With fall approaching, we wanted to offer advice to the new graduate students as they get ready to commit to a fast-paced, demanding graduate program. So we have put together four of our best tips on what graduate students can do to survive and thrive in grad school.
1. STAY ORGANIZED
Finding ways to stay on top of schedules and classwork is going to make your grad life so much easier. Some of the ways you can do so is by adapting an organizational system which entails you to categorize, rearrange and declutter.
Before buying any room furniture and decor for your grad housing or apartment, we suggest writing a list and splitting it in two categories: Study Mode and Relax mode. Take a minute to think about what things that fall into these categories. Consider a desk and chair, for example. Imagine an overly plush chair. Which category would this fall into? The answer: Relax mode. Comfort is important, but when we are surrounded with too much comfort, we can be easily distracted from studying. Instead, opt for a simple desk chair–adding a chair cushion for your back or bottom, but not both. A rule of thumb is to furnish your room with a majority of simple, practical furniture.
But don’t forget about making the space your own. You want to create a study environment not feel disconnected. So spice up the room with bright neon frames, inspirational canvas art, and fun school supplies. Soon you will have a perfect space for yourself where you can feel more motivated, especially on those days when you need the extra boost.
Once you have your furniture and decor picked out, it’s time to arrange it all. Depending on your level of distraction, you should rearrange your desk in front or adjacent to the window for the best lighting. If possible, move your bed on the opposite wall so it’s behind your desk. Having the bed away from your peripheral view will help lessen the temptation to move your work to your bed, and therefore lose concentration.
Keep your desk uncluttered by using folders and 3-drawer desktop organizers to store important papers and supplies. The last thing you want is stacks of papers and pencils scattered haphazardly on your desk and floor. Or worse, unable to find the textbook you need for the exam you’re taking in an hour.
Now we know there’s an app you could easily use to create your to do list on your phone, but having a calendar hung on your wall or on your desk is going to make your grad life that much easier. As most of us are visual people, a physical list of our goals and responsibilities helps ensure that we stay focus, and don’t miss those important due dates.
You can use your wall calendar to plan your week, keep track of upcoming assignments and projects, and even write a reward day for yourself. Plus, you’d be surprised with how rewarding it is when you’ve accomplished all the things you need to do on that particular day and can mark them off on the calendar.
2. KEEP A BUDGET LIFESTYLE
Finances are one of those areas where we wish we could put on the back burner, but as grad students, we don’t always have the luxury. As many of us know, grad school isn’t cheap. And unless we’re able to grab a full tuition grant, chances are we will have to take out loans to cover tuition fees, boarding, food, etc.
Keeping a budget is absolutely essential to making sure we are on the right track financially. The last thing we want to do is excessive spending on leisure activities or gadgets only to realize too late that we can’t afford to pay for the essentials.
Every beginning of the month, we suggest setting a monthly budget for yourself based on your necessary needs ( any tuition, boarding, books, etc.) and leisure (hanging out with friends, shopping, gadgets, etc) that month. You write your budget on paper or use one of the many budget apps on the market. We love using the Mint app [<strong><a href=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mint-personal-finance/id300238550?mt=8″ target=”_blank”>iOS</a>, <a href=”https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mint&hl=en” target=”_blank”>Android</a>,</strong>] to keep track of our day-to-day spending. The best part is that it gives us a great on the go overview of our financial accounts, and also offers tips on how to stay on track.
If you live with roommate(s), go the bulk buy route for the essentials, and split the cost. The last thing you want to add to your workload is a late night run to the store to stock up on essentials like toilet paper and laundry detergent. Decide collectively when and how you and your roommate(s) will split the cost. We suggest taking advantage of Amazon prime as they offer students (grad students included) free two-day shipping for six months on a wide range of products and supplies. More savings, more money in your bank account.
Finding savings here and there can and will give you some peace of mind so you’re not left to tackle unnecessary stress, but focus on more important things.
3. PLAN MEALS AHEAD
Unlike undergrad where we could just head over to the cafeteria, swipe our ID cards, and be greeted with a plethora of hot and cold foods, this isn’t always the case when you’re a grad student. You will most likely rely on take out and any home cooked meals you’ve made. Or if you’re on a tight budget because let’s face it grad school isn’t cheap, you may be living on a bad diet of ramen, protein bars and double shots of espresso.
But grad school is going to require you to be on your A game at all times, which is why making sure you keep a healthy and wholesome meal plan is so essential.
Set a day to go grocery shopping, making sure to stock up on fruits and vegetables. Opt for lean meats like chicken and turkey as these have been shown to be healthier for us than red meat.
If cooking isn’t your thing, there’s great precooked meats at the deli and pre-made salads you can easily stock up on. If going the frozen food dinner route, make sure to read the nutritional labels on the back to ensure you’re picking up ones with lower sodium and less fat.
Once you have your groceries done, it’s time to plan your meals ahead as you won’t always have time to make food everyday. Weekends are a great time to cook up several meals in advance, store them in Tupperware and keep them in the refrigerator for when you’re ready to just heat them up. This is going to save you a lot of time and hassle, especially when you have those long, busy days when you go from class to class.
4. TAKE YOUR ME TIME
Grad school is arguably one of the most conscious decisions you will have to decide on. Not only are there financial and academic factors to consider, but will also require emotional and physical dedication on your part as well. Something not listed on the graduate curriculum is how much you will be tested mentally and physically along the way.
It can be too easy to forget academic priorities and fall behind on our studies, but it can also be equally easy to overdo and forget to take care of yourself.
Now we know there is never enough time in the day to do all the assignments, readings and papers you have to do by the end of the day, but it’s so important to take at least one to two hours each day to relax. This can help relieve some of the stress from the day.
One of our favorite ways to relieve the stress is having a great workout at the gym, whether it’s an hour of Zumba, elliptical or laps in the pool. We suggest using the university’s gym facilities two to three times a week if possible. It will keep you healthy, and the much need break from the long hours of studying.
If you have a day off or even a few hours on the weekend, go explore the city or town you’re in. Graduate school is an important chapter in your life so make sure to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the campus and local area when possible. Check out a sports game if you can. Maybe grab a few of your friends or roommates and go to a pub for drinks and appetizers. Or simply order take out and binge watch Friends on Netflix. It’s all up to you!
The key is to give yourself quality time to relax and recharge for the week ahead.