As many of you may already know I am currently a graduate student at UCF and my journey from attending college in-person to online has been an uphill battle.
While I am so grateful for the opportunity to further my education, I was not sure what to expect when I got accepted into my program.
This got me thinking that it may be helpful to share my experience with the application process, the pros and cons to online vs in-person learning, social and academic aspects of graduate school as well as some tools you can use to get started!
Aside from obtaining a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or foreign equivalent to get into graduate school most schools require a 3.0 GPA or higher.
Hence the reason you should treat your undergraduate courses as an opportunity to give you access to more success. But grades are not the only requirement that impact acceptance.
Certain universities may require that you take the GRE or GMAT before you can get admitted.
I would highly recommend studying for the GRE sooner rather than later. Once you know if it is a requirement or not take the necessary steps to study a few semesters before you graduate undergrad if you can.
In my case due to the pandemic certain institutions actually waived the GRE requirements when I was applying so depending on your specific circumstances and time you decide to apply you may not need to stress yourself out about requirements that may be altered in the future.
Here are some resources to learn more about the GRE requirements and preparation.
High test scores and your GPA are not the only guarantees to get into grad school.
The hardest part of applying to graduate school for me was not the lack of letters of recommendation, campus involvement, or work experience but the statement of intent.
A statement of intent is a letter written for the purpose to tell the admissions committee why they should accept you into the university.
I had to spend months considering why I wanted to go to grad school in the first place, what I was trying to accomplish, what skills made me unique, and what I would contribute to the university as a student?
The one piece of advice I would say when it comes to the statement of intent is to be authentic. If you're not sure what your purpose is for attending grad school, seriously take some time to sit down and consider your options and make sure it's the best decision for you.
It's okay to take a gap semester off to think about what you truly want and it's also okay to admit that you don't have a clear vision for what your career will look like five years from now. It's all a part of the process!
The more you know and research the better chance you have of getting what you want.
THE FIRST 6-8 MONTHS WILL FEEL LIKE YOU ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING – BUT THAT’S COMPLETELY NORMAL.
The initial stages of grad school are intended for you to get accustomed to your program and create a routine that works for you. You'll most likely be over your first semester before it officially ends and that is completely normal.
The first few weeks of my program, I had no clue what to expect. I didn't know what I was doing on a daily basis and to be completed honest I am still not sure if I have any idea now.
But the good news is this happens to the best of us. Make no mistake I am excelling in my program but there are days when I feel alone. The reality of grad school compared to what the idea of it is our heads are two very different perceptions.
WRITING IS A MAJOR SKILL FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL!
I can not stress this enough, if you are not a naturally gifted writer like myself it is a skill you will have to learn to love regardless of the program you are in.
If you are not used to writing 15 page papers it may be time for you to brush up on your writing skills.
Don't cut corners by relying on Grammarly or other software to proofread for errors. Always use proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling for all assignments.
There are writing services at most graduate institutions to assist you with this. Be sure to make an appointment in advance at the writing center and book them as frequently as needed.
Get familiar with the format style your professors prefer for your papers to be written in and review any sample materials they post for students to refer to.
I find it useful to break up assignments into sections. So rather then trying to write a paper all in one sitting, maybe commit to writing five hundred words everyday until your deadline or split it up into even smaller sections if you need to.
Always include proper citations and reference pages for your work.
Be open-minded when it comes to learning. As time goes on you will begin to adapt to writing and feel more confident.
GRAD SCHOOL WILL FEEL LIKE A FULL-TIME JOB.
I still remember the days when I would wake up out of my sleep in a cold sweat tossing over to check my phone to make sure I didn't miss an assignment deadline. Post college PTSD is a real thing and it is important to be aware of.
At times when you have reports due back to back and group meetings to attend outside of study hours, grad school will feel like a full-time job. But it is manageable.
Staying organized with allow you to focus more on the things you enjoy and worry less about deadlines and missing assignments.
Create a work environment that allows you to optimize your learning and let family and friends know when you are busy with school. Open up your blinds and let the light in to keep yourself awake, find a quiet space or use headphones in your space. Sit at a desk or table if you can rather than on your bed.
Turn off your phone and stay off of social media while you're working on assignments and doing research.
Whether you are working remotely from home or on campus treat your courses like your job because ultimately it is. The portfolio and skills you learn today will stick with you for the rest of your life so make the most of it.
PROS OF ONLINE GRAD SCHOOL
I will say that I do like the flexibility to work on my class assignments early in the morning or late at night or whenever it is most convenient. For my courses specifically I get two weeks to work on an assignment before it is due. This is a life saver as my weekly task constantly change between work, family obligations, volunteering, and blogging.
Another perk to going to school online is there is no commute. Unless you count the walk from your bed to the desk in your room lol. I love that I can save gas money and reclaim my time not worrying about traffic. Since I have no strict schedule that I have to adhere to I don't have to stress about being late to class or losing attendance points.
Potentially Reduced Cost
Depending on the university program you enroll in, your tuition cost may be significantly lower than that of an in-person program. You can save money on transportation fees, dorm fees, food all by staying in the comfort of your own home. You also have access to more institutions out of state or internationally by choosing to learn remotely. The sky is the limit!
CONS OF ONLINE GRAD SCHOOL
Networking Requires More Effort
Networking is an important part of building your career. You never know which connections you build now will make an impact on your future and open doors for you. This can be slightly more difficult online due to the fact that it's not in-person but you can still create connections by attending online events, sending emails and calling professors, advisors, faculty, guest lecturers as much as possible.
Requires More Self-Discipline
Grad school requires you to create an individualized plan of self-study that only works if you have the self-discipline and drive to follow through on your responsibilities. No one is going to micro-manage you in grad school so you need to plan accordingly. Set reminders on your phone if you have upcoming deadlines. Be sure to reach out to your professors if you have questions about major class projects well in advance of the due date. Reach out to fellow classmates to form study groups and check-in with each other on a frequent basis.
Limited Social Interaction
Another con to online studies is the limited social interaction. As I mentioned before at times the path you are choosing can feel lonely and isolated but there are so many resources around you. I regularly make time to check-in with my advisor to make sure I am on track with my courses and they usually respond pretty frequently. You can also form a Groupme with other students, chances are they are full-time employees, parents, and have social lives outside of grad school too and know a thing or two about finding a work life balance. You can also speak to your success network, who is specifically designed to help online students adjust to graduate life. I'd also recommend joining a volunteer organization or club on campus that will help you advance in your career and foster your interest of study.
YOUR WORTH DOES NOT COME FROM YOUR GRADS, CV, OR GRANTS! SELF-CARE MATTERS
Understand that while you may want to do everything in your power to succeed at grad school none of it matters without your health.
If you are not doing your part to take care of yourself then everything else will crumble.
Make sure you are rewarding yourself for the small wins. Treat yourself to your favorite snack after you finish reading a few chapters or take a break in between to walk outside barefoot in the grass and smell the fresh air.
Last weekend, I went to the salon to get my nails done and had a foot massage as a reward for finishing an assignment. Sometimes it can also be as simple as sleeping in a little later on Sunday morning or meditating when you wake up.
Make sure you are sticking to a sleep schedule, cutting off social media when you need to and properly staying nourished.
However you choose to relax and show up for yourself be sure you make it a regular practice and listen to your body.