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5 Tips for Preparing to Begin Graduate School

Get organized and do research in the time leading up to starting your studies, a former dean says.

Get to know fellow graduate school students.

Getting to know classmates before grad school begins can help put you at ease when you arrive on campus.

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Congratulations. You've been accepted to graduate school and will start in a few months.

It's normal to feel nervous, stressed, or anxious, but don't let emotions get in the way of setting yourself up to succeed once your new program starts.

Here are five tips to help you get ready for grad school: 

1. Make sure your documents are in order: There's nothing worse than arriving on campus only to learn important documents are either incomplete or missing. Make sure all of your student and financial aid forms are complete and on file at your school, before the semester starts. In addition, make an appointment with your academic adviser, sign and return all scholarship or loan agreement forms, and where possible, set up your student account with the bursar's office and make an early tuition payment. Failure to do these, and on time, could cause some major difficulties when you arrive on campus. 

[Read about loan changes for graduate students.] 

2. Learn about your classmates: Now is a good time to find out about your new classmates, and establishing relationships with other students before you arrive on campus will help you feel more at home when you get there. You can access information about the admitted class on the school's website. Ask the admissions office to put you in touch with other admits. Try to organize or help facilitate a get-together with other students in your area. 

3. Research the curriculum and professors: As an incoming student, you'll likely have access to information on course syllabi and text books. Familiarize yourself with these. Purchase some of the text books in advance, and read the introduction and table of contents. Most schools provide student-generated evaluations of professors and courses online, which typically go back two years, so be sure to check them out. This information will help you make more informed decisions about which electives to take; If you have trouble finding it, contact the admissions office. 

[Learn how to choose your M.B.A. concentration.] 

4. Explore ways to get involved: Begin thinking about ways to get involved outside the classroom. Check out information on student government or sports and other campus activities. During my time as a grad school dean, I saw incoming students create their own unique student groups—like cigar, wine tasting, and opera lovers' clubs—so consider starting one if there are no student groups in which you are interested. It offers a great way to develop personal friendships and advance your professional network. 

5. Start thinking about life after graduation: Yes, you are just beginning. However, it's never too early to consider life after grad school; time will literally fly by. And before you know it, you will be graduating. That's why it's so important to take time now to check out your school's career development office and learn about the services provided. Thoroughly review the website, and if you can, set up an appointment to visit the office. 

Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D., is a higher education admissions expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Wheaton College, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business. To learn more about graduate admissions, visit gradschoolroadmap.com.