Going From Undergraduate To Grad School? Here’s What To Expect

Many undergraduate students choose to continue their time in academia by going directly into grad school. Find out what you can expect as you climb the academic ladder.


You have finished your undergraduate program; if you aren’t already searching for a job, you are likely getting ready for graduate school. As you prep

You have finished your undergraduate program; if you aren’t already searching for a job, consider getting ready for graduate school. As you prepare for the grad school journey, understand that this new level of education will be quite different than your previous educational experiences.

While seeking higher education, you will conduct extensive research, read voraciously, and write more than ever. The work may be intensive, but the rewards of earning a graduate degree are invaluable.

Many undergraduate students continue their time in academia by going directly into graduate school. But what is grad school like? Find out below what you can expect as you climb the academic ladder!

What are the Admission Requirements For Grad School?

Before applying to the graduate program of your dreams, there are several steps you must take to qualify for admittance. Many programs are competitive, and applicants must find a way to stand out. Consider which graduate programs align with your academic or career goals.

Once you have narrowed down your aspiring graduate degree and school, you can gather your qualifications. Different universities have different requirements but consider the following when applying:

  • Any relevant experience to the field, such as internships or your immersions in the subject. (ex. Studying abroad, volunteering, etc.)
  • Academic successes
  • Your official transcripts from your Undergraduate degree or relevant institutions.
  • Standardized Test Results
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • A Personal Statement
  • An updated Resume/CV

When applying to universities, you’ll want to use any relevant experience and accolades you’ve received to brag about yourself. Suppose you’ve been working in your field of choice or have participated in relevant experiences. In that case, it’s best to use them to your advantage!

The official documentation received from past institutions you’ve attended, such as your transcripts or standardized test results, may seem obvious to submit. However, because you will be competing against many other intelligent students, the personal touches and letters of recommendation will get you much farther than your scores alone.

What is the Application Process Like?

Most graduate schools have deadlines between October and December for applications. This process can be on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s best to apply as early as possible.

Graduate programs are looking for students who are passionate about their futures and have shown they have been working towards a fixed goal. Using the list mentioned in the previous section will give you ideas for distinguishing yourself from the other applicants.

Unlike undergrad, where your applications are typically the same for each school, each grad school will have a separate application for you to fill out. It’s essential to take your time on each of these applications. If you’re looking to study for your Master’s degree, your forms should be free of error and include an illustrative explanation of your relevant experiences.

Compile as much documentation of your intentions and passion for the program as possible. Once you’ve collected your materials, you can apply to each school. With each application, there is usually a fee of around $50-$85.

How do you pick the best Graduate school for you?

Since graduate programs typically take around 1 to 3 years to complete, you’ll want to make sure you’re making the right choice! Before committing to a school, get a sense of the environment where you’ll be immersing yourself.

Will you be staying at home and commuting to a school nearby, or will you want to move hours away? What if you’re going to complete the whole program online? Will you receive financial aid, or will you pay out of pocket? Consider all of the logistics before committing.

Graduate school can be rigorous, but you don’t have to make it more difficult for yourself! Choose an option that will fit your life best financially, mentally, and physically. In order to avoid burnout, set yourself up for success early on; you’ll thank yourself later!

What are the Financial Expectations of Graduate School?

Attending higher education can be expensive; most graduate programs’ tuition is $30,000 or more. Fortunately, there are many options you can take advantage of that will help with the cost. On average, graduate students receive around $27,000 in financial aid. Some of the options that prospective students use are:

  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Military Benefits
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Research or Teaching Assistantships
  • Student Loans

Take your time exploring all of the financial compensation options. If you go above and beyond on your grant and scholarship applications and prioritize finding opportunities for payment, you are bound to find one. Many graduate students start applying at the beginning of the year to allow as much time to find ways to pay for their education.

What is Graduate School like Compared to your Undergraduate?

After growing accustomed to attending classes in large lecture halls during undergrad, you may be shocked by your graduate courses’ smaller class sizes. Since you have decided to specialize in a specific topic, you will likely only find those like-minded in their ventures in attendance. This allows for much more hands-on learning and a sense of community amongst those in your respective field.

Rather than taking the typical four to five courses per semester, the course load for graduate students is generally only three advanced-level courses per semester. This allows more time with your professors and to dig deeper into research.

You may be taking fewer classes, but the amount of studying will make up for the remaining time. Graduate programs tend to involve more occasional assignments and papers, so when you receive a project or exam, they carry more weight on your grade.

How do you prepare for Graduate School?

Once you’ve applied and committed to a school, it’s time to prepare yourself for what’s to come. Get acquainted with the campus; check out the library, find the best places to study, or even find a coffee shop for when you need a break. If you’re overwhelmed about starting the program, familiarizing yourself with the area will help settle your nerves.

Alternatively, if you’re taking your courses online, you’ll want to prepare an area where you can have uninterrupted study time. Often, if you’re curious about what your soon-to-be professor is like, you can find reviews online about their teaching styles and personality.

You’re bound to meet many people and be able to network with like-minded individuals in your field. Your peers are likely experiencing the same feelings you are. Let yourself get immersed in the program and use the resources the school has to offer to set yourself up for success.

How Much Time Does Graduate School Take?

Since you have already completed your undergraduate degree and the prerequisites, you likely won’t be in school for another four years. Most graduate school programs last around one to three years.

If you can fully commit to being a student and take a full course load or more, it will take less time to complete your degree. Since the curriculum is much more rigorous, many students choose to attend part-time and give themselves several years to complete their degree. Only you will know what the right pace is for you.

How Can I Balance Graduate School and Work?

One of the main reasons people hold off on getting their graduate degree is that they are still determining how they will balance work and school. Although it may be intimidating, there are many ways that you can accomplish both.

Start by asking your employer how they feel about you attending school. If you are clear about your goals and hope to achieve them, they may help you find ways to make them work! The only way you will find out what support your employer might be willing to provide is to ask. If you’re clear about what your schedule will look like and how your goals relate to your position at the company, they will likely be more receptive to the change.

You will know how difficult the work-school balancing act will be once you start. Be realistic with your employer about the extra tasks you can take during this time. It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver! Avoiding burnout and setting boundaries with your friends, families, and coworkers will be challenging. Still, you have to do what is best for you to succeed!

Can I Complete Graduate School Online?

Many schools allow students to complete graduate degrees online. Some campuses even allow hybrid class schedules so that you can have the best of both worlds.

Degrees requiring labs or clinical experience will require you to work outside your home. This allows you to get real-world experience in your field with hands-on learning.

Tips For Transitioning To Grad School

1. Prepare for Rigorous Coursework

Graduate studies require a greater level of productivity, so be prepared for a heavier workload. You will conduct highly involved research projects and experiments for your courses, your thesis or dissertation, and your final portfolio. Some programs also require you to pass final exams.

Moreover, with additional research comes an abundant amount of writing. Your supervising professor and peers will review and comment on your writing for revision ideas. As explained by Richard L. Boyce, “What the [supervisors] are most interested in is your potential to design and execute a project in a reasonable amount of time, and your abilities to write and talk about it coherently.” You will likely have to convey your ideas in writing and presentations. The better the writer you are, the better you will perform.

2. Learn to Work Well With Others

During your program, be conscious of your actions and persona. You want to create a reputation as a scholar in the academic community. This reputation will follow you through your program and into the workforce, so always present your best self.

Show respect to your professors and peers by coming on time to classes and assistantships and thoroughly preparing any due assignments. Your courses will not be in auditoriums held with hundreds of students; class sizes will be small. You will also learn from a small group of professors, so expect close collaboration with your teachers and peers.

Most likely, you will also have the opportunity to work in assistantships. However, be wary about becoming overly involved. You must be able to manage your time to fulfill your core responsibilities. If you are going to get involved in extracurriculars, make sure you can commit completely. Use your time and energy sparingly on extras, and don’t stretch yourself thin.

Your graduate studies will take up extraordinary amounts of time. You will work most days of the week and probably take summer courses. Although you will have time for holidays and short vacations, you will not have a three-month summer vacation, Heinz Reiske explains. Thus, it would be best if you fully dedicated yourself to your academic pursuits.

3. Take Care of Yourself

As you can imagine, graduate students only have a little time to spend with family and friends because their work involves solitary time spent researching and writing. Expect stress and less sleep.

It’s prudent to take care of your well-being during this intense time. Talk with others about your stress. Finding a close friend in the program or talking to a professional counselor can benefit you more than you can imagine.

Some great ways to ensure time for yourself are to schedule breaks or practice mindfulness. If you’re feeling frazzled or overwhelmed, it can be refreshing to go for a walk or time to ground yourself before getting back to your studies. Usually taking a little time for yourself helps boost productivity, so it is a win-win!

Is Graduate School Worth It?

On average, those who complete their graduate degrees and get their Master’s degree tend to make 20% more in their lifetimes than those with only a bachelor’s degree. Your career goals will ultimately determine whether or not it’s worth the time commitment to complete.

Education is truly the best present you can give yourself that can never be taken away from you. Persevere in your endeavor, give work your best, and remember that this time will change your life in the most fantastic way.

Considering applying to grad school? If so, you’ll likely need to take the GRE, or Graduate Records Examination. Our team of expert GRE tutors are here to help you every step of the way.

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