The months leading up to graduate school are incredibly exciting and will most likely allow for newfound freedom if you are transitioning from a full-time job or an undergraduate university.
Though it’s important to give yourself a break before launching into your next degree, you should also make sure that you are using the summer before graduate school to your advantage. In order to put yourself in the best academic and financial situation, it is important to stay organized and hold yourself accountable.
Below are some suggestions for tasks to complete before your new school year begins.
1. Prepare For Your New Work Schedule
Whether you are coming straight from an undergraduate program or a full-time job, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with your upcoming academic work. Graduate programs require increased specialization and a heavier course load than one might experience during their bachelor’s degree.
Particularly for incoming students who have taken time off, getting back into the habit of studying in advance will help ease the adjustment to a more rigorous schedule.
If possible, reach out to current students to give yourself a sense of what to expect in terms of daily and weekly time commitments. Additionally, using this time to acquire all technologies will prevent unnecessary stress down the line.
On a similar note, prepare your workstation and writing environment with needed materials so you can start the year with a clean slate.
2. Get to Know Your Peers and Professors
Many graduate schools provide resources to introduce incoming and current students. Though orientations are often a great place to get to know your cohort and its instructors, reaching out in advance gives you more time to find peers, mentors, or even roommates!
Be sure to take up offers to meet with program members, whether that be in person, online, or over the phone. The summer before your program officially begins is a wonderful opportunity to get to know your peers without the strain of a heavy workload.
If you are interested in a faculty member’s courses, particularly in relation to your own research or dissertation, it doesn’t hurt to reach out. Setting up a phone call or sending a quick introductory note are efficient ways to show your interest without intruding on their time. Make sure, however, to familiarize yourself with their work if you plan on discussing or referring to it!
3. Save Up & Organize Finances
The summer before graduate school is the perfect time to take a break, travel, and relax. Yet, in order to avoid becoming the stereotypical “starving grad student,” make sure you get your finances in order.
Unless you are receiving a teaching stipend, fellowship, or student loans, you will most likely have to figure out payment for your program as well as for your basic daily needs. If necessary, keep a lookout for campus jobs on your school’s career database.
Additionally, make sure your personal accounts are in a comfortable spot. Factoring in your new cost of living (housing, food, insurance, etc.) for the upcoming semester will help prepare you for what to expect financially.
Keep in mind that if you are receiving a stipend or fellowship, your money may not kick in until a few weeks after the semester starts. The start of the school year tends to be a more expensive time of the year for students, as you are meeting new people and attending social events. Make sure you have enough spending money for all needs before your pay arrives.
4. Read Some Books
A common regret among college grads is the lack of time they have to read for pleasure. Taking time to read what you love or to expand your literary interests is a great way to relax and learn. Try swapping some of your TV time for a book. You might also decide to spend the hour before bed reading instead of using a phone or tablet. Books are great additions to any beach day or nighttime routine.
5. Travel (if you can!)
If you can afford to, travel! If you are low on finances but have the time, try to arrange a short road trip with family, friends, or even just yourself. Make sure you carefully plan out the stops and necessary payments for food, lodging, and entertainment.
Travel can be a great way to unwind before starting up the whirlwind of studies, especially if you know that you will be working during the upcoming summers. Make sure to organize all of your school logistics ahead of time so that when you return from your trip you are not overwhelmed with moving tasks.
6. Try a New Skill or Hobby
Have you wanted to pursue a skill or hobby but haven’t had the time? Now is your chance to take try that coding course, enroll in a photography class, or pick up the guitar!
Summer can also be a wonderful time to check out affordable local offerings for hobbies or classes in your new area. Most universities have listings for extracurricular sports, clubs, or workshops on their websites and social media accounts.
7. Get to Know Your New Home
If you are lucky enough to move early enough, make sure to explore your new neighborhood and city in advance. Above all, determine whether you feel comfortable and safe in your area and home.
If you are planning to work primarily from your house, make sure you can realistically do so for long periods of time–especially if you have a roommate! Similarly, check out libraries or other places where you may find yourself spending time, such as coffee shops, restaurants, and bars.
Depending on your program, you may also have access to an office, classroom, or lab throughout the year that you want to familiarize yourself with.
8. Develop a Work Routine and an Organization System
In addition to organizing your new schedule, it is important to get used to a work routine that is efficient and practical for your studies. Get in the habit of backing up your work to Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud. Simple changes such as creating and organizing desktop folders will help set you up for the semester.
If you are reading materials relevant to your course of study, keep track of them through an that you can refer back to in later research.
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9. Begin Working!
If you are feeling particularly ambitious, you could begin the early stages of your academic work over the summer. This task might mean something different for each type of graduate work. Masters, Ph.D., or law students may start reading materials relevant to their course of study. Those in the sciences may begin writing research proposals. MFA students can begin drafts of their writing.
Though some programs may assign readings for the summer, not all degrees will require preparatory work. For those who want to give themselves a headstart, however, it can be reassuring to begin work in advance in order to guarantee extra time!
10. Thank Your Undergraduate Professors
If you requested letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors, it is polite to send a thank-you note.
Professors dedicate a lot of time and work to helping students progress to graduate programs, and they are always grateful to hear from you and learn where you are heading. Following up with a simple message of gratitude and some information about your program is a simple but meaningful way to stay in contact with a mentor.
Particularly if you plan to pursue a career in their specialty, it can be great to have another knowledgeable person in your field as a point of contact for advice.
There is no correct way to spend the summer before graduate school, but taking the time to make sure you are fully ready for the year will make for a more relaxing start!
Allow yourself to celebrate your achievements while still working to organize and prepare yourself for a successful next chapter!