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What To Do Before You Start Graduate School

It takes a lot of work to get accepted to graduate school as a healthcare professional. You must maintain good grades while taking numerous prerequisite courses, shadow and volunteer in several settings, obtain recommendation letters, ace admissions tests, write a killer application, and stun in interviews. Hopefully all that hard work translates into an acceptance. But usually there are several months before you actually start your graduate school classes.

This period can be a confusing time for many future healthcare professionals. After years of overachieving and racking up accomplishments, it can be hard to know what you should do once you get your acceptance. As I read frequently on the forums, many pre-healthcare students are tempted to try to get ahead in their studies by studying before their first semester. But is this a good plan? How else can you spend your time before you start graduate school? Here are some ideas:

Relax

While you may feel pressure to study and try to get ahead for graduate school, don’t bother. You’ve taken the necessary prerequisite coursework and have a background that will prepare you for academic success. You’ll have plenty of time to study once school actually starts. Plus, there’s likely a certain way the professors want you to learn the material, so studying on your own could end up being counterproductive. Take the stress off of yourself and enjoy a break, because you’ll be studying for hours at a time soon enough. While you don’t need to study and complete homework, watch the shows you want to watch, read the books you want to read, and hang out with your friends and family. When school starts, you’ll have less time for all of these things, so get them in while you can.

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Work

It goes without saying that graduate school is expensive, and you’ll likely be making little or no money while you’re a student. Now is a good time to earn some extra cash to go towards tuition or living expenses to offset the amount of debt you’ll soon take on. If you haven’t already done so, consider working in a medical setting so you can gain experience and connections in your future work environment. You can work as a receptionist, assistant, or technician, depending on the setting. Things you see might stick with you as you learn certain concepts in class, and the providers you meet might eventually be able to help you secure internships or jobs. If you’re going to get a job, it may as well be in an area in which you’re already interested.

Apply for Scholarships

Finding scholarships and applying to them can take hours. While you have a little less on your plate, take the time to seek them out. If you’re already eligible, start applying, and if not, bookmark them for a later date. Your future, less-indebted self will thank you.

Travel

If time and finances permit, now could also be a good time to take a trip. You don’t have to go anywhere fancy or far away, but an extra adventure before school starts could be fun. Except for a few school breaks, you won’t have much extended time off once classes start, and after graduation, you’ll have limited vacation days in your new job. Take advantage of not being in class by taking a trip while you have extra time.

Meet Your Future Classmates

If you’re already living in your future graduate school location, try to meet some of your classmates. Check out the class threads on the SDN Forums, or join or create a Facebook group for your incoming class. Once you get to know some of your classmates, organize a happy hour or plan a few touristy outings, such as museum visits or landmark tours. These excursions will not only give you a chance to get to know your new city, but also to meet your future classmates. Knowing a few familiar faces will make the first few weeks of school less intimidating. 

Exercise

As healthcare professionals, part of the job is to model a healthy lifestyle. If you already exercise regularly, carry on, and if you don’t, now is the perfect time to start. It’s a good habit to get into before school starts, so you can keep working out once classes begin. Some of my best workouts occurred during midterms and finals when I needed to blow off steam, and using certain muscles helped me study and better understand some of the foundational concepts of anatomy and kinesiology. Plus, if you’re already used to working out most days, it will be harder to break the habit even when the homework piles on.

Get Into Social Media

You may already be on Twitter and Instagram, but now is the time to use it in a professional manner. You may even want to make separate, healthcare related accounts. Separate accounts can help you differentiate between your social and professional lives. When you’re in the mood to see professional content, you use one account, and when you want to check in on your friends, you can use another. You can post about what you’re learning and experiencing as a student on your professional account, and keep pictures of you socializing more private.

Social media is a great way to commiserate with your peers, network for future clinicals and jobs, and even learn. Many clinicians use social media to debate new ideas and discuss research, so it can be a great tool for getting exposed to new ideas outside of what you learn in the classroom. Being adept at social media can even be a resume booster for a job or internship if you can apply those skills to helping out the practice. Now, while you have some free time, is a good time to get started.


However you choose to spend your time before you start graduate school, try to enjoy yourself. Being in graduate school can mean a huge lifestyle change, so it is important to go in feeling refreshed and ready to work hard. 

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J
Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT, CSCS is a physical therapist and writer. She graduated from Columbia University’s program in physical therapy and received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Cornell University. Before deciding to become a physical therapist, she was a journalist and the host ... Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT, CSCS is a physical therapist and writer. She graduated from Columbia University’s program in physical therapy and recei...