Picture this: You have been eagerly awaiting the start of your graduate student experience, only to discover that you have not followed through on all that is required before classes begin.
It's not an uncommon situation. In my years as a dean of admissions and dean of students, I saw students miss key steps along the way that affected their graduate school careers.
One incoming student at Columbia University did not complete any of her loan applications until a week before the term in which she was enrolling, and as a result, had to postpone the start of her master's degree program until the next term.
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An admitted Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University did not respond to confirm receipt of her fellowship, and lost it. She had to wait another year before enrolling.
Sadly, these types of situations were repeated every year during my tenure. Incoming students who were quite diligent in the preparation of their applications somehow did not manage their post-admission process as diligently. As a result, they started off in a much more stressful manner or had to delay their graduate school start entirely.
Your orientation program, while perhaps a bit stressful, should be largely an informative, enjoyable and rewarding time, setting the tone for what is to come in your graduate student experience. To ensure that this is the case, be sure and read through all orientation materials and do the following.
1. Take care of business prior to your arrival: If you recently completed a degree and your acceptance letter indicated that you must provide a final transcript or proof of degree, request the official final documents be sent from your previous institution.
One incoming MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business did not send final documentation of receiving his undergraduate degree. That held up receipt of his student registration account, which resulted in late fees and also affected his ability to choose the courses he wanted in the first term.
In addition, confirm that all of your financial aid, health insurance and health center forms are where they need to be. If you need a parking pass, apply early.
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If you are an international student, confirm whether or not you have to take an English placement exam.
And be sure to create your student ID account online. This paves the way for you to receive important communications from your school, for which you are responsible.
2. Hit the ground running when you arrive: First and foremost, do a walking tour of the campus – and make sure you know where the bookstore is.
Pay any fees, including your first term tuition bill. Find out if other incoming students have arrived, and start connecting with them.
And by all means, take time to read the graduate student handbook from cover to cover. It may not be the most exciting few hours you'll spend, but you are responsible for everything contained in the handbook. So read it now.
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3. Actively engage in orientation: Determine that you are going to be an active participant in this program, not just a bystander or outside observer. After all, you chose to attend this institution, and you will be there for at least 18 months.
As the saying goes, "You get out what you put in." Some activities and sessions may be of greater interest to you than others. That is understandable. But at the end of the day, your overall experience in graduate school, for better or worse, is largely in your hands.
This will be such a special and meaningful time – and it should be – if you decide to make it so. Show up. Participate. Communicate. Ask questions. Reach out. Have fun. The rewards will last a lifetime.