Nervous about Graduate School? 3 Lessons to Keep in Mind As You Venture Back Into School

  • May 25, 2018
Going back to grad school? Typewriter on white shag carpet

This post should be titled “things I wish I knew before going to grad school” but as you know, hindsight is 20/20.

Plus, if I’d known of all this before, what would have been the point of going?

I’m officially done with my first year of graduate school, folks! 

That’s right, you heard me. One year down. One more to go—but let’s not think about that just yet. 

There have been many papers, many research articles and more than enough Netflix binges that have saturated my life as of late. Graduate school has been the most exhausting, time-consuming, anxiety-inducing and, ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had the pleasure to experience in my 20-something years of living so far. In addition to being so far from home, graduate school challenged me in so many ways academically and socially—that whole introverted thing, yeah it’s been interesting. But through it all, I’m thankful for good friends who let you vent and remind you that no—you’re not alone in thinking/feeling that way. For family that always calls and challenges you to stick it out. For iPhones, because FaceTime is probably the world’s best invention, ever. 

Going back to school is a little daunting at first, but I’m a walking, breathing testament to the truth that you can do it. Whether you’re going back to school for the first time in years, or you’re just hopping over from an undergraduate program, here are 3 lessons to keep in mind as you take on this next exciting adventure:

Ask for what you need. 

People are not mind readers—shocker, I know. My new friends have taught me so much about myself, God’s grace and goodness and about this emerging adult(ish) life in general. Something that wasn’t really a new idea for me conceptually, but more so practically, was asking for what I need. Asking for what you need is healthy, not whiny or needy. You know what else, we’re all a little needy every now and then. PSA: you’re human, and it’s a-okay to need things. 

Need help understanding a concept in your research class? Ask for it. 

If you need an extension for the research proposal that’s due in two weeks, ask for it. 

Need someone to vent to about your housemate situation? Ask for it.

If you need prayer to get through a tough day/week/season, ask for it.

If you never ask, as they say, the answer will always be “no”.

Going back to grad school? Typewriter on white shag carpet

As you can probably tell, my research methods class was a doozy. Anyways…

You won’t get very far working alone. 

You know that saying that no man is an island? Well, it’s 10000% truth. The thing about me is, I love doing things for myself—by myself. If I can figure out how to make something happen, I’ll do it, alone. Because, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, kid—and if you want something done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself. Am I right? 

To put it simply, no—no, I’m not. 

We were made for community and togetherness. That means that we not only need to gather together regularly, but work together too. 

I’m not a huge fan of cliches, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need. So, let’s take a hint from this well known African Proverb: 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to go far—and together is the only way.

Stop being so hard on yourself. 

My mom will wholeheartedly attest to this lesson. She was the one (along with dad) who had to talk me down from my multiple frantic episodes I had during the school year. Mostly all pertaining to school work or grades I wasn’t sure I’d even gotten. But this notion was one that not only she shared with me, but also a professor from one of my classes. My first year of grad school was hard—I’m extremely relieved that I got through it with most, or at least some, of my sanity intact. But it didn’t have to be that hard. 

After every meltdown that resulted in an A grade, or stress-induced sleep deprived night that could have been avoided, I learned that I tend to sorta-kinda blow things out of proportion. 

Okay—I definitely, without a doubt, blow things out of proportion. 

I think the pressure to be perfect—there is NO such thing—and do well in my classes, not letting anyone down, got to me. It got to me good—or should I say bad? 

The only thing that truly matters is my physical, spiritual and mental health. If that is at risk at any point during this grad school endeavor, then maybe I need to reevaluate my priorities. Working hard in and of itself is admirable. 

But do you know what else is super great? 

Taking care of yourself and doing your best. 

If you’ve ever felt the pressure to be nothing less than perfect—whether it be due to an assignment, deadline, or whatever—ask yourself these questions: 

Will this matter one year from now? What about five? Ten? Twenty?

No? Then it’s probably okay to not freak out. Just do your best.

And for goodness sake, get to bed by 11pm!


After taking 3 years off from school (class of 2014, what up?) going back wasn’t as easy as snapping my fingers and saying “okay, let’s write 10 pages”.

Instead, it was a lot of encouraging phone calls from home (family and friends), weekly hangouts with good friends, Netflix nights in and little bit of hard work sprinkled in there somewhere. You might be freaked out about going to back to grad school—I’ve totally been there.

But know this, you can do hard things and you will be successful.

Are you thinking of going back to school soon?

What’s something you’re worried about in going back? If you’ve already gone back, what’s one thing you learned that helped you (or kept you sane) when you went back? 

14 Comments
  • Kate Andrews

    God, do I wish this post existed before I went to grad school. You are 100% right. I hope others will find this article and take its advice seriously.

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      Wow, that means so much, Kate! I’m so glad this resonated with you and I too hope someone will read this and be encouraged (and maybe a little more prepared) to take on the beast that is grad school. It’s really a lovable beast, once you get to know it lol

  • Asha

    Congrats on finishing your first year of grad school! Also, glad you were able to have a little fun, too 🙂 I’m a strong believer in the first lesson about asking questions. “Ask not, want not”.

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      Thanks so much, Asha–that means a lot! And same, I’m so glad there were those fun, happy times mixed in to balance out the challenging ones. It’s so true, if you never ask, you’ll truly never know. Thanks for reading, lovely!

  • Caitlin

    This is so helpful! I’m about to start grad school and a little nervous, but it’s good to remember that it is okay to ask for help!

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      Yes, Caitlin–it is 100% OKAY to ask for help when you need it. Grad school, if anything, can be such a great place to build genuine community. Don’t be afraid to find it and foster it! All the best wishes to you on your journey!

  • Danai @ Living, Learning, Eating

    I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to school for a graduate degree, but this is such a helpful post for if I ever do! I think these are definitely useful as general life lessons, too!

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      Thanks, Danai–I so appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts! I’m so glad it was a helpful post for you!

  • Shay

    This article is much needed and very timely. I have been struggling with myself to go back to graduate school for well over a year now. I just need to take the not so deep plunge and make it happen. Thanks for sharing your story!
    -Shay
    http://www.shayshaytries.com

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      You got this, Shay! I know it’s super intimidating/scary to even think about going to grad school, but if it’s what you want, you should at least give it a try! If you love it, it might be one of the best life decisions you make. All the best to you, friend!

  • Krissy

    This was a great post and it is applicable to not only school but life in general. Thanks for sharing.

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      Thanks, Krissy–I thought so too! I’m still learning these things in my everyday life, let alone academic career. Thanks for reading!

  • Simone

    All important things for grad school! That last one can be hard for a lot of people. I’m in grad school now, and I remember my therapist telling me one very important thing. Once you graduate will your employer care about your GPA or the degree you earned? As a perfectionist, I had to keep in mind that making it to the finish line is more important than being perfect along the way.

    • Leighann

      Leighann

      Wow, thank you so much for sharing this, Simone! This is a true word. I try to remember this when I’m having a major freakout over an assignment, but this is such an important one to realize! All we need to do is finish the race–it doesn’t really matter what we place. Thanks again for reading!

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