Things to Know! The Grad Student Experience

Elizabeth graduation
MBA graduates, December 2016. Left to right: Amy Drakeford, Elizabeth Dunn, and Jessica Cowan

Deciding to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree is a big decision and will be a significant commitment of your time, funds, and energy. In December of ’16, I finished my MBA. For the year and a half prior to commencement, I was a part time student and full time employee at Tarleton.

In my position in the College of Graduate Studies, I talk to many, many, prospective graduate students who have a multitude of questions about grad school, especially when they learn that I’m a recent graduate. What was it like? How was it different than undergraduate studies? When did you make time for papers and reading? How many hours did you take each semester?

Take it from me: Earning a graduate degree, especially while working full time, is no small feat. You truly have to be focused on your goals, and try your best to wake up every day and dedicate a portion of your time to progress.

Recently, I shared my experience, as well as ideas for success, with a group of prospective graduate students at an open house. Here are some highlights and insight regarding what to expect in graduate school:

  1. Higher expectations. Be prepared to read more than you’ve ever read in your life, write longer papers, and develop a higher level of critical thinking. That means that not every answer will be word-for-word in the textbook.
  2. Grad school is a balancing act, particularly if you’re working as well. It can be done successfully, though! Learning how to manage your time more effectively, lean on your support system when you need it, and utilize your resources can help you make it all work.
  3. Remember why it’s worth it. In the US, a very small portion of the population has a graduate degree. Earning an advanced degree sets you up for career opportunities, higher salary potential, and personal growth.
  4. Keep good humor, and know that you’re never alone! Laughter truly is the best medicine. (Need a mood boost? Search “grad school humor” and select “images”. Welcome to a world full of others sharing in your suffering. Just don’t do this when you’re facing a deadline.)

A graduate degree is earned one assignment, one test, one final, one class, and one semester at a time. Keep the end in mind, don’t get bogged down in the details, and you’ll be crossing the stage at commencement before you know it.


Elizabeth Dunn works in Tarleton’s College of Graduate Studies at the Stephenville campus. Her role is to assist graduate students through the journey from inquiry to commencement. Elizabeth earned her MBA from Tarleton State University in 2016.

Questions? Contact her via email at


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