After the strenuous psychology graduate school application process, you are probably ready for a reprieve. Rather than rest on your laurels, now is the time to start preparing for the first year of your life as a psychology graduate student. The first year of psychology graduate school can be difficult, but there are steps that you can take to make sure you are ready for all of the challenges that lie ahead.
As you probably already realize, graduate school is quite a bit different than undergraduate school. In addition to higher expectations, students also face additional coursework and added responsibilities. Learning how to manage your time and stay motivated is essential for your success. The following are just a few of the steps you should take to ensure that your first year of psychology graduate school is a good one.
Make School a Priority
If you thought undergrad school was a breeze, the academic rigor you will encounter in psychology graduate school might come as a shock. Gone are multiple choice exams with easy answers, light reading requirements, and minimal homework loads. As a graduate student, you will be expected to complete extensive reading requirements and arrive to class ready to offer critical analysis of the materials.
In order to be ready for the challenges of psychology graduate school, you need to make your graduate education a top priority. This might involve cutting back on time devoted to hobbies and other leisure activities. While this sacrifice can be difficult, just remember that there will be plenty of time to focus on these activities once you have earned your degree.
Establish a Good Study Routine
One of the biggest challenges you will face during your first year of graduate school is finding enough time to study for each class. While you will probably be taking fewer courses each semester than you took during your undergraduate studies, each class will require more study time. For example, if you are enrolled in nine credits (or approximately three classes) each term, then you will need to find a way to devote a minimum of three hours studying for each class every week.
Once you add up all the hours you spends studying and in class, this can be a significant chunk of time each week. Take a hard look at your weekly schedule and look for places where you can carve out time for concentrated study, reading, and analysis. Even small amounts of time, such as during your daily bus commute or each evening after dinner, can add up quite quickly.
Keep a Graduate School Journal
From your first day as a psychology graduate student, start keeping a detailed journal of your work. This is a great way to keep track of your progress and maintain a record of the information you have learned. While you can use whatever method works best for you, a large three-ring binder and plenty of loose-leaf paper is often one of the easiest and most effective techniques. Maintaining an online educational blog is another great option.
At the start of every term, write down the courses you are taking. Create a separate section for each course where you write down assignments and due dates. Also, insert a folder for each class so you can save graded assignments, papers, tests, and class notes. All of these materials can be very helpful later on when you are preparing for comprehensive exams, creating a portfolio, or writing your thesis or dissertation.
Another feature that you should include in your journal is an annotated APA format bibliography. Throughout your time as a psychology graduate student, you will be expected to write numerous papers and use many sources. Keep track of all of these sources and write a brief description of what information can be found in each reference. By writing down all of this information throughout your graduate studies, the research process for your thesis or dissertation will be much easier.
Volunteer to Work with Graduate Faculty
After all of the extra work and study time required in psychology graduate school, you might wonder how you could possibly find time to volunteer to work with your professors. While it will definitely require a few extra hours every week, helping graduate faculty conduct research is an excellent way to gain practical experience in your chosen field. This strategy also allows you to build relationships with people in your department, which is a great way to gain future recommendations, mentoring, and advice. In a lot of cases, you can even receive college credit for your efforts. Check with your psychology graduate program to find out if such volunteer opportunities can be taken as an independent study or special topics course to ensure that you receive credits for your hard work.
Focus on Getting Good Grades
It goes without saying that excellent grades are a requirement for graduate school success. For most psychology programs, earning less than 3.5 GPA will result in getting booted from the program. For this reason, it is absolutely essential that you stay on top of your studies and maintain outstanding scores on all exams, papers, and other assignments.
So what happens if your grades start to slip? The first step you should take is to do a serious analysis of the situation in order to identify the problem. Possible culprits are not spending enough time studying or failing to understand certain aspects of the assignment.
If the problem is easily solved, then take steps to correct your approach and reclaim your grades. If the situation is more serious or you simply cannot identify the underlying issue, then it is time to ask for help. Discuss your concerns with your academic advisor, who may be able to direct you toward resources that can help boost your grades. Continue to meet with your advisor regularly even if your grades do improve in order to avoid a return of the previous issue.
Motivation, hard work, and careful planning are all necessary to have a successful first year in psychology graduate school. By being prepared, you will be able to tackle any challenges that you might face while cultivating your passion and knowledge of your subject-matter.