Lessons Learned: A Reflection on the First Semester of Graduate School


naspa graduate associate program gap

Author
Jia Wen Zhu & Naomi Cholst, The George Washington University

Published
February 13, 2017


Our graduate school journeys began in the fall of 2016 at the George Washington University (GW), where we are studying Higher Education Administration. Located in the heart of Washington, DC, GW was the perfect place for both of us seeking a research university experience in a major metropolitan area full of professional opportunities. We decided to share the lessons we learned in our first semester of graduate school to help current and future graduate students.

Possibly the most influential part of the master’s program in higher education is the assistantship. This is where you will spend the majority of your time. It is important to carry three things in mind as you enter the working world:

  1.  Say “yes” to opportunities: Branching out into new areas of higher education can help you discover your interests, ignite new passions, and keep your career fresh and exciting. Employers may also prefer a well-rounded resume that covers a wide range of experiences. Lastly, the more responsibility you take on, the more you will be able to learn and experience.
  2. Know your limits: While your assistantship should challenge you to grow as an employee, it is also important to avoid burn-out. You may become overwhelmed if you do not set realistic expectations and practice self-care. Saying “no” can be as important to your quality of work as saying “yes”.
  3. Seek out professional development: Graduate school is a time for learning and personal development. Take this time to hone your work skills and cultivate your network. Attend trainings, conferences, and other professional events.

Graduate school classes are different from undergraduate classes. They will be smaller, discussion-based, and provide ample time to read, learn, and immerse yourself in the world of higher education from a theoretical perspective. To make the most of your courses, be sure to follow these tips:

  1. Reach out to your faculty adviser: Your faculty adviser is an essential resource for every graduate student. They can help you choose classes that fit your interests, guide your capstone project, and help you network with the school community.
  2. Be “present” in class: You are paying good money to go to graduate school, utilize your dollars wisely. Take notes, speak up often in discussions, and make the most of your limited time in class. Participation is key to succeeding in graduate school.

In the first semester, you will be juggling with the graduate school workload, assistantship life, and personal life. It is important to find that balance between all three commitments to maintain a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Be organized:  You will need time management throughout graduate school and in your professional career. Staying organized will make your experience run more smoothly. Utilize physical planners, Google calendars, to-do lists, and checklists. Create schedules, assign deadlines, make goals, and stick to them! If possible, keep your home and work clutter-free.
  2. Make time to relax: Graduate school should not be your entire life. You are an individual and should prioritize your own personal health and wellbeing first. Make time in your schedule to relax, spend time with friends and family, pursue your hobbies, etc. Schedule breaks during the day, even if they are only 5 minutes long. Being happy and healthy will boost productivity.

Every experience will be different, but we hope this guide will be helpful. We know you will thrive in whatever environment you may be in, and gain valuable knowledge for your future career. Best of luck,

Naomi Cholst and Jia Wen Zhu


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