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Surviving Graduate School

Graduate school is not simply an extension of your undergraduate degree [1]. Upon successfully applying and getting accepted into a graduate program, you also need to be prepared for an increased workload, higher quality expectations, and collegial relationships with your professors. Graduate school students often face harsh deadlines, daunting papers, and various difficult tasks and assignments. In addition to the numerous deadlines and papers, graduate students have other obligations and their personal lives to cope with as well, such as appointments, family commitments, social lives, hobbies, and jobs. It can be difficult to juggle all of these obligations as graduate students. However, hopefully you are in a program within an area that you love and are passionate about, which should help make things easier and more interesting for you [1]! The goal of this blog post is to provide you with strategies to help make your graduate school experience as seamless as possible and reduce stress.

Tips and Strategies for Graduate Students

In a Psychology Today article, Glen Geher shares some tips for psychology graduate students that can be extrapolated to other fields. First, it is important to realize that graduate school is not a competition, although this can be difficult [2]. It can be easy to get caught in the cycle of comparing grades or who got which scholarship, but it is crucial to remember that graduate programs are intended to help each student learn and develop individually [2]. Graduate students should try their best to focus on their own journey and their own path and to try their best throughout their graduate school experience [2]. Secondly, graduate students must let go of their perfectionism, as there are many correct ways to study and conduct research [2]. Of course working hard is necessary, but remember that you must balance trying your best and perfectionism [2]. Another tip is to build a community [2]. There may be lifelong collaborators and friends in your cohort [2], and it is important to support, help, and be there for one another throughout the course of your program. 

In another article, it is recommended that you develop awareness of your strengths and how you work best [3]. Graduate school can be a lot of work, therefore understanding when you are the most productive will likely help bring you more success in your studies [3]. Some additional tips for acing academic demands include:

  • Focus less on grades and more on learning [3]

  • Pick opportunities wisely, as it is impossible to do everything [3]

  • Consult with other students [3]

  • Manage your time well, such as by keeping a planner or digital calendar, set realistic estimates for how long it takes to complete tasks, and keep the big picture in mind [3]

Remember that learning is lifelong and once you are done graduate school you get to continue learning throughout your career [3]

Life Outside of School

Albeit difficult, it is important to remember to have a life outside of school. Spending time with friends and family, going to the gym or engaging in physical activity, or joining a club are some ways you can spend your time outside of school [3]. In addition to free time, it is important to make time for self-care as well. Although you may not have an abundance of free time outside of school, having small blocks of time for self-care is important, such as 15 minutes each day [3]. One strategy is to block off one night per week for socializing with friends or doing something for yourself [4]. 

Other self-care tips include:

  • Avoid overworking yourself [5]

  • Recognize your limits [5]

  • Reward yourself when you achieve your goals [5]

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule [5]

  • Seek personal therapy [5]

  • Remember your social needs [5]

It is also recommended to keep your family and loved ones in the loop and up-to-date on what is happening in graduate school [3]. Social support is extremely important and can be an excellent form of self-care [4]. In addition, keeping those close to you in the loop better allows them to support you, such as by giving you space to work or if you have some free time to spend with them [3]. It is difficult for those on the outside to understand the demands of graduate school, therefore communicating when you are available and when graduate school is increasingly demanding will help others understand why you may not be spending as much time with them [3]. 

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, graduate school is an incredible journey with many ups and downs. Therefore, it is important that graduate students take care of themselves and prioritize their social life, hobbies, and self-care outside of school. Lastly, although it can be difficult, graduate students should try to avoid perfectionism and focussing too much on grades. At the end of the day, graduate school is about collaboration, building connections, growing, and learning. 

Blog post written by Kassandra Burk and reviewed by Dr. Andrea Stelnicki.

*The information contained in this blog post is based on a narrative review of available literature. Some studies may have been unintentionally omitted. You are advised to speak with a healthcare professional to determine if the information is appropriate to your specific circumstances. *


[1] Stelnicki, A. (2015). What to think about before applying to grad school. Retrieved from

[2] Geher, G. (2018). 6 Tips for psychology graduate students. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

[3] Williams-Nickelson, C. (2016). 12 Tips for surviving and thriving in graduate school. PsychCentral. Retrieved from

[4] El-Ghoroury, N. H. (2011). Self-care is not just for emergencies. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

[5] Badali, M. A., & Habra, M. E. (2003). Self-care for psychology students:

Strategies for staying healthy & avoiding burn out. Psynopsis: Canada’s Psychology


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