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  • Writer's pictureJustin Grimes

5 Concerns you Have About Starting Graduate School

Let me normalize and reassure you that every person starting graduate school experiences some nervousness, worry, and anxiety. 

You are entering a brand-new academic experience filled with complexity and ambiguity. Sure, the graduate program can give you an idea of the typical amount of time it takes to complete the degree, but they can’t tell you how long it will take.  

Take my PhD in Education (College Student Affairs Administration-Athens Campus only) at the University of Georgia. Imagine starting a doctoral degree in a program that consistently ranks in the US News Report's top 10 Higher education graduate programs. 

Here I was with a 297 GRE score, 2.776 undergraduate GPA, and 3.636 Master’s GPA, ready to start my doctorate.  After attending the program’s orientation and playing a game of name the theory or scholar, I didn’t know any of the answers; I was apprehensive about what the next 3-4 years would be like. Today, I know the theories and scholars well and have coached many students on getting admitted and navigating the first year of graduate school.

Embarking on the journey of graduate school is an exciting yet daunting endeavor. As you delve into higher education, it's natural to encounter various worries about your academic performance. As

Michael Jackson told us...

Here are five common concerns among aspiring graduate students and practical solutions to help navigate them effectively.

1. Imposter Syndrome

Feeling like you don't belong or questioning your abilities is a common experience for many graduate students. The pressure to excel can amplify these feelings, leading to self-doubt and anxiety. 

Solution: Remember your “why” and that you were accepted into your program for a reason. I tell students every time their admissions letter is not a mistake. Embrace your strengths and accomplishments, and recognize that everyone faces challenges. Seek support from peers, mentors, campus resources, or counseling services if imposter feelings persist.

2. Balancing Priorities

Graduate school often demands managing multiple responsibilities, from coursework and research to employment demands and personal commitments. Striking a balance can be challenging and overwhelming.

Solution: Prioritize tasks based on deadlines and importance. Develop time management strategies, such as creating schedules or using productivity apps. Remember to carve out time for self-care and relaxation to prevent burnout. Communicate when your needs and schedules change to your team, including your supervisor, family, and friends.

3. Fear of Failure

The pursuit of academic excellence can intensify the fear of failure. The fear of failing to meet expectations can hinder progress, whether it's a challenging exam, thesis defense, or publication rejection.  Most graduate students are high performers and/or academically gifted, so failure is not an option because they maintain control.  Graduate school requires you to release control to finish your program.

Solution: Shift your perspective on failure as an opportunity for growth and learning. Set realistic goals and celebrate small victories along the way. Cultivate resilience by seeking constructive feedback and learning from setbacks.  Remember this saying: “Progress over perfection gets me to completion.” 

4. Comparison with Peers

It's easy to compare yourself to your classmates or colleagues, especially in a competitive academic environment. Constant comparison can erode confidence and motivation. Your student ID and degree have one name; they match. 

Solution: Focus on your journey and progress rather than comparing yourself to others. Recognize that everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and paths. Foster a supportive community by sharing experiences and offering encouragement to your peers. In my community(cohort) of 8 people, 2 finished in 3 years, 2 quit, 1 in 5 years, 1 in 6 years, and me in 4 years. We all run different races. 

5. Managing Workload

The workload in graduate school can sometimes feel overwhelming, with deadlines looming and expectations high. Struggling to manage tasks efficiently can lead to stress and procrastination.

Solution: Break down tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Set realistic goals and deadlines and prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance. If you need help to cope with the workload, contact professors or advisors for guidance and support.

Navigating the everyday worries of graduate school requires a combination of self-awareness, resilience, and practical strategies. Aspiring graduate students can cultivate a positive and fulfilling academic experience by acknowledging these concerns and implementing proactive solutions. Remember, you're not alone on this journey, and it's okay to ask for help when needed. Stay focused, stay resilient, and embrace graduate school's opportunities for growth and discovery. 

Apply to Graduate School will kick off its 12-week Summer Coaching program on June 2nd.  If you want to successfully apply to graduate school for free this fall, click here for more information.


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