Balancing Responsibilities In Grad School Vs. Undergrad

By Elana Goodwin on September 8, 2016

This article is brought to you by Kaplan, the leader in test prep for over 90 standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

In both undergrad and grad school, students have to juggle various responsibilities and other activities in addition to classes and schoolwork. However, the balancing act required by students varies depending on whether they’re in undergrad or grad school.

Here are some differences between balancing school and other responsibilities as a grad student compared to an undergraduate.

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1. Less time. There’s usually a lot more studying, research, and writing involved in being a grad student compared to being an undergraduate. You may have thought as an undergrad that you had a lot of reading but as a grad student, your reading load will be so much more. Academic reading will be a huge part of your life as your area of focus is much narrower than what you studied in undergrad, and you’re expected to be more independent when it comes to your studies.

There’s way less handholding and guidance in grad school, meaning you have to be way more responsible and disciplined in order to make sure you complete assignments, turn things in by their due dates, and work on your thesis or dissertation. Setting deadlines and figuring out your research will depend almost completely on you, and if you’re acting as a TA for a class, you’ll have even less time to juggle your responsibilities.

2. Employment. While many graduate students consider being in grad school a full-time job, some students still have or seek part-time employment. For some, having a part-time job is necessary to help off-set the costs of being in grad school, renting an apartment, etc., while for others, it’s a good resume-booster, though the extra cash doesn’t hurt.

In undergrad, it’s more common to have a part-time job as many students are offered work-study through the college or need to help cover various costs associated with going to school.

Additionally, employers on-campus or located near campus are more flexible with scheduling when working with an undergrad student as they know the student’s work schedule must fit with the class schedule. As a grad student, finding time to work can be more challenging since it’s not just your class schedule you have to allot time for but also research and studying, both of which will be bigger parts of your life and take more time than they did during undergrad.

3. Social life. As an undergrad, juggling your social life and school was more difficult since there were lots of campus activities, parties, sporting events, and more that students want to take advantage of. However, as a grad student, academics will often overlap with your social life as going to a lecture that provides lunch or getting a coffee or drink with a professor or fellow student to discuss your research or thesis will make up many of your social outings rather than going to parties or sports games.

Further, in grad school, many of the students will be older and there’s a wider range of ages amongst your peers. Since grad students are typically older and more mature than the typical undergrad student, getting together or going out will look different than it did in undergrad, so it may be easier to juggle the responsibility you have to yourself to have a social life as a grad student.

4. Financial planning. Whether you paid for undergrad by yourself, had it covered by your parents, or received scholarships and loans, you probably weren’t as money-conscious or good at budgeting as you will be as a grad student. Paying for grad school can push students into more debt or cause anxiety so it’s smart to carefully plan your budget and manage your money well.

Additionally, as a grad student, you may try to eat slightly better than you did as an undergrad, meaning less mac and cheese, cereal, and ramen, and instead try cooking more and making healthy and nutritious meals like a real adult, which may make your grocery shopping list more extensive and costly.

5. Classes. While you may have fewer courses per semester as a grad student, the expectation is that your work will be that much better and the majority of your schoolwork will be done outside of the classroom, so your workload is much heavier. Plus, whereas in undergrad you undoubtedly skipped a few classes when you felt like it, when the weather wasn’t great, when you didn’t enjoy the class, etc., in grad school, attending class isn’t really a choice option.

In grad school, you probably won’t want to miss class because you actually like your classes and what you’re studying. You’ll also probably have smaller class sizes, meaning your absence would definitely be noticed, and you’re expected to fully participate in and come prepared for classes.

Overall, there are lots of differences between grad school and undergrad, but during both you’ll need to juggle various responsibilities along with your classes, schoolwork, and other activities — it just may be more of a challenge as a grad student than it was when you were an undergraduate.

Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.

By Elana Goodwin

Uloop Writer
I love reading, writing, and sweater weather. Also, dogs. That is all. Follow me on Twitter at @EllaRayy!

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