My Undergrad to Grad Transition

It isn’t exactly easy to determine what graduate school will be for each person. Let’s just say it is continued learning with a swirl. Undergraduate studies are varied across each discipline and graduate school is very defined or concentrated. The only thing that is the same is the format.

Unfortunately, I was the first of my family to not only go to college, but to get through college. I could not ask my family for advice. The application process for graduate school was like that of undergraduate programs, but with an interview process thrown in. It was like a job interview.  I was uncomfortable but got through it just being myself and thinking about what it was for.  

The differences you should be aware of beforehand, and hopefully that will cushion the shock and make it a painless transition from undergrad to grad school are:

  • Time - Undergraduate programs are coursework intensive and more hand-held activities, but graduate programs are less coursework with mainly research.
  • Guidance - Little professor guidance versus advisors, professors, and tutors for the rigid undergraduate programs. A graduate program is independent and self-driven, so you must hold yourself both accountable and responsible for everything.
  • Professors - Undergraduate professors taught you and were your guide, but in Graduate school they are your mentors and are more your equals. Yes, you will learn from them but often you will learn with them. You may end up collaborating with them on books, projects, or on grants.
  • Cramming - Will get you by in Undergraduate programs if you are lucking, but I Graduate school don’t even think about it. There is too much information to cram, plus you need to retain everything you learn and apply it in an MPA and your job in Public Organizations. Study before exam and prepare for every interview and paper. Prep for every paper using a multistage process, do not try to do it all in one day.
  • Utilize resources - Including: professors, study groups, and review sessions.
  • Network - Focus on those you meet and build those relationships with everyone you meet through your graduate program into strong connections, not just for the program, but for later when you are in the workforce. The ability to network is more valuable in graduate training than you can imagine. Rapport with peers, technicians, advisors, and professors is and will be invaluable. Never underestimate the usefulness of anyone you meet. They will be the people with whom you will collaborate in years to come.
  • Living Conditions -You will either live in the graduate dorms or in your own residence such as an apartment or house off campus.  This means you may have a job, full or part-time along with any finical aid you may obtain. This may also mean little to no extracurricular activities such as joining organizations or clubs. Try to find one thing to get involved with while in graduate school be it on campus, in your community, or at your job.
  • Failure - Disproving a hypothesis is just as valuable as proving one especially in research where failure defines who you are and who you will become.  Because failure and success will provide you with valuable information. I researched the City I worked for and found out information that opened my eyes and changed the way I think about how to improve my community. What you find may change the way you think unlike the basic calculations and coursework from undergraduate programs.

And most important ...Do not give up! It takes time to do the work.

About the Author

Maie Armstrong is a Civil Engineer and Public Works Employee from North Carolina. Maie has worked in engineering for over 10 years and she is very keen on designing, developing, consulting, reviewing, and speaking about high quality public service and environmental guidelines while familiarizing herself with the financial and managerial issues involved in Public Administration. Her experience spans across several states and two countries.