An object in motion tends to stay in motion, while an object at rest tends to stay at rest. This academic principle can be applied to education as a whole, especially when earning degrees. With how rigorous college can be, a well-deserved rest is needed after framing your diploma. However, this tends to be short as there are two routes taken once graduates cross the stage: enter the workforce or return to school. Although I had always aspired to go to law school, I knew that it wouldn’t be financially possible for me to do so right after finishing my undergraduate degree. I spent a great deal of time focused on the on job search, which is an experience that you can always learn from. I planned to enter the job market and felt ready to do so with my educational experience.
I graduated this past spring as a member of the University of Connecticut Class of 2022. I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sport media and human rights, with a minor in political science. However, this will not be the only blue cap and gown I’ll wear. In 2023, I will graduate from UConn again, this time with a Master of Arts degree in human rights, with a hood to complete the ensemble.
I never planned on going to graduate school and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. For most of the summer and the first few weeks of the semester, I was constantly asking myself questions. Is grad school just an extension of college, a couple more semesters after the regular college experience? Is the work impossible? Can I manage this? The most important thing I’ve learned about the transition from undergraduate studies to graduate school is that one isn’t harder than the other, they’re just different. Here’s why:
The biggest challenge in grad school so far has been time; there’s just never enough of it! Of course, this is a common struggle in undergrad as well, but there is more work that needs to be done and the days just seem to get shorter and shorter. The readings are longer and there are more of them and in smaller classes, the professors know both your name and if you read or not. Not to mention, classes can be anywhere from two and a half to three hours long. These credit hours aren’t broken up the way undergraduate lectures are, so the majority of your time in class is spent in one sitting each day.
Going from class to meetings to work to the library for studying is how you’ll be spending your time everyday. This was often the case for me these past four years, but instead of multiple meetings or classes in a day, I usually just have one longer class and extended shifts at my internship and at work. No matter how busy I was as an undergraduate student, time management has never been more important. If you’re balancing a job or an internship (or both!), time management is non-negotiable. Professors, supervisors, and bosses know what you are capable of and expect you to plan your time accordingly to achieve it on a regular basis.
While in undergrad I had an even mix of large lectures and smaller classes, most graduate courses are limited to less than 20 students. This is done intentionally to promote deep, meaningful discussions amongst members of the cohort. Also, there is a three-hour time block to fill, so it’s expected that everyone will contribute at least a few times. Hence, it’s crucial to complete all assigned readings and coursework to be able to stay on top of the conversation.
Of course, you must be present to be a part of the discussion, and going to class (yes, every single one) is the biggest wake up call. Even if you aren’t feeling your very best, you are still expected to be in class. Attendance is a large part of the grade, so much more than it was in undergrad, and even missing one week can put you behind in both material comprehension and on the grade book. Unless you’re extremely ill and have a doctor’s note, there is little sympathy for absences. In the event you do need to miss, be sure to book an appointment right away with your professor to cover what went on in class.
Professors still have office hours just as they did in undergraduate, but many of them are extremely focused on their own research and they may not have a wide availability for meetings. Never be afraid to email a professor asking for additional time to meet outside of their regular office hours. Great professors will work with you, and are more willing to do so when you demonstrate enthusiasm and dedication to the course. If there is something that you are struggling with, it’s best to go to the professor sooner rather than later as they tend to demand more of students as the semester goes on. Not to mention, they have their own deadlines to meet on top of keeping track of ours!
Since there are so few individuals in each class (and most of them will be in all of your classes!) it’s imperative to work with them to prepare for discussion each week. The professor will assess you in comparison to everyone else, so group study sessions or even just regular communication with your classmates outside of class will ensure that everyone is on the same page. Even though you all may be in the same program, everyone has their own area of expertise that others can benefit from. Use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid to ask your classmates about their interpretations of the readings ahead of class. I often find myself learning the most not just from the material, but from the experiences and theories of those around me.
As I mentioned, you’re going to be seeing a lot of your classmates— at least 10 hours a week every week. In fact, you’ll probably see them more than you see your friends. Between this time and shared interests, it’s natural to become friends with members of your cohort and embrace it! It’s refreshing to have people who can relate to you on a variety of levels, from academic work to personal beliefs which are often reflected in your studies. Many of you will all be on the same or very similar schedules, making it easier to coordinate for meetings or discuss classwork together. While it’s always great to make more friends and develop your network, don’t forget to keep in touch with your long-time pals! It’s easy to fall into your own routine and become so absorbed in your own life that you forget to reach out to those who you don’t see as often as you used to.
Hanging out with friends is always a great way to unwind especially after how intense your graduate school weeks can be! It’s a great form of self care, another really important but overlooked aspect of college. Whether it is a night out with friends or getting lunch together, this isn’t as easy to do in post-grad. Especially if your friends have moved to different places to pursue their career educational goals, it’s not as simple to plan excursions. Even if you have friends who haven’t graduated from college yet, their schedules and yours are all so different. Take the time to send texts, Snapchats, or tag your friends in posts. You don’t have to talk every day, but engaging with each other will maintain your friendships until you can coordinate a Facetime or dinner date.
One of the main things that makes graduate students’ schedules so different is research. While I’m lucky to have a lot of flexibility in the hours I conduct my research and work on projects gathering data, other students in my cohort have to follow their supervisors’ schedules and you do have to build your own agenda around that. There is also an expected amount of hours that you dedicate to your work each week, so between balancing your classes, readings, and then research, graduate school really is a full time job. When I had to do my undergraduate thesis, it was built into my class schedule so I had allotted time to continuously research and write. Now, research is a full-time job between class and outside projects.
Without my research, I wouldn’t be here. I’m so fortunate to have a graduate assistantship that includes a tuition waiver for the time I spend contributing to a faculty member’s research. There are scholarships offered from both universities and outside organizations in undergraduate and graduate programs, but they are competitive. With the rising cost of education, scholarships are necessary to fund your education. In graduate school, assistantships are common and slightly easier to find within a variety of departments. Since the human rights program is so new at UConn, there wasn’t a lot of funding, but due to my performance and involvement within the Human Rights Institute, I was able to network to earn an assistantship.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree is to seek out graduate assistantships and be sure that you are considered for funding within your applications. They can be the difference between schools you attend or even between the ability to enroll or not. For me, my graduate assistantship is what makes my studies possible and I’m so thankful for every opportunity that has led me to this position and UConn as a whole for everything.
Despite the immeasurable hours I’ve dedicated to my academic and professional career, I definitely think graduate school has been time well spent. I’m only halfway through my first semester and I truly do learn so much everyday; both about human rights and myself. For me, continuing my studies immediately felt right and I’m glad I did because if I found a full-time career that I loved, I may not have gone back to school and refined my research in human rights concepts. Furthermore, choosing to attend UConn for an undergraduate degree was the ultimate best decision I’ve ever made in my life, making it so easy for me to come back when I was presented with the opportunity. No matter where you go after college, I hope you make the decision that you feel is best for you, especially your future you. Whether you’ll be heading to work, to school, or to an airport, do it with pride and enjoy the ride!