Classes are Coming: How to Spend Your Last Summer Before Graduate School

Posted on July 17, 2017


Some of our members are getting ready to begin graduate school and we want you to help them prepare. We want you to share your experience whether you graduated with a MBA, MPA, MPP, etc. or whether you attended online, in-person, full-time, part-time or weekends only. Sign up as a guest columnist.

By Brian Bickers – LinkedIn and Twitter

As Game of Thrones returns to screens across America, we are reminded that summer must end.  Winter truly is coming. For some, the end of summer means football and delicious apple cider. For those about to begin graduate school, however, the end of summer can seem a little less fun.  Those brave souls are stepping out into a daunting unknown.

I just finished up my first year as a Masters of Public Administration student at the University of Kansas.  Before that, I got a Masters of Education at UNLV.  I do not pretend to be a master (or Maester) of navigating graduate school, but here are five tips on how to best spend the last couple of weeks until classes begin.

1. Have fun

This is by far the most important thing.  Graduate classes are not necessarily more difficult than undergraduate courses, but they are often more intensive.  You are going to be doing a lot of assignments that directly tie into your future career. While you have time without classes, enjoy it.  Plan a spontaneous day trip.  Organize an ultimate frisbee game.  Play tons of Mario Kart with your best friend.  Do whatever you most enjoy doing and build memories.  Positive memories are incredibly powerful – they can propel us through times of struggle.  If you enter graduate school as a rested and rejuvenated person, you will have the strength to endure writing essay after essay.

2. Explore the literature

When I chose to pursue an MPA, I did not know much about how local governance worked.  However, I began poring over the list of books assigned by my professors.  Those books provided a foundation of understanding that allowed me to succeed in my classes.  If your professors have not posted a book list yet, feel free to reach out to them and ask if they have any recommendations on what to read.  By grounding yourself in the literature, you are able to get more out of a professor’s lectures and grow faster as a future professional.

3. Establish your confidants

Graduate school can be intensely stressful.  There are constant deadlines to meet and group dynamics to navigate. Something will inevitably make you angry.  It is important to find people outside of your graduate program that you can talk to about these stressors.  These individuals can provide an outside perspective on the challenges you face.  Take the time during the summer to determine the family members, friends, or acquaintances you will turn to in bad times.  That way, you will have your support system in place as you tackle challenges that arise.

4. Decide who you want to be

As with any fresh start, graduate school presents the opportunity to reinvent yourself.  You will be learning alongside future community innovators who are developing their own leadership styles. Take time during the summer to evaluate yourself as a leader and decide how you want to present yourself to your new classmates.  Together, you and your classmates will be building an organizational culture that will define how you interact with one another.  Who you are as a leader has a direct impact on the culture of your class, so set aside time to develop your best self.

5. Don’t panic

It is easy to get down on yourself before classes begin.  You may feel like you do not fit in, or that you are not good enough for the graduate program.  In these moments, it is important to take a step back and remember two things:

  1. You are a beginner
  2. Your graduate program accepted you

Your postgraduate journey has not started yet.  If you know nothing, that is ok.  Whether you have background knowledge or not, you have something valuable to contribute to the learning environment.  The program that you are joining saw value in you.  Professors and advisors pored over your application and saw your potential to be a great leader.  You have all the skills needed to conquer your classes.

Winter may be coming, but you will be more than a match for it.

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