3 min read
min read
May 9, 2024

Preparing for Graduate School: 8 Tips to Know

Preparing for Graduate School: 8 Tips to Know

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Graduate school can be the academic adventure of a lifetime, but preparing for it can feel like a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Where do you focus your attention first? How can you ensure you stay organized and balance coursework with life’s other demands? And what about making new friends and prioritizing your well-being?

As someone who has prepared for graduate studies in the US and abroad, I’ve been in your shoes and felt these exact jitters.

That’s why I’m here to lend you a hand. In this guide, I’ll show you how to prepare for graduate school so you can embark on this new chapter with excitement and confidence.

Key Takeaways

  • To prepare for graduate school, first figure out your tuition coverage, accommodation, transportation, and class schedule.
  • Next, research apps and resources for studying, time management, and note-taking. Also, focus on updating your mindset from “memorizing information to pass my classes” to “absorbing information to become an expert in my field.”
  • Look into your school’s resources, such as student associations and study rooms, and connect with your program’s students and faculty members.
  • Finally, build a self-care routine that prioritizes your well-being and your friends, family, and hobbies.

8 useful tips to prepare for grad school

Let’s dive into my top tips to help you prepare for graduate school.

1. Sort out tuition coverage, accommodation, transportation, and your classes

First, determine how you’ll pay your tuition, where you’ll stay, how you’ll get to and from campus, and which classes you’ll take.

Depending on your situation, you might explore scholarships, student loans, employer sponsorships, or grants (such as the Federal Pell Grant or grants from your school) to cover tuition costs. You can apply for student loans and some grants through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

Your options for accommodation will also depend on your circumstances — specifically, whether you plan to move from where you currently live. If that’s the case, research housing options on or near campus, such as dormitories, apartments, or rooms for rent.  

Pro tip: If you plan to live on campus, look for housing specifically for graduate students first. Many schools have separate dorms or buildings just for them, which can help you meet fellow grad students.

As for transportation, consider how far away your accommodation is from campus. Will you need a car, bike, or public transit? Or can you walk there? It’s a good idea to look into student discounts for transit passes and parking permits, too. Most schools and local governments or organizations offer them.

For classes, start by checking the course catalog or requirements for your graduate program and seeing which classes you need to take — including prerequisite courses. Schedule those first, then add electives (if applicable). 

Of course, schedule classes around your ongoing commitments, such as work or childcare responsibilities.

Pro tip: Explore Rate My Professors, where students share reviews and ratings about course difficulty and professors’ teaching styles. This can help you decide which courses to take and know what to expect.

2. Change your mindset

Graduate programs can be noticeably different from undergraduate programs in terms of course delivery and how you’re assessed. 

While undergrad courses are often lecture-based and rely on quizzes, exams, and various assignments, grad programs typically involve seminars, research projects, more self-directed learning, and fewer but more intensive assignments.

The material and work are also more challenging overall, and your professors will likely have stricter standards for grading. 

So, you can’t approach the material or study the same way you might be used to. You’ll need to change your mindset.

Instead of thinking about memorizing information for an exam — which may have worked in an undergrad program — you’ll want to actively engage with the material and focus on critical thinking. Prepare to challenge yourself with understanding why things work the way they do, not just what they are. 

Remember that in grad school, learning isn’t just about recalling facts and passing tests — it’s about deepening your understanding and gaining expertise in your field.

3. Build your “academic toolkit”

The right tools can make your graduate journey smoother and more productive. So, in the time leading up to the start of your program, assemble an “academic toolkit” of resources and apps for studying, productivity and organization, research, note-taking, and more. 

Below are some of my favorites:

⏱️ For time management and productivity: Be Focused, Todoist, and Pomodone.

📓 For note-taking and brainstorming: Notion, Evernote, OneNote, Coggle, and Obsidian.

🧠 For studying: StudyBunny, MyStudyLife, Anki, and Quizlet. (There are also some fantastic YouTube channels that can help you study.)

📎 For reference and resource management: Zotero, EndNote, Mendeley, and Calibre

📅 For task-tracking: Asana and Trello

✍️ For writing: Wordtune.

AI tip: Wordtune’s AI-powered Editor can enhance your writing by suggesting improvements, rephrasing sentences for clarity, and more. You also can use its Summarizer tool to condense resource articles, YouTube videos, and other text into short, easy-to-read summaries. 

The Summarizer is great for note-taking, too, and it lets you store links, files, and more in a personal digital library — perfect for reference management!

Wordtune’s Summarizer tool can summarize text in seconds.

Pro tip: Don’t go overboard with tools. Test out a handful, and stick with the few that suit your needs and preferences.

4. Research your school’s resources

Universities and other institutions offer various resources designed to help students thrive academically and personally. Taking advantage of these can truly enrich your graduate school experience.

Browse your school’s website to discover the services it offers, and jot down the ones you might use when your grad program begins. 

Here are the ones I recommend looking into: 

  • Student associations in your degree program or department — e.g., English MA Club or Postgraduate Engineers Society. Joining these can allow you to participate in academic events and workshops, connect with peers, and build a support network.
  • Your school’s writing center. Here, you can speak with tutors and receive guidance on improving your academic writing skills.
  • The student support center. You can get counseling, academic advising, and assistance with any personal or academic challenges you might face.
  • Professors’ office hours. Attending these can help you clarify doubts, seek academic guidance, and build relationships with faculty members.
  • Study rooms. These on-campus spaces provide a quiet, focused environment for group or individual study sessions.
  • Career services. You can receive help with resume writing, searching for jobs, and planning your career after graduation.

5. Read syllabi and map out your schedule

Once syllabi for your classes are available, read them carefully to understand course expectations, assignment deadlines, and grading criteria. 

Highlight key dates for exams, assignments, required readings, and preparatory tasks. Then, use this information to create a detailed schedule for the semester.

For example, if one syllabus shows Exam 1 is on October 20, mark that in your calendar and schedule study time in the weeks leading up to it.

This way, you can avoid last-minute cramming, missed deadlines, and unnecessary stress.

6. Connect with peers in your program

Making friends in your grad program can allow you to form study groups, help you build a support system, and open doors to future research opportunities, collaborations, and more.

Plus, as Stanford University Ph.D. student JH Shen writes, “Grad school friendships provide more than just help in difficult situations — they also make the daily grind so much more fun.” 

Here’s how you can start connecting with your peers before your program begins:

  • Register for orientation and student mixers. These events are perfect for meeting others and getting the inside scoop on campus life, especially from second- and third-year graduate students.
  • Join social media groups and forums, such as Facebook groups or your university’s subreddit, where students in your program are active. These are a great place to introduce yourself, meet others, and ask questions. You can even form a group chat or organize virtual meet-ups to chat with classmates before your first day of class.
  • Sign up for student clubs related to your program. During eventual club meetings, you can connect with people who share your interests and can offer study tips, resources, and even opportunities to collaborate on cool projects.

7. Build professional relationships with faculty members

Before your program starts, take the opportunity to connect with faculty members — specifically, professors whose courses you’re taking, those you might want to approach as your dissertation advisor(s), and the head(s) of your department.

A friendly email is a great place to start. Express genuine interest in their work and courses, and see if they allow incoming students to pre-book office hours.

Here’s an example email you might send:

Dear [Dr./Professor First and Last Name], 

My name is [Your Name], and I am starting the [Program Name] at [University Name] this [fall/spring].

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and share that I am [excited to be a student in your (Name of Class) course this semester] OR [interested in your research on (specific topic or project they’ve worked on)]. 

I wanted to inquire about the possibility of pre-booking office hours for incoming students; I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about your work and seek guidance for the upcoming semester.

Thank you.


[Your Name]

Building these academic relationships early on can lay the foundation for valuable mentorship opportunities and make you feel more at ease when classes begin.

8. Prioritize yourself

Grad school can be academically and emotionally demanding, so it’s important to look after yourself. I recommend building a self-care routine before your program starts.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Make time for your friends, family, and hobbies. Schedule time in your calendar for activities you enjoy — for example, an hour each evening to read a book or Saturday mornings to go rock climbing. Also, book in time to see friends and family regularly — e.g., by organizing weekly dinners or weekend outings. Scheduling this time in advance goes a long way in helping you maintain a healthy school-life balance.
  • Prioritize sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Also, try avoiding screens before bed (studies have shown that blue light can disrupt sleep patterns) and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule — i.e., going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
  • Stay active if you can. All physical activity — stretching, going on a leisurely walk, swimming, hitting the gym, etc. — can help improve energy levels, mood, concentration, and more. If physical activity is difficult for you, try practicing mindfulness and meditation, which can offer similar benefits.
  • Learn to set boundaries. Practice saying “no” to extra commitments or tasks that you don’t have the time or energy for. The more you set boundaries, the easier it will be to maintain balance and avoid burnout while in graduate school.


Preparing for graduate school can be stressful, but with this guide, you can avoid that feeling and set yourself up for success. 

First, sort out how you’ll cover tuition, where you’ll stay, how you’ll get to class, and what your schedule will be. Then, adopt a new mindset around schoolwork and studying, focusing on becoming an expert in your subject. 

Next, prepare an “academic toolkit” of tools you’ll use to study and stay organized. Also, research your school’s resources and connect with faculty members and fellow students.

Finally, remember to make time for your friends, family, and — most importantly — yourself. 

Want more insights on succeeding in school? Check out Wordtune’s guides on productivity hacks and time management tips for students.


How many hours should a graduate student study?

The hours a graduate student should study vary depending on the program’s requirements, the student’s learning style, personal commitments, etc. However, it’s often recommended that grad students study 2-3 hours for every hour they’re in class.

Can you do a master’s while working?

Yes, you can pursue a master’s degree while working. You might take online courses, sign up for evening or early morning classes, or even pursue your degree part-time to balance work with education.