My Final Quarter of Graduate School: What I’ve Learned

May 11, 2017
Tori Owens

What should you expect from graduate school life?

A master’s student looks back at the lessons she’s learned.

It’s hard to believe that at this time last year, I was nearing the end of my undergraduate career. Among the millions of things racing through my mind then was what my graduate school experience was going to be like. Would grad school live up to my expectations? Was I prepared?

Now I am gearing up to graduate from my master’s program, and I can assure you, I had no idea how much I had—and still have—left to learn. My year in graduate school was intense, fast-paced, and incredibly rewarding. It may sound cliche, but as with many milestone events in life, it went by quicker than I could have anticipated.

Go outside your comfort zone

When I first began my master’s program in journalism, I told myself that I didn’t want to play it safe—I wanted to write on topics and take classes of which I knew nothing about. This led me to covering news stories about housing, economic development, and technology, and taking classes like sports journalism, 360-degree video, and animation.

If I could give one piece of advice to those thinking about or soon heading to graduate school, it would be to push yourself beyond the limits of your comfort zone. Yes, graduate school is about mastering a certain discipline or area of study. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your own twist on the subject or explore other topics that interest you.

Approach challenges with humility

Another aspect of graduate school that surprised me was the difference in instruction. After four years at a university, you get accustomed to many things, including the way your discipline is taught.

Because I minored in journalism at my undergraduate university, I thought I knew all of the basics of how to write enticing journalistic stories. Though I had knowledge about some things, I hadn’t realized how much more there was to learn, not only about writing news stories, but finding ways to discover, tell, and pitch them as well. My professors in graduate school opened me up to new aspects of the discipline that I wasn’t fully aware existed before, and for that I’ve been grateful.

Tap into your graduate school network

There are also things that I wish I had done or known more about before heading into my graduate career. Before I began grad school, I was told that the connections I would make at this level in my academic career would be among the most important in my life. While I listened to these words, I didn’t fully acknowledge them until maybe halfway through my graduate school experience.

I realized my time was almost up, and I had to make the most of the people and resources available to me within my program and in other disciplines and offices on campus. I started going to nearly every networking and mentoring event the career center hosted, reaching out to people whose research and careers interested me, and emailing professors whose classes I had never heard of and wanted to take. Putting myself out there was well worth it, as it allowed me to foster those meaningful connections that I wouldn’t be able to make elsewhere.

Don’t hold back

Overall, grad school has taught me more than I could have imagined. Whether you’re feeling nervous, excited, scared (or a mix of all three) about pursuing your advanced degree, know that your experience in graduate school is what you make of it. Challenge yourself, explore things that interest you, and put yourself out there, and you’ll be on the right track to making your graduate school experience an unforgettable one.

Build up your graduate school candidacy by incorporating Test Day prep into your everyday routine. Answer our free GRE question a day to start practicing.

Tori Owens Tori Owens is currently a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, majoring in communication studies with a double minor in journalism and business administration. After graduation this coming May, she is looking to head straight to graduate school and receive her Master's degree in journalism and communications. When she isn't writing (which is hardly ever), she enjoys delving into a good television drama series or scrolling through fashion art and interior design boards on Pinterest. Have a particular idea or topic you’d like Tori’s insights on? Message her on Instagram @tbussss.

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