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Back to School

By: Elena Montalvo

Picture this: It’s a beautiful day in Chicago. You’re enjoying the last few days of summer, drinking beverages alfresco, and basking in the serenity. The breeze is crisp and a few leaves tumble by. You’re instantly reminded that fall is your favorite time of year. You’re relishing these moments when suddenly it dawns upon you: “It’s Back-to-School season…”

Maybe you can relate to this; maybe you can’t. A few weeks ago, it was a scene all too familiar. I graduated college eight years ago and have worked ever since. I haven’t used APA or MLA format since I became legal. Sure, I can write emails and proposals and remember countless facts pertinent to my job. But writing a research paper and studying for exams? It’s like learning to ride a two-wheeler again! I was overwhelmed with anxiety and absolutely terrified by the prospect of graduate school.

I knew I had to seek higher education to advance my career. When I was accepted into Northwestern’s MS in Health Communication program I kept thinking to myself:

Is this the best option for me? What if I fail? What if I overwhelm myself with work and school?

I didn’t have the answers to these questions, but I did what I do best: Yup, my best pal, Google, equipped me with advice and reassurance. I researched an array of good practices to succeed in my studies and immediately started applying these tips in the workplace. Slowly and surely, I began applying them to class.

Through trials and tribulations, I found that these three tips are the most important to grad school survival:

  1. Manage your time. Graduate school doesn’t play games. You’re going to have lots of homework and you must deliver clear, concise products. If you want to succeed, use your time wisely. You may have to postpone that Netflix binge or decline seeing your favorite band to study for exams. It may be helpful to review each course syllabus and mark imperative due dates in your planner. You can use this as a visual aid to construct a plan of action in managing your workload. This takes a little more self-discipline than some are used to, but it’s worth having peace and sanity!
  2. Work smart. You’ll be introduced to an abundance of material from lectures and readings crucial for your career, so it is expected to remember as much as possible. This may seem overwhelming, but luckily there are skills that can help you retain information! Annotations connect your readings to your thoughts. They also serve as a bookmark when you need to refer back to material for studying or citations. Don’t read all the material. That’s right, you heard me correctly! There’s a methodology behind reading smart. Study your syllabus/discussion questions prior to your readings to know what the professor is looking for. Then glance over your readings, looking for headlines, terms, and body paragraphs that refer to the lesson. If you have the time to read everything, great! If not, this is an effective way to learn pertinent information.
  3. Use your resources. Tuition does not just go toward books and courses. Many academic institutions are backed with resources upon resources to provide comprehensive support to their students. MSHC has provided many programs to assist students with their well-being and academics. There’s a career services team to offer career advice, resume help, and networking opportunities. Northwestern provides mental health services to help students maintain a well-balanced lifestyle. MSHC has staff available to handle your questions, and courses have teaching assistants to assist with writing and lecture questions. MSHC student groups are formed so you can reach out to your fellow students and make a friend!

With these tools by my side, I realize that graduate school is not as scary as it seems. Just like riding a bike, it may have been years since your last ride, but everything falls into place once you start. You may be scared, but you’ll thoroughly enjoy the ride. We are three weeks into the program and I am happy to see where this journey takes me.