You did it. You made extra good grades, you fostered relationships with undergraduate faculty in order to get blush-worthy recommendation letter, you maximized on any and every opportunity to get additional training and experience in psychology that would round out your graduate school application perfectly. And, after all that hard work… you got in! Now, what? Below are 7 of the best tips – from people who’ve been where you are – on excelling in your graduate psychology program.
1. Choose the Right Program
This tip is #1 because it truly is the single most effective tool you can utilize for being successful in your graduate school experience: choose the right program. The program that best suits you and your professional interests will nurture and improve both your academic and clinical abilities with regard to your unique career aspirations, specialization area, learning style, and lifestyle (i.e. budget, online or offline, full-time or part-time, etc.).
2. Know Your Faults…and Learn to Work around Them
Are you a procrastinator? Do you hate writing? Do you suck at presentations? Acknowledge these faults early on in your graduate studies and you will be better for it. Spot your shortcomings and develop a plan of action to work around them.
For example, if you had a tendency to cram for exams in undergrad, then you know that’s probably what you will attempt to do in grad school – except cramming probably won’t get you by this time. Grad school requires constant reading and studying on a daily basis to truly absorb and comprehend complex subjects, which leads us to the next point…
3. Develop an Effective Study Routine
Graduate school work can be even more demanding than a full-time job. To stay on top of assignments, projects, and tests you will have to study more than ever. For college, experts suggest studying, at minimum, two to three hours per week for each course credit in which you are enrolled. That means if you are taking 12 credit hours (or 4 classes), you need to schedule in at least 24 to 36 hours to study each week. For obvious reasons, grad school will require even more study time since any given class might assign hundreds of pages to read.
Manage your time well. Take good notes. Make use of software like Google Drive and Calendar that helps you organize your notes and assignment deadlines. If you are a person who does well with group study, reach out to some of your classmates and create one. Just go in with the attitude that you will be spending the bulk of your time studying in addition to actually attending class, internship, and assistantships.
4. Take Opportunities to Grow In Your Area
Time is a priority in grad school. Just as you have a limited amount of time to read and study, you also have only so much time to maximize on opportunities that will impact your life and career beyond graduate school. Teaching classes, conducting research, even helping a faculty member with menial tasks can lead to an exciting opportunity or a powerful professional contact.
5. Ask for Help When You Need It
If you don’t understand something discussed in class, if you want better reading and note-taking strategies, reach out to others who have been there. This can be students in older cohorts or junior professors who haven’t been out of school all that long themselves. If you find full-time study too taxing, recognize when you may need to take a break or extend your program another year. Don’t always expect others to offer their assistance; you have to seek it out for yourself in order to succeed.
6. Kiss Perfectionism Goodbye
Graduate school marks the end of the road for perfectionistic tendencies. During graduate study, you learn to be the master juggler, which means you will not have the time or energy to allocate towards perfecting any one area. The focus of higher educations is on developing you into a well-rounded professional who can not only practice or research psychology, but also work with and understand people. Spending all your time trying to make straight A’s or perfect your master’s thesis could be causing you to miss out on other opportunities to learn.
7. Maintain Regular Self-Care
The first thing that tends to go for graduate students is self-care, yet these are the activities that truly allow a workable balance to succeeding in graduate school. Neglecting self-care can be detrimental to both health and functioning as a graduate student; therefore, eating well, getting adequate sleep and exercising should be scheduled into your routine, too.
What’s more, each student should find something that delivers relaxation and/or provides a healthy distraction from the stress of graduate study. Examples might include meditating, participating in intramural sports, and journaling. Also, making time to connect with others such as close friends and family can strike a balance after a long grueling week of study.
So, there you have it the 7 keys to success in grad school. Entering psychology graduate school with these strategies in mind can make the difference between a crash and burn or a successful jump-start into professional psychology.