5 Must-Haves for Your First Year of Grad School

For every college graduate who finds a job immediately after they walk across the stage, there's another who made it their plan to attend graduate school. If you're someone who always had grad school as your plan, there's a chance that you still aren't quite sure what you're walking into or what you'll need.

While it may be difficult to plan to the extent that you're prepared for whatever life throws your way, especially in post-graduate studies, it can help you get a head start against the things that can go wrong. So if you're heading off to grad school in the near future, or even if you're already there, here are a few items that you may want to ensure you have to get a jumpstart on your classes.

1. A good planner

This one seems like it would be obvious, but I know there are a few people who insist they don't need one. A planner is your lifeline when it comes to everything you're going to juggle as a grad student. Whether it's the newest 20-something page paper or the job interview that you need to nail the same week as your final presentation, a planner is the one thing that can help you keep your life organized.

Throughout my entire education (both public schooling and my undergrad), I have been obsessed with using planners. They're easy to come by, and there isn't an exact science to using one, but they are absolutely vital to your organization as a student, employee, and just as a member of society. Whether you prefer to document all your tasks electronically or write everything down, there's a large variety to choose from.

If you want a planner that allows you to get completely organized and plan your life day-by-day, the Day Designer series is a great option. It gives you meal-planning space, a daily to-do list, a top 3 priority list and a space to list gratitude, but if you're on a budget and looking for a planner under fifteen dollars, check out Target or Walmart. Those stores usually offer awesome planners for low prices.



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You can also try bullet journaling. Bullet journals and undated planners allow you the flexibility to plan as you need and not waste pages on weeks where you may not have anything going on. Bullet journals also give you the opportunity to use your planner for other things like habit tracking, keeping track of your water intake and workout planning.

Lacy Nettleton, Associate Director of Admissions at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, is currently pursuing her master's degree online and says that having (and using) a planner has been the most helpful thing for her."I need to make sure that I'm staying on task and getting my assignments done among the tasks of my job and personal life," she says. "Discipline and being able to set aside the time to do your work is a big factor in being successful." 

Having a planner isn't the fix to horrible time management (trust me, I'd know), but it can help you get organized so you can get better at time management and make sure you never miss another deadline again. And, believe me, you don't want to miss a deadline while in grad school.

2. A large, reusable water bottle (and mug, for all your coffee)

The importance of staying hydrated isn't lost on me, and it shouldn't be lost on you, either. Without proper hydration, there's no way you're going to make it through those never-ending papers and presentations. Coffee and other caffeine options are only going to last you so long, though you can definitely still drink them (I recommend a reusable travel mug for your hot coffee and tea). In general, you need to make sure you're taking care of yourself and keeping an eye on your health--both mental and physical. 

Ava Almaraz, a current law student at Elon Law, says she's made it a goal to drink as much water as she can throughout the day. "I have a 32-ounce metal [water bottle] from Target," Ava says. "I make it a goal to drink the entire thing within the two hour period of each of my classes." She adds that both in grad school and life it can be hard to remember to drink water, but if you have a water bottle staring you down, you're reminded to drink it.

Jar with lemon Photo by Pixabay from Pexels And even if you don't need to be reminded to drink water, a reusable water bottle helps you be a little more environmentally-friendly. Instead of buying a bottle o fwater wherever you go, you're just refilling your own. It saves money, too! 

If you still need more convincing, just think about how important water is for your brain. The Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of California, Davis says that the brain is about 75% water. Water helps us "think faster, be more focused and experience greater clarity and creativity." On top of that, it's also important for "delivering nutrients to the brain and for removing toxins." 

So, basically, water is really, really important. Don't forget about it. 

3. Good office supplies (including a good laptop)

Going to grad school means you're signing up for even more papers and presentations than you did in undergrad. And whether your writing your dissertation, or just putting together one of those presentations, having good office supplies are going to be super helpful. 

Now as I'm sure you remember from every year of school prior to now, the basics are vital. Pencils, pens and paper are the staples that never go away (even in the professional working world). But with grad school (and research), sticky notes, highlighters, USB drives, paper and plenty of storage space are also going to be vital to your success. 

Depending on how you take notes for research, sticky notes are going to be super helpful with textbook reading. You're able to write on them, mark exactly where your thought occured and you can color-code the topics. Highlighters are beneficial for this as well.

a woman sits at a wooden desk writing in a notebook. there is an imac in front of her.  Retha Ferguson | Pexels USB drives and external hard drives, depending on what your degree is in, are going to be helpful with any large projects you have to finish in order to complete your program. 

Once you have the basics, you should look into getting a good laptop (if you don't have one already). You don't have to spend a fortune on a computer to be able to do work, but if you want specific capabilities, you may have to shop around. A lightweight computer with cloud storage may be more convenient to carry around, but what if you have to work offline? What if you have super sketchy service and aren't able to do work because of the cloud service? These are things you need to think about before purchasing.

If you're in need of extra physical storage space, you can find a list of recommended hard drives for various computers on Forbes and T3, a technology review site. Hard drives vary in price depending on the brand, quality and amount of storage space you're being given, so keep that in mind when shopping around. 

Finally, an item that I never would have thought of looking at is some kind of recording app for your phone. "Ask your professor if it's okay to record them," Brandon Foster, Founder of My School Supply Lists, says. "Recording the lectures will help you focus on the lecture and allow you to ask questions instead of having to concentrate on taking notes." 

I think that this is a must-have item for anyone in a big school who may need to hear things more than once in order to understand them. Just make sure you're still taking notes when you're listening to the lecture again. 

4. An updated LinkedIn

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, LinkedIn is a hub for professionals trying to make connections and get their dream job. A solid LinkedIn can put you one step ahead of your classmates, so don't neglect it. As you complete your graduate education, you're going to have more items to add to your resume and experience. Most students and working professionals across industries now have a LinkedIn page.

It's incredibly important that you update your Linkedin as you go, otherwise you may forget important details. "Keep it updated with skills, any research you are participating in or citations you might earn," Tiiu Lutter, a master's graduate from Immaculata University and writer for Effortless Insurance, says. "Grad school will be done in a very intense flash, and this way you'll be ready." 

A group of people are in a meeting. They appear to be in a conference room at work. A woman is standing and shaking hands across the table with a man who is sitting down. fauxels | Pexels Connect with classmates, professors and people you make good connections with at campus events you go to. If you can help it, don't miss a single connection. I would advise this to any undergraduates as well. Make good use of any and all conversations you have and time you spend while at a university. People love helping students, regardless of what level you're at.

On LinkedIn (and many other platforms, if I'm honest), there may be groups and pages specific to your graduate school and program. Those pages and groups can be super beneficial to finding connections and jobs. Don't believe it? I graduated with a degree in journalism and I'm now in a networking group on Facebook for multimedia journalists who are helping one another get better, find connections and get their dream jobs.

5. A business casual wardrobe

Let's face it, the leggings and sweatshirts from your undergraduate days probably aren't going to make the cut in grad school. After all, aren't you here to make even more professional connections? You wouldn't want to spoil a potential connection because you were wearing a baggy t-shirt with leggings or shorts. 

Now, I'm not saying you have to dress fancy all the time. Just make sure you look put together. "You never know who you will meet or be introduced to on campus," Kelsey Oliver, a recent MBA grad from the Hult International Business School and current Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations at EF Education First, says. 

Those random guest lecturers and school events are the perfect place to meet a professional contact who can get you the job you've always dreamed of having, so it's best to make sure you're always showing your best self. But what goes into a business casual wardrobe? 

For me, a blazer is a staple item. I always try to keep a blazer in my closet. It can be part of a super formal outfit, or it can be dressed down with a nice pair of jeans and a nice blouse. Other items that are easily made into business casual attire (at least at the grad school level) include sweaters, khakis and nice dresses.

a woman in business casual stands in front of a white board, writing with a marker in an office space Christina Morillo | Pexels Kelsey suggests investing in a good pair of black jeans, a casual blazer, a good selection of neutral plain tops and a heeled bootie. The colors totally depend on you and your personality, but these items will help you feel confident while rocking the business casual look. Most of these clothing items are also easily transferrable to other events in your life. You even get the added bonus of being able to use these same clothing items once you graduate and have your full-time job. It allows you to save yourself from some of the growing pains of, well, growing up. 

Your must-haves for graduate school are really similar to what you may have needed during your undergraduate education, they're just amped up a bit. If you're headed to grad school in a few months (or even if you're already there), I hope you found this helpful and that it helps you in your first year.

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