“An Easy Education is a Contradiction in Terms:” What They Don’t Tell You about Graduate School

In talking to other members of my cohort, I realized that none of them appear to have entered graduate school fully prepared. Maybe they were given poor information; maybe they didn’t do their due diligence. Either way, they don’t seem to fully grasp that graduate school is different. Here is what I wish I could tell them without offending them in the process.

You are No Longer a Lowly Undergrad

Undergraduate students are told everything. Professors tell them what to learn and how to think. It is very much a dictatorship. Sure, there are outside readings and office hours, but (for the most part) professors really just want undergrads to learn what is presented in class and do what they tell them. This isn’t the case in graduate school.

Graduate students are largely viewed as budding professionals by faculty. Advisors ask graduate students to be collaborators and not mindless sheep. Professors count on students to do outside reading and research so that class time can be devoted to other things. If you do not have background knowledge or experience in a particular area, professors expect you to take initiative to gain that knowledge and experience; it will not be force fed to you as if you are a baby bird like it was in undergraduate studies.

I bothers me when I hear fellow students complain about not understanding something because “we haven’t learned that in class” or they do not have a background in special education, yet they don’t ask questions and appear to just be surfing the web during the lecture. I want to scream at them to DO THE WORK! Yes, I did an M.Ed. program and taught for a year before entering the school psychology program; however, I put in the work. I have bought additional texts, done internet searches, asked questions in class, gone to office hours, etc. Excuses and complaining just show me that work is not being done and they expect to be treated as undergrads all over again.

Problem Solving is Key

Time isn’t the only factor in what material gets presented in graduate school lectures. Professors also want students to get accustomed to problem solving. Graduate students need to take initiative to explore topics and find answers on their own (after all, this is what will take place in the field). I have bough numerous texts that were either recommended to me by professors or books I found through my own research. As I have mentioned the acquisition of these texts to professors I have received the response of “now you’re getting it.”

Advice to New Grad Students

Get rid of the mindset of having information presented to you to memorize. Your job now is to become a professional. That means you need to put in as much work researching, discovering, and learning on your own as your professors require for class. Do your reading (easier said than done I know, I should be catching up myself instead of writing this post); go gain experience if you are lacking any; ask questions; attend office hours; use time in class to learn and search for related topics to broaden your understanding instead of searching Facebook or Amazon. Graduate should be treated as a full time job. It is not meant to be easy. Go to work.


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