College is a step up from high school. So graduate school must be a similar step up from undergraduate school. Right?
Graduate students would disagree. Aside from the more-intensive workload, graduate school looks about as similar to undergrad as that carton in the back of your fridge, three months past its best by date, does to milk.
1. In undergrad, you play intramural soccer and act in the campus play.
In grad school, you read 600-page textbooks.
In undergrad, students venture out each day and night. Thirsty Thursday, March Madness, or Greek Week’s Polar Plunge — the campus presents new experiences you’re compelled to participate in.
In graduate school, opportunities still exist — after you’ve finished your assignments, TA duties, and research project. And don’t forget to outline your thesis first, while you stuff that cold pile of mashed potatoes into your mouth.
“Having the time to actually do your readings and write papers on a Saturday night with a glass of wine is considered fun,” said Michelle Hunter, graduate student at Western Illinois University. She added, “The books are bigger, there are more of them, and you actually have to read every single page … My first year in grad school, I asked for a jumbo pack of multicolored highlighters for Christmas.”
Sam Barnett, student at Indiana University School of Medicine, agreed. “The director of our campus once quipped to us that medical school is like a blank space in her memory of the world at large. For about three years, she had no idea what was going on in the world. We live essentially in our classrooms and go home to sleep.”
2. In undergrad, you’re taking an intro to modern dance elective.
In grad school, you’re learning advanced software architecture and design.
Have you asked yourself in undergraduate school, “Why in the world do I have to know the art and architecture of Asia for my business degree?” This is the upside to graduate school.
“The work itself is much more specific to my area of expertise, so I’d say that grad school is easier in that way. I’m not having to do assignments for basic chemistry or English poetry from the 18th century like I did in undergrad,” said Samantha Boyd, graduate student at Drake University.
3. In undergrad, you’re one in a thousand.
In grad school, you see the same faces every day.
One hundred pupil lectures? That’s undergrad for you.
“In my graduate program, you see the same 23 people in every single class you take; you learn their quirks, their speech pattern, and can guess what they are going to say before they even say it. You get really close to people, but this makes for a limited pool of friends to choose from for two years,” said Hunter.
Boyd said she enjoyed the closeness. “I’m with the same group for my classes. I really enjoy getting to know the people well and building those relationships. That didn’t happen at my huge state school I went to for undergrad.”
4. In undergrad, your professors are know-it-alls.
In grad school, you challenge their knowledge.
“My professors don’t know everything, and they know it — unlike as an undergrad our professors tended to think they were the end-all be-all of information on the subject matter we were studying,” said Hunter. “We are encouraged to share our interpretations of material and relate it to our personal experiences, which are equally as valid as our professors’.”
5. In undergrad, you stop by that philosophy lecture, man the register at the local coffee shop for an hour while studying, and end your day on the dance floor at Joe’s.
In grad school, you’re likely splitting time between classes, a long-term partner, a career, and your family.
Life might seem hectic to 18- to 22-year-old you, but you likely have one main focus when you’re an undergrad: You. As a graduate student, you’re burdened with responsibilities, relationships, and to-do lists — on top of your more-intensive studies.
“I work 32 hours a week, run my own company, and am married. In undergraduate college, my life was much less structured with less responsibilities,” said Boyd.
Though it sounds hectic to have a life and graduate school, too, a lot of grad students suggest waiting to go to graduate school. “Wait until you have at least five years of working experience. It won’t mean as much, and you won’t bring as much to the table for discussion unless you do,” said Drake University grad student, Stormy Smith.