What I found when I went to graduate school, is that while it met my expectations, it definitely requires some life adjustments. Remember what it was like to go to college as a freshman, in a new place, with new people? Well you are doing it all over again, and it isn’t as easy. After you meet your new friends, you suddenly have no time to spend with them. There are definitely times when you have plenty of occasions to have fun, but more often then not you are at home, studying, and so is everyone else you know. This too takes some adjustment, but as you go on, you learn what things to look for in your readings, and what things you can and cannot skip over. I wish that I had put more effort into learning time management while I was an undergraduate. When you have articles to read for every class, research teams to work on, and a job, your time suddenly becomes very precious. The best advice I think I could give is to make sure that you remember to take time for yourself. A few moments of relaxation could mean the difference between frantically trying to get everything done and calmly prioritizing and scheduling your obligations.
Graduate school entails much more work than I ever had at my undergraduate school. On the other hand, I accomplish more in any given week than I ever thought possible of myself, so there are definitely rewards that can be seen immediately. Keep your long-term goals in sight, because there will be nights when it is approaching sunrise and you are still doing that paper that you really should have started about three weeks ago. Those goals will remind you that all this work is going to be worth it, and at some point, you will appreciate the dedication and self-discipline that it takes to make it through grad school.
As a recent psychology graduate, I often look back on my four grueling years of study and think, boy, I wish I knew then what I know now. While this axiom rings true for most people, I’ll save you some of the heartache (at least where academia is concerned), and impart to you some vital information that will certainly come in handy for psychology undergraduates who are either interested in pursuing graduate studies in psychology, or who simply want to get the most out of their undergraduate career.
Scholarships. No one likes paying for school right? So did you know that there are virtually thousands of private as well as government funded scholarships/bursaries that are available for undergraduate students just like yourself? Some of these scholarships require students to write essays or fill out lengthy applications, while others are open to students who have simply maintained a particular GPA. To find out which scholarships you are eligible for, spend time surfing the web and looking for information compiled by your department/college. You’ll be surprised at how quickly an afternoon of searching can pay off.
Time Management. Although many of us know the importance of managing our time efficiently, most people do not initiate a time management strategy until they are already falling behind in their work and are now trying to keep their head above water. Do not fall into this trap, instead develop a time management protocol early, stay organized, and constantly plan ahead. To help you keep track of matters, and thus allocate your time accordingly, I recommend using both an agenda as well as a long-term calendar. Your agenda is where you will record your daily commitments; such as scheduled appointments, classes, study time, free time, family time, etc. Conversely, use your long-term calendar to keep track of all your deadlines, test dates, or upcoming assignments (you should fill these in as soon as you get your syllabi). I found it particularly helpful to hang up my long-term calendar above my desk so I could always keep track of important dates. When it comes to time management, always remember: ‘fail to plan, plan to fail.’
Maximize Your Study Skills. The key to doing well, is to learn how to work smarter, not harder. What this means is that you should be developing strategies which allow you to work to your full potential. For example, discover your study prime time – which is the time of day you have the most energy – and study hardest subjects during this time. Additionally, do whatever it takes to avoid procrastination. Some anti-procrastination tactics that have worked for me in the past included: self-reinforcement (i.e. giving yourself a reward, such as TV-watching time or going to a movie, only after you have completed all designated tasks for that day), making a contract with a friend to get a specific task done, building a project in stages and then working from smallest to largest, or establishing a nice workspace where I’ve actually wanted to spend time. Once you have started your task, some pointers for successful learning include: visualization – restructure a problem in different ways, including diagrams and flow charts; writing – do not just read information, always take notes; talking – thinking/rehearsing aloud will help you retain what you learn; and lastly be productive at all costs – do not be afraid to fail or produce mediocre results in the beginning.
Get Involved. Whether or not you are considering graduate school, a great way to get involved in extra-curricular activities on campus is to become a member of your college’s undergraduate psychology students’ association. If you are really eager, you should also consider volunteering on the association’s executive council. While most colleges have some sort of psychology association/society, if yours doesn’t, why not start one?
Best of luck with your studies this year!