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3 Tips for Success as a Graduate Student

3 Tips for Success as a Graduate Student


By Dr. Jennifer Douglas
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies at American Public University

As a graduate student, you have embarked on a journey to become an expert in your discipline and expand your career opportunities. Succeeding as a graduate student requires passion for your subject and dedication to your courses.

Based on our data about graduate student success, certain behaviors contribute to the likelihood of graduate students finishing their programs. Although everyone’s life circumstances are unique, the following three tips offer ways to navigate graduate school and complete your journey toward a graduate degree.

#1: Plan for Your Program

As you look at the course requirements for your program, plan your course progression. Talk with the Advising team to help you with this stage.

Also, be aware of the end-of-program requirement for your degree program. In many cases, the final course in the program is a 16-week course that must be taken alone, without other concurrent courses.

Our data shows that successful students take courses on a regular basis throughout the year. In fact, students who complete at least one course in every session (Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall) are more likely to complete their programs. By taking courses consistently, you ensure that you maintain a routine for completing your schoolwork and you sustain momentum in your program.

Registering early for courses (at least one month in advance) is a sign of success for graduating. Early registration means that your payment method can be processed in a timely way, and you can be prepared for the time commitment the course requires.

#2: Be Prepared for Class Demands

Graduate study needs a considerable time commitment. A graduate course may require 15-20 hours per week to complete the readings, forums and assignments. Be ready to join a vibrant community of learning and actively contribute to your classroom discussions.

Similarly, staying in courses and avoiding withdrawals creates positive momentum for completing your degree. Course withdrawals will appear on a graduate transcript and may cause questions for potential employers. Try to avoid withdrawing from classes and register for courses with a solid plan to complete them!

Make sure to log in to the classroom or the mobile app regularly and maintain an active presence in class. Active classroom involvement throughout the week contributes to the likelihood of completion.

#3: Bring Your “A” Game

Graduate school is a step up from undergraduate programs. Your learning is in your hands as you become an expert in the discipline.

From the beginning, approach graduate school with curiosity and rigor to advance the knowledge in your field. Participate actively in forum discussions by referring to your current course’s research literature and ask questions to help you further analyze the material. Learn how to find and analyze scholarly, peer-reviewed articles in your field. These sources will be essential for completing class assignments and conducting your own research.

As you proceed through the program, drive your own learning by honing your research interests and completing projects that contribute to your research and professional goals. When you take courses, be aware of the final program requirement and conduct research that prepares you for your final project, thesis, practicum or exam.

Ask your instructors to help you refine your research focus ahead of time, so that you’re ready for the end of the program. Successful graduate students are proactive about mapping their own path through the degree and being prepared for the end game.

With these tips and your own perseverance, you will be a successful graduate student. See you at commencement!

About the Author

Jennifer Douglas is an associate professor for the School of Arts and Humanities at American Public University System. She holds a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in English, both from the University of Rochester in New York. Her teaching interests include graduate and undergraduate writing, 20th-century literature and teaching strategies for adult learners. Jennifer’s career in higher education spans several universities, including Houghton College, the University of Rochester, Trinity Christian College and West Virginia University.