am starting to feel like I can deal with people who are 50 shades of cray (aren’t we all though) with ease and utmost professionalism. However, throughout much of grad school, I have felt like this…

grad school feelings

At the beginning of my graduate school career, I was working full-time, doing fee for service work at a behavioral health organization and taking two of the three classes you are allowed to enroll in each semester. OH, I was also recently engaged and had 7 months until our wedding, so planning was a priority. This was too much.

Here are some steps I took to make things manageable and not want to swan dive into oncoming traffic:

1) Assess what you ACTUALLY NEED to be doing to reach your long-term goals

I decided I needed to reassess all of the things on my plate (both figuratively and literally, really… all of this stress had me getting burritos at Chipotle for multiple meals each week). Working full-time (with a commute!) and trying to focus on a nearly full course load was not healthy for me. I had already decided to move in with my fiancé and future in-laws to save money for school and the wedding, but I needed to take the next step and leave my full-time job and my fee for service position. I went back to an office I had previously worked in, this time as a part-time employee. This helped tremendously.

While money is an important factor, I decided my sanity and finishing school faster would support my long-term goals best. I doubled down on taking as many classes as I could and made grad school my main focus.

2) Take care of your body

All you want to do after work, class, an internship, etc. is reach for that hot pocket and take a long winter’s nap. Try to resist (most of the time). Exercise, eating well and a good night’s sleep are HUGELY important for success in life (and grad school, but that won’t last as long as the rest of your life will, even though it feels like it sometimes).

Tips for sleeping better can be found here.

Some advice on eating well when you’re under stress is here.

My advice is try to have food on you to curb the drive through cravings. I like Trader Joe’s or Kind granola bars. I try to always have one in my purse.

Having a healthy “on-the-go” meal option is also helpful. I have classes that make it difficult to eat dinner a lot of the time so I make a smoothie and bring it with me to class.

3) Little chunks of work add up!

Do not underestimate the power of getting 15 minutes of reading (even writing!) done for class here and there. Make use of a spare half hour or 45 minutes whenever possible to keep the workload a bit more manageable. I try to have my schoolbooks in my car most of the time, so I am not without them in a situation where I have downtime.

4) Ask for help/more time if you need it

I was having a very difficult time getting an assignment done on time because of a personal struggle I was having, so I told my professor as soon as this was evident to me. She understood and accommodated my situation. If you are having a difficult time in your family, with a chronic illness, with a mental health issue, etc. tell your professor and see if you can have a reasonable extension. They may tell you no but they might surprise you (particularly if you have a great track record with getting things done for their class).

Similarly, ask those in your family or friend group for a hand if you need it (editing papers, watching your kiddos for a couple hours so you can get work done, crashing your in-laws house for dinner if you just can’t cook your family something because you’re too spent). My husband has been a lifesaver editing papers and arranging reference pages. My sister is also always there for me in a pinch.

5) Major on the Majors

When you are pressed for time, not everything needs to get done for every class. Never discuss or get tested on the readings and have 49,000 essays to write this week?! Scratch the reading off your to-do list. Do not feel guilty. Preserving your sanity is important.

Most critical: Remember, your schoolwork/professional goals are important but your health and relationships will be with you forever.

So those are my top 5 pieces of wisdom for kicking graduate school right in the keister. Comment if you have anything to add!

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