Demystifying Academic Life for a Graduate Student

I spent my last two posts reflecting on volunteer and professional development opportunities that have contributed to my graduate student experience at William & Mary. As I start a lengthy Winter Break (did I mention it’s nice to be a student again?) at home in snowy New Hampshire, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on my academic experiences this semester.

A full-time graduate course load, at least for the EPPL – Master’s in Higher Education program, is three courses for a total of nine credits. I didn’t know this before applying to the program and remember thinking initially, “Wow, I took an average of 15 credits per semester as an undergraduate, that doesn’t seem too bad.” While it’s true you’re likely to spend less time in class as a graduate student, I’ve certainly found my graduate studies challenging in their own right.

This semester I took two required courses and an elective: Higher Education Administration, History of Higher Education, and Colleges Student Development. Each of these courses had at least one major writing assignment (two required more than one) and group presentations. While I got a pass on tests, including final exams—no complaints here—the time spent preparing for presentations, as well as researching and writing papers, proved to be demanding, especially while working an average of 20 hours per week in the Career Center.

This 1941 Norman Rockwell image, depicting a romantic view of college life during that period, was included in one of our weekly readings for the History of Higher Education course.

This 1941 Norman Rockwell image, depicting a romantic view of college life during that period, was included in one of our weekly readings for the History of Higher Education course.

While each truly offered something unique to my first semester as a student, History of Higher Education was probably my favorite course. I found Dr. Eddie Cole’s classes varied and engaging. Our weekly readings, while daunting at times, were usually compelling, and I gained a wealth of knowledge and perspective concerning the origins and major developments in American higher education, including William & Mary’s important place in that history. Our capstone project, a 15-page history paper, which relied primarily on primary source material, was an especially enriching aspect of the course. I chose to research the history of “Our Alma Mater” at William & Mary and its relationship to affinity-building among the institution, students, and alumni.

As someone who has always enjoyed research and writing more than objective test-taking, this reading and writing-intensive format suited me, but I still found myself needing to budget my time well, particularly on the weekends, to make sure I completed my work on time. I became fast friends with The Coffeehouse in Williamsburg, where I spent many Saturday mornings sipping freshly roasted coffee while getting a jump on writing assignments. Carving out a time and place where I knew I could be productive over a period of time proved essential during the final weeks of the semester with several deadlines looming.

Equally important as finding my “productivity zone” was figuring out how I could budget leisure time to ensure that I was taking care of my responsibilities as a student and graduate assistant, while attending to my general well-being as well. For instance, I quickly learned that 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night, after a full day of work and back-to-back evening classes, was probably not going to be a productive period of paper writing. No, that time wound up better spent playing Madden with my roommates, or indulging in some non-academic reading. Early in the semester, I joined a group of Higher Ed students on Wednesdays to participate in trivia at The Brickhouse, and a group of us got together again to take in our first Grand Illumination, while temporarily escaping papers and end-of-semester assignments.

During one my visits to The Coffeeshouse, I stumbled on a car show, which proved to be just the temporary distraction I needed to get productive that morning.

During one of my visits to The Coffeehouse, I stumbled on a car show, which proved to be just the temporary distraction I needed to get productive that morning.

Prioritizing what mattered most to me, including studies, work, worship, and leisure, helped make sure I was giving the best of myself to what each hour demanded. From budgeting time, even keeping a calendar (something I still haven’t taken to fully), to budgeting a checkbook, the demands of the graduate student lifestyle have helped me grow as a student, professional, and individual in ways I hadn’t predicted. I look forward to seeing the ways that growth continues as I move forward in my graduate journey at William & Mary.

Categories: Academics, Campus Life, Student Blogs, Williamsburg
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