After you have submitted your application for a graduate school program — or, even better, received an offer of admission — you will likely want to take some time to catch your breath. The application process can be a lot of work, and just completing that step is a big accomplishment!
Once you’ve had a chance to recharge, though, it’s time to focus on moving to the next stage: preparing yourself for life as a grad student.
Plan now to make grad school easier later
Graduate school can be an exciting adventure, but it can also involve a variety of challenges and demands along the way.
As with any other major life event, planning and preparation can make a big difference. Spending time before you start your program putting everything in place — and getting yourself in a good state mentally and physically — will help you start off strong and give you the best chance for success as a grad school student.
Self-care must be a top priority
You can’t do your best in school or anywhere else if you don’t feel well mentally or physically. Conduct an honest self-evaluation now, to identify any areas of concern that you might need to work on so you can perform well once you begin your program. Establishing positive routines early will give you time to develop good habits by the time you add school to the mix.
Some things to consider:
- Stress. Anxiety is a major concern for many college students and can have a significant impact on your ability to succeed academically. Learning how to manage stress can improve all aspects of your life, including school. Here are some resources that can help.
- Sleep. Lack of sleep can make it difficult to concentrate, among a long list of other mental and physical consequences. Learn more about the importance of sleep as a college student and what you can do to improve your sleep habits.
- Mental health. Your mental well-being should be as much of a priority as your physical health. Penn State’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) has a virtual library of videos with tips and information on a range of mental health topics. Penn State World Campus students also have access to a variety of mental health services and resources.
- Time with family and friends. Humans need social interaction. No matter how busy you may be, spending time relaxing and catching up with loved ones on a regular basis should be high on your to-do list.
- Exercise. Getting some form of exercise every day is good for your mental and physical health. Plus, it’s a good way to relieve stress. Find an activity you enjoy so this will be fun and won’t seem like a chore.
- Nutritious diet. Your body is like a machine that needs the right fuel for optimum performance. A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins will help keep your energy levels up, whereas too many processed foods can make you feel sluggish.
Penn State offers a variety of virtual fitness and wellness resources for students, so you can benefit from these services from wherever you may be.
You@PSU is an online portal available to all Penn State students. It allows you to create your own confidential, personalized space to track your mental and physical well-being. You can take quizzes to perform a quick self-evaluation, set goals to determine where you want to be, and then formulate a plan with specific action steps to help you get there. This is also a great place to get information on goal-setting, time management, and other aspects of balancing your life as a student.
Organization is key
In your graduate program, it will be imperative that you stay on track with all deadlines, assignments, and other obligations. If you forget anything you are supposed to do for one of your courses, it could negatively impact your academic performance. Trying to get by with a messy, inefficient system could hurt your grades and cause you to fall behind. Be committed to staying organized from the start. Create a structured routine and stick to it.
Be strict about time management
As a graduate student, you will need to manage your time wisely. You will likely be very busy, especially with family, work, and everything else you have on your plate. Analyze your current routine and look for ways you can save time or unnecessary tasks you can eliminate. You may need to withdraw from some nonessential commitments that occupy too much of your time or that might make it difficult for you to focus on your studies. This is a good time to work on self-discipline and prioritizing how to allocate your time.
Get the right tools
The right tech tools are essential for online learners. Technical requirements vary by program, so review the web page for your program of interest to get a specific tech checklist. At the minimum, you will need some type of reliable computer and a broadband (cable or DSL) internet connection. All Penn State students are provided access to Microsoft Office 365, which includes Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This is also a great excuse to stock up on your favorite office supplies, colorful pens, or cool desk toys.
Establish a study space
Penn State graduate programs are academically rigorous, and you will have to concentrate on your studies in order to do well in your courses. The best study spaces are both efficient and comfortable. You must be able to be productive, but the environment should also be calming with minimal distractions. If your house is sometimes too noisy or has too much activity, try to have an alternate location where you can go to escape if needed (or when you just want a change of scenery). This might be a local coffee shop, a library, or even a park that has relatively quiet spots for reading.
Recruit a pep squad
A strong support system is a valuable asset for any learner in an online environment. Having people who believe in you and want to see you succeed can make a big difference. These supporters can keep you motivated and encourage you during challenging times. Enlist family and friends to be part of your unofficial cheering squad. Let them know why succeeding at this graduate program is so important to you and that their support can play such a valuable role. As a Penn State World Campus student, you will also have an array of support services available to you.