As a graduate student, I see a lot of articles every day from other students like me who are commiserating over how tough grad school is. And I totally agree – it’s tough, and I know there are tons of programs out there even harder than the one I’m in (hi, Ph.D. students, you’re the bomb). But I think it’s really important, for my own sake and for all grad students out there, to step back and think about how lucky we are to be given the opportunities we’re given. So, inspired by this article, I bring you the 9 Most Underrated Things About Grad School. This is specifically for student affairs and higher ed, but I’d like to think a lot of this applies to other programs as well.
- You have an excuse for getting lost in reading about your topic of choice. I get to read pretty much anything I want about higher education, student affairs, and especially first-year students, and I can write it all off as “research” or “part of my education”. This is AWESOME. While sometimes it can be tedious trying to finish reading for class, most of the time I find myself wishing I had more hours in the day to fully explore all the readings for all of my classes – there usually just aren’t enough hours in the day to read as much as I want.
- You have a built-in community of people to nerd out over your subject area with. The conference I went to in November was my version of heaven because I’ve been a total nerd for orientation and the first-year experience pretty much since I went through orientation, and getting the chance to sit around and talk to people who live it day in and day out was just beyond for me. But this isn’t just limited to orientation. The discussions I’ve had with friends from class have just blown my mind, and I love not knowing what kind of topic we’re going to get lost in each day.
- You realize who your true friends are. Grad school puts a lot of pressure on friendships, and some are bound to fall by the wayside. But the people you still want to talk to at the end of the day, and the people who put up with your ridiculous hours and how hard it can be to get in touch with you, are the ones you know will be there forever. You’ll also find the kindred spirits that were brought into your life for a reason, so that you could help each other through this time, and you know that you’ll be sticking by each other’s side for many years to come. It’s pretty special.
- There are a ton of people around who just want to see you succeed, and are so flattered when you ask for help. I learned this one last year, but it definitely still applies: there is nothing more interesting than finding out how exactly someone ended up working in higher education. Approximately 95% of the time, they’ve had a really interesting, circuitous path that’s taken them through quite a few twists and turns before they ended up where they are today. Asking for their advice or their help is always so fulfilling for them and equally as helpful for you – and it always makes me wonder where I’m going to end up in ten years. People tend to bend over backwards to help you out however they can, and I just love that about this field.
- The feeling you get when you learn something in class and realize it applies to a situation you’re going through THE VERY NEXT DAY. It makes all those hours in class feel worth it while simultaneously humbling you in the workplace because you realize you’ll never stop learning. Every situation has something to teach you, and you never know when you can pull from your knowledge bank.
- Staying up all night to write papers that you’re invested in because you’re genuinely interested in the topic, not because you merely have to turn it in. There have been times when I’ve had to force myself to turn in a paper not because the deadline had approached and I needed to get one more page to make it acceptable, but because I’d been fine tuning and refining what I wanted to say and I needed to just stop tinkering and move on to other things. After years of dealing with lab reports that weren’t exactly the most fun papers to write (sorry chem profs, you’re all great, but lab reports for gen chem II were a special kind of torture), it’s so refreshing to have to cut myself off from a topic because I’m so interested in it that I can’t stop writing.
- There’s always free food around. Always. Namely the breakfast meetings, the holiday parties, the working lunches, the workshops, and who can forget orientation events. But beware, there’s such a thing as the grad school 15. Or at least, I think there is. Between my weird appetite and pure barre challenges, I’ve been doing okay!
- You never have to leave college if you don’t want to. I don’t mean this in a crazy, let’s be seniors who party forever and never enter the real world way. I mean you never have to leave that safe, nurturing environment that you loved so much, where you meet great friends and develop meaningful relationships. Where people encourage you to think intentionally and live a life of purpose. Where wearing certain colors isn’t just encouraged, it’s expected. Where you get to explore your interests and try new things, because there’s always some awesome event going on tomorrow night.
- Knowing that you’ll have the opportunity to make a difference in a student’s life like someone made a difference in yours, and having that motivation every time things get tough. Seriously, that’s what keeps me going. I think this one speaks for itself.