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12 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Grad School

6. Manage your time well.

“The single most important skill to develop to successfully navigate graduate school is to learn how to budget your time efficiently,” according to Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D, director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also co-editor of Internships in Psychology.

But “There is no one way to manage your time,” Kuther said. Everyone has a different approach, which also may change over time. Still, most models have the basics in common: you have to know “where you need to be when and what to do when.”

From there, Kuther said that it’s a matter of making to-do lists for your grad school career, and each semester. Then, you can break it down month by month and day by day. “The critical piece is not to feel overwhelmed but to mark down all the details on paper.” Do this for assignments, too. It’s important to “allocate time for everything.”

Take advantage of organizational tools, such as Google Calendar and good old paper planners. “You have to play with it and figure out what works for you,” Kuther said.

Importantly, “Learn how long it takes you to complete a specific task, and try not to spend much more time on that task,” Prinstein said. But be sure you’re setting a realistic estimate, because there’s a saying in grad school that everything will take three times longer than you think, Williams-Nickelson said.

Always keep the big picture in mind. When you don’t, “you get tangled up in one task,” Kuther said. For instance, it’s easy to spend all weekend writing and editing one paper and neglect other tasks. But this inevitably leaves less time for the rest of your to-do list and becomes a big stressor.

“Take a realistic look and decide if you have to drop something and if you have to allocate less time for something.” The same goes for the entire program. As Williams-Nickelson said, if you need an extra year to finish the program, “and you can maintain your sanity and leave as a less stressed and better balanced person,” so be it. “People try to cram a lot in and feel pressured to complete in a short period of time. I think the end result is probably not worth the stress that’s endured for that.”

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Finally, “Don’t let unhealthy perfectionism keep you from attending to all of the demands of graduate school,” Prinstein said.

7. Don’t see grad school as the end of the road.

The goal of grad school is to give you a “baseline of knowledge,” so regardless of where you’re going — academia or private practice, for instance — “you have some minimum level of knowledge to get you started in the right direction,” Williams-Nickelson said. After grad school, there’s still a lot of learning to be done. “Learning is a lifetime endeavor.”

12 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Grad School

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 12 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Grad School. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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