Most students intuitively know that graduate school is different from undergrad. But most cannot articulate how graduate school differs from college and, more importantly, are not prepared to successfully transition to graduate school. Pay attention to these three tips and you will start graduate school on the right foot and set yourself up for long term success.
Be Your Own Guide
Undergraduate students receive a lot of hand-holding. Before they register they must visit an advisor who helps them select classes, informs them of requirements, and signs off on their course schedule, permitting the student to register for classes. Most rules and policies are spelled out for the student. Graduate school is different. Yes, students attend orientation sessions, but policies often are not discussed in detail. There isn't a lot of guidance. Students who rely on others to inform them of policies and assess their progress towards completing their degree may be disappointed when they miss important deadlines or find that they have not completed required experiences. "I didn't know" or "No one told me" aren't good enough excuses and will not help you in the long run. Read up on policies, ask questions, and develop relationships with faculty but also with other graduate students.
Instead, successful students take their education into their own hands. They seek information about requirements, course scheduling, how to obtain practica and applied experiences, and policies regarding selecting a dissertation committee and submitting the dissertation. Likewise, successful students keep track of required courses and periodically evaluate their own progress towards the degree. Remember that no one cares as much about your success as you do. You're the best person - and often the only person - who will ensure that you are making consistent progress towards completing your degree.
Protect Your Time
Graduate students use their time in different ways than do undergraduate students. Less time is spent in class and more time is spent on academic activities that take place outside the classroom, such attending colloquia and invited lectures, reading, and research. Graduate students tend to have a flexible schedule, but lots of work that needs to be completed in that time. Keep track of your responsibilities by using an academic calendar and to-do list. Many students find that it is easy to let work take precedence over their personal lives. Everyone, even graduate students, needs some play time, so be sure to schedule in some rest and relaxation as well as social time to maintain your mental health, but also your physical health.
Take Initiative and Be Tenacious
Much of the work you do as a graduate student will be solitary in nature -- reading, writing, and analyzing data, for example. Initiative and motivation are essential. Successful graduate students not only have good ideas but they take initiative and carry them out. They also take the initiative in asking for help, when needed. Finally, successful students are tenacious - they don't give up. Set backs are inevitable - experiments run awry, files are lots, and other accidents occur. Successful graduate students plan well, work through problems, and don't waste time and energy complaining. Instead, they determine what went wrong, seek assistance if necessary, and start over.