As we draw closer to the start of a college semester I always wonder what new graduate students are thinking about. Are they excited about doing something new or is anxiety setting in? After all, many have spent weeks submitting official transcripts, letters of recommendations, and other admission requirements to get to this point. I read tons of letters where students write about why they’re attending graduate school. As you can imagine there is a wide and extensive range of reasons. Some folks need a master’s degree to augment their credentials, others to make more money, and yet others to advance their knowledge in a particular subject. Whatever the reason, the overriding theme is to do something for themselves that will enhance their lives and sometimes, the lives of others.
There is a new challenge ahead and many new graduate students worry about being good enough to compete. Upon making the decision to apply to one of our programs, one student suggested, “this is life or death for me.” I don’t believe she was being literal, but instead used a little shock value to communicate how serious she is about obtaining her master’s degree. She later said she needed to “make up” for her poor undergraduate academic performance. I try to get students to understand there is little value in worrying about making amends for something in the past. The focus should be on today and the actions necessary to succeed at the graduate level. Sacrifices will have to be made and I am clear about advising graduate students to carve out anywhere between 15-25 hours per week/per class to complete assignments, readings & study time.
It seems when I start something new there is usually a combination of anxiety, fear of failing or having second thoughts (did I make the right decision?) We train ourselves to understand these feelings as part of the process but must be quick to quiet what I like to call “doubtful noise” in order to move confidently towards accomplishing our goals. Ultimately, attending graduate school is worth it, but it matters more what you do with the graduate school experience and how you use it upon completion. We are only a couple of weeks into 2013 and many have chosen to start graduate school in order to spark a new beginning. For that, I salute you!