Students at Yale Law School discuss a text, as critical analyses make up a larger part of graduate school. (Image via Yale)

6 Surprising Differences Between College and Graduate School 

They might seem similar, but they couldn’t be more different.

College x

They might seem similar, but they couldn’t be more different.

For many people who opt to go to graduate school, the initial weeks are something of a trial by fire. After four years of college, you would think that you had everything figured out, but grad school is an entirely different experience than college.

Not convinced? Check out these surprising differences between the two levels of academic programs.

1. Courses Are More Specialized

Whereas college is designed to provide students with a broad education, graduate school is designed to give you a deeper understanding of your chosen field. So while you might have been required to take classes across the spectrum of subjects in college, all of your courses in graduate school will be focused on your specific field and chosen specialization.

Even your electives will be focused; for example, if you are earning an MBA with a focus in marketing, your electives will all be relevant to that pursuit.

2. Your Cohort Will Be More Diverse

Chances are, your college classes were populated by people who were around the same age as you and had roughly the same level of experience. If you lived on campus, you spent your days surrounded by other people in their late teens and early 20s, all going through roughly the same process of getting an education.

In graduate school, your cohort is going to be a lot more diverse. Graduate school programs attract students right out of college, as well as career professionals who have been working for a decade or longer. The differences are even more pronounced in online programs; some online MBA programs in California, for example, might have students from across the U.S. and around the world, all of whom bring something different to the table.

Use this diversity as a learning tool, and try to absorb as much as you can from others who might have different perspectives.

3. You Will Have Less Free Time

Even if you are lucky enough to go to graduate school full-time, and do not have to work or manage family responsibilities while studying, you are less likely to have free time than you did as an undergraduate. When you aren’t attending classes, you can expect to be reading, conducting research, writing papers, studying for exams, attending conferences and completing internships.

While this might sound similar to college, the intensity of graduate-level work means that you aren’t likely to have a lot of time to just “veg out” like you did in college.

4. There’s Less Guidance in Time Management

In college, you likely received detail syllabi with assignment breakdowns, specific checkpoints and other instructions to help you complete assignments on time. In grad school, you need to be self-motivated and able to manage your assignments and responsibilities without the guidance of your instructors.

Your professors will expect you to come to class prepared to discuss your reading (which is likely to be hundreds of pages per week) and to have conducted your own research and in-depth thinking to provide useful insights to the conversation. In most cases, you won’t receive reminders and prompts to turn in your assignments, and if you miss deadlines, it’s harder to catch up.

5. It’s More Competitive Than College

Going to graduate school is about more than just earning a piece of paper and saying that you have a master’s degree. Graduate school can be the foundation of your career, a place where you make connections and gain the skills that you need to reach your career goals.

As such, grad school is generally far more competitive than college. Everyone wants to shine and be the best, and get noticed by professors and others who can help them get ahead. In business school in particular, where competition is often a part of the curriculum, the drive to win can be a major part of your experience. Collaboration and teamwork is vital in this environment, so developing good people skills and preparing yourself for higher levels of competition is important.

6. Your Success Depends Upon More Than Classroom Performance

Again, earning a master’s degree is about more than just completing assignments and moving on to the next class. While you should always do your best, you’ll get more out of your experience if you focus on the other aspects of grad school, including performing well in competitions, presenting at conferences, networking and developing your soft skills. A 4.0 GPA is a worthwhile achievement, but it’s not the only measure of success in the graduate school environment.

Graduate school is challenging, but it can be one of the greatest achievements of your life. When you go into it with your eyes open, and know what to expect, you will be better prepared to meet the challenges head on.

Leave a Reply