Graduate school is an entirely different beast as compared to an undergraduate education. On the first day of graduate school, my M.A. and Ph.D. advisor, said “The question is not what, the question is why.” These words are as true today as they were when I first heard them. The purpose of graduate school is push you into asking why is x this way? Why is this phenomenon occuring? What is the driving force behind this? Graduate school pushes you to answer these questions, but before you answer these questions, you ought to prepare yourself for the journey you are about to embark on.

Reach out to your graduate dean prior to registering for your first semester about what classes to take.

When I registered for my first semester of graduate school, I registered for Ph.D. level courses as an incoming M.A. student. It was pretty embarrassing when my dean’s office emailed me to notify me of this. Graduate programs are typically more relaxed when it comes to what classes you take so reach out to your graduate dean prior to registering for your first semester about what classes you should take. You will more than likely take a theory and research methods course your first semester, which will give you a strong foundation moving forward in your program.

You are free to choose a majority of the classes you want to take.

You’ll be more than likely have a small set number classes you are required to take such as research methods and/or theory. Typically, you will take these courses in the beginning of your first semester. These courses are also a great way to get to know other students who are starting your program too.

On the other hand, this leaves you much freedom in what additional classes you want to take. Historical Politics of Southeast Asia? Go for it. Political Advertising? Why not? Use these classes to best benefit you. Most classes are on a two semester rotation so plan your schedule around that.

Find an advisor who will assist you during your graduate school career

Your graduate advisor will also be a graduate faculty member, meaning they are well versed in the process and know classes you ought to take. Utilize them to your best advantage. Have a question about a class you might enroll in? Go to your advisor. Are you wondering how prospect theory can play a role in political communication? Set a meeting with your advisor. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Make sure you pick an advisor who will best fit your needs.

RELATED READ: 5 Things To Know Before Taking The GRE

Meet with you graduate dean before starting the program to see about a graduate assistantship.

Your graduate dean likely has influence over who is awarded a graduate assistantship within your program. A graduate assistant could be a teaching assistant in a course, be a faculty member’s research assistant and/or teach a low level course. This opportunity gives you a great learning experience and you will get to know other faculty members. Typically, you are paid and your tuition is partly covered, a nice incentive if you are paying for your own schooling. Make yourself known to your graduate dean before the semester starts so they will know your name when reviewing graduate assistantship applications.

If you are a graduate assistant, it is likely you will be officed with other graduate assistants.

Make the most of of this. You are likely surrounded by fresh graduate students who probably have the same doubts and fears as you do. You might meet people who are in your classes this way too. If you are officed with a group of graduate students, make sure you introduce yourself and make connections with those around you. These people will likely be your support system through this journey and you will lean on them more than you realize.

Kallie B
When Kallie is not working full time trying to raise money, she is often studying how people process political messages. Powered with 2 undergraduate degrees, 1 graduate degree and now working towards a Ph.D., she has dived into the world of political communication and psychophysiological research. She is a 5th generation Texan, and has been in politics since she was 8 years old.