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What to Expect in Grad School: Community and Culture

May 6, 2021

If you're considering graduate school, you probably already know a bit about college culture. Either you've graduated with a bachelor's degree or you're currently an undergrad experiencing campus culture for yourself.

While graduate school does share cultural elements with the undergraduate experience, the two are not the same. Coursework, assistantships, research and more all play a major role in shaping the grad school environment.

Before you commit to a graduate program, it's important to understand the community and culture you'll be joining. Just like choosing a college for your bachelor's degree, you want to find a community and culture that both accepts and challenges you.

Here are some things to keep in mind when exploring graduate programs:

Or, if you'd like to learn more about the graduate school environment, you can  check out our comprehensive resource,The Differences Between Graduate and  Undergraduate Study: Everything You Need to Know, which will give you insight  into admissions requirements, salary increase potential, and much more. Explore  it today!

You'll experience a close-knit community of students & professors.

In graduate school, you'll be part of a much smaller cohort than you may have been in as an undergraduate. There's no such thing as hundred-plus person lectures as a grad student. 

Instead, you will work closely with your professors and small groups of other students in your program. The rigorous application process means you'll be surrounded by people who are as committed to academic success as you are, allowing for more in-depth and meaningful conversation and collaboration.

However, collaboration doesn't (and shouldn't) mean you'll always agree with your classmates. Challenging each other's beliefs and understanding is key to mastering a subject and developing a unique viewpoint.

You'll need to be organized and self-motivated.

Depending on the specific graduate program, much less of your time will be spent completing assignments and turning them in to be graded, and more will be focused on working individually or collaboratively on research, projects, and papers.

At this level, what work needs to be done and when it's completed is mostly up to you. Strong time management skills will be essential to stay on track when there isn't a syllabus driving your workload and due dates. 

It will also be up to you to keep yourself motivated. Your advisors and peers in the program will be working along side you, but they won't necessarily be there to make sure you start a project or revise a paper. 

There will be less structured socialization than in your undergrad.

Graduate students tend to be older and more established in their lives than undergraduate students. Many have full-time jobs, families and other obligations. For that reason, there isn't a lot of structured socialization, like clubs and organizations in a graduate program. 

That doesn't mean you won't socialize, though. You'll build tight-knit relationships with your classmates and professors as you collaborate on research and discussion. 

Many schools also have dedicated resources on campus to help graduate students find social connection or adjust to the campus community, like the Office of Graduate Student Affairs at SHU. 

You'll have great networking opportunities due to your peers' diverse backgrounds. 

Unlike undergrad, your grad school peers won't be as demographically similar to you. Instead of a cohort of similarly-aged individuals living away from home for the first time, your peers in grad school will come from a variety of different backgrounds and will have many different experiences to share. Some will have come straight from undergrad, some will have families, and some will already be professionals in your field of interest.

Not only will these varied experiences add unique dimensions to the overall classroom environment, but they'll also provide you with great opportunities for personal and professional networking. This networking can more easily allow you to exchange ideas, increase your notoriety, gain trusted support, and even open up future employment possibilities.

Learn More About What to Expect in Graduate School

While you should now have a stronger understanding of what graduate school is really like, this is just an example of what you might expect. Every program and school is different.

Overall, the graduate school community and culture experience brings forth unique opportunities for professional, academic, and social engagement that you would not be able to find in undergrad.

If you’d like to learn more of what you can expect from a grad program, such as potential for increased earnings, highly specific coursework, and more, we invite you to explore our digital resource, The Differences Between Graduate and Undergraduate Study: Everything You Need  to Know.Explore the Resource

SHU Graduate Admissions Team

About the Author

We are the graduate admissions team at Sacred Heart University. We aspire to create a welcoming and supportive environment for students looking to continue their education while empowering them in mind, body and spirit. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative as you explore and pursue a graduate degree at Sacred Heart!

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The Differences Between Graduate and Undergraduate Study:
Everything You Need to Know

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This resource covers ten important differences between graduate and undergraduate study and offers advice on how to choose the program that best fits your needs.

Explore the Resource

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