Choose Your Own Adventure! What Grad School is Really Like

By MaryJo Schmidt, MPH’23 in Behavioral, Social, Health and Education Sciences

Before My First Semester
As I started my journey at Rollins I had so many questions about what grad school was really going to be like. How was it going to compare to my undergrad? Would it be more challenging? Less challenging? The same? During orientation week I asked the second-years about their experiences and tried my best to prep myself prior to classes. Outside of the academic realm I was also nervous about the community I would find in grad school. My undergraduate campus was tiny and really connected, I had heard that graduate school was much more isolating and was worried this would be the case.

Over the course of the orientation week, I found so many other first-years in my cohort that had similar experiences to me. I connected with folks across departments and felt a little more at ease with the community I could have at Rollins. I was able to meet some of the professors I would be learning from and slowly my canvas site began filling with the courses and syllabi I had over the next semester. This first week I thought I had an idea of what grad school would look like and it felt just like undergrad, I was excited about what was to come but I was also a little weary of what would change once classes started.

After the Semester Started
Following orientation week, the semester’s classes began. My week began to be shaped and defined by the daily flow of work for my classes and the scope of people I would see became a lot tighter. If folks were not in my class, I had to reach out and make an additional effort to see them. I wouldn’t just bump into people coming to and from class like I did in undergrad. I also lived far from campus so if I wanted to see people on the weekend, there was an additional effort that had to be made. I’m an extroverted person so reaching out is not daunting to me but this extra step still led to some weekends alone recharging from the work of the week.  Building friendships and connections required an intentionality I did not have to utilize in my undergraduate – it reminded me of what it was like making friends while working full time. It takes a bit more effort, but the friendships I have feel richer than some of the connections I made during other times of life due to the mutual intentionality.

The coursework that felt daunting over the first week began to ease as the semester progressed. Time management is as usual, the key to success with assignments and projects. However, in grad school at Rollins I found it refreshing to be all be starting from the same place with the same goals. I didn’t feel isolated in my perspective on current or past public health issues, my classmates were all coming from similar places. This meant the course could go beyond the surface level and we were able to dig into the root causes for these issues. Thus, though the coursework may have increased from my undergrad, I felt like I was finally learning the concepts I had been wanting to learn. It made the assignments easier to complete and challenged me in new ways. I could ask for more content from my professors if I needed but the goal of the course was never to be the best at the assignment, the goal was to prepare me for my future career in public health. This shift also changed the way I perceived my classes going forward in the MPH program, choosing courses that I know I’ll use and getting the most out of my time here.

Key Takeaways (TLDR):

  • It’s a choose your own adventure
  • If you want to find a community, it’s here if you seek it
  • Everything requires a little more intentionality
  • The courses are designed with a different goal
  • Academic rigor may increase but so does academic interest
%d bloggers like this: