Graduate School Success: The Importance of Balance

Incoming students often ask me what advice I have for them to be successful in graduate school. One of the most things I tell them is that they need to achieve balance in their schedules. Balance ensures that you are able to get your academic work done but also have adequate and regular time for aspects outside of school that you find meaningful. This is important because otherwise, you will burn out and/or be ill equipt to deal with the many stressors of graduate school. Below I outline 3 tips to help you achieve balance while in graduate school.

1) Make a list of your Values. Having a list of your values will help you determine what you find most important in your life. From here, you can number your values in order of most to least important and then make goals for all of these different aspects.

2) Have Hobbies. Having hobbies is a way for you to spend time doing something outside of academics that brings you joy and allows you to take a break while simultaneously doing something productive and meaningful. Hobbies don’t have to take a lot of time/efforts and can literally be anything you enjoy doing. Some examples include photography, writing, art, exercise, reading, volunteering, cooking, etc.

3) Make a Schedule. Once you’ve determined your values, goals, and hobbies, you can allocate how much time you want to spend on different activities weekly towards each of these. Including these aspects in addition to academics will help ensure that you’re working towards holistic growth throughout your graduate program.

4 Tips for Surviving Graduate School Applications

Graduate applications can be a very stressful time, especially since they often overlap with midterms and/or finals. Below are some tips to help you survive this stressful time.

1) Make sure you get adequate sleep. Staying up late and getting little sleep is often seen as a “badge of honor” in college. However, not getting enough sleep is related to a number of negative physical and psychological health outcomes. Therefore, getting enough sleep is important for performing at the optimum level. You can improve this by trying to go to sleep at a similar time each night and have a consistent bedtime routine in which you get 7-9 hours each night.

2) Find an application partner. One of the best ways to stay on track to complete your applications by their deadlines is to have an accountability partner. Meeting with this person and working on applications together at the same time each week can help motivate you and boost productivity on days when you are not feeling up to it.

3) Have a team. Having a team of other students, current graduate students, and/or faculty members to read over your application materials and provide you with feedback throughout your process is crucial for creating a competitive application. These individuals can also help keep you on track.

4) Try not to stress too too much. It’s natural for you to experience high levels of stress throughout this process. However, there are some things you can do to try and combat this. Some ways to do this include: exercising, spending time doing things that you enjoy, and mindfulness practices such as deep breathing and yoga.

Retaking the GRE

If you’ve taken the GRE and are not completely happy with your scores, should you retake it? This is a very common question that has no one answer to it. There is a lot of variability between disciples and even programs in how much GRE scores factor into admission decisions. Therefore, do your best to determine how important these are at the schools you’re applying to by talking to your mentors, professors, and/or current students in those programs.

When to Retake
If you believe that you have enough time to study and meaningfully improve your scores, then it’s likely a good idea to retake the GRE. However, you also want to keep in mind that programs often consider every aspect of your application. Therefore, consider, if by taking extra time to study for the GRE, if you would be decreasing the quality of other components of your application that are very important such as personal statements.

Preliminary Steps for Applying to Graduate School

1) Are You Ready: Determine if you have the time (this is a very time intensive process), resources (applying and/or traveling for interviews can cost a lot of money), qualifications/experience to make a competitive application for programs you will be applying to. If not, then you may want to consider waiting to apply until you do.

2) Picking Programs: You want to begin narrowing down a list of 5-15 (this varies a lot by interest, degree, and discipline) places to apply. You can do this by asking professors, checking the places where the research you are interested in is being conducted, consulting books that outline the different components of programs across the country in your field.

3) Make A Timeline: Determine when you’re going to complete all the necessary components for your applications : narrowing down your list of programs, polishing your CV, personal and/or research statements, obtaining letters of recommendation, completing the application itself, taking and sending in GRE scores, etc. Having a plan will help you get everything done in a timely manner.