Grad school advice: 3 more things you should know

Your graduate school meltdown survival pack

Your grad school meltdown survival pack © Kate O’Rourke

One mind may be good, but many minds hold the wisdom of the crowd.

That’s why after publishing my last post on what you should think about before committing to graduate school, I asked my classmates (most of whom have already graduated, due to their very logical choice not to have a baby in the middle of the degree) what I’d missed.

Here’s their grad school advice for you.

Be practical

Caeli, Meghan, and Dustin pointed out that going to graduate school isn’t all big ideas and term papers.

You’ve gotta pay for it, too.

Make sure your finances are in order before starting graduate school

Meghan had a great reminder about potential funding from your employer.


Since I was unemployed when I began my Master of Arts, and have a tendency to make big life decisions with deliberate disregard for financial implications (it always works out somehow!) I didn’t even think about this when I wrote the last post.

It’s a great tip – check out any and all sources of funding well ahead of time. Royal Roads, my university, runs about $20,000 a year for Master’s programs, and I know the cost for grad school at many U.S. schools are even higher.MAPC-Dustin

So listen to Dustin when he tells you that you’re going to need to budget!

Choose your research wisely

Scott suggests that before you embark on graduate studies, you give yourself time to build up some work and life experience.

MAPC-Scott1 Exploring your passions in your career and your life before considering how to use your degree to build on those is a fabulous piece of advice, and I wish I’d thought of it. It ties in to my advice to choose a research topic that you love, but adds a dimension of practicality – you’re going to spend a lot of money on this degree so don’t rush into it!

Scott also recommends you expect and prepare for meltdowns.

He’s right, but I haven’t got a clue how you’d prepare for them, other than having a well-stocked liquor cabinet (and/or a lot of chocolate).

Focus on the relationships

This, though, was my favourite feedback:


Choose a degree that gives you the opportunity to develop a community with your classmates.

The degree that we chose, a Master of Arts in Professional Communication at a university geared towards working professionals, attracted some truly talented students that I’m proud to be associated with. Intensive 3-week residencies meant that we got to know each other in the real world and develop a sense of community that, I think, kept us all sane throughout the rest of the degree.

Like Fiona, I feel that what I’ve learned from my classmates has been as valuable as what I learned from my profs. And I’m so grateful that my classmates were supportive and always more than willing to lend their expertise when they had skills I lacked.

MAPC-Scott3The value in graduate school is not just in the subject matter you learn, or in further developing your critical thinking skills, or in learning from your professors.

The network you build with your classmates will also bring value to your professional and personal life, if you take the time to find a degree program that gives you an opportunity to develop that.

The last word

Scott leaves us with this Shakespearean video, which he says is how he thinks of graduate school.

If you think he’s being melodramatic, just wait. You’ll see.