How to survive your first year of grad school

A few of my classmates and me. (Photo courtesy of Scarlett Chen)

A few of my classmates and me. (Photo courtesy of Scarlett Chen)

Last week, in a daze, I hit “submit” on my last final project for the semester.

I’d officially wrapped up my first year of grad school, and I wasn’t quite sure how I should celebrate.


(The answer, of course, was margaritas. The answer is always margaritas.)

Since then, I’ve been making plans for the summer, which, um, isn’t shaping up to be any less busy. But there’s a lot to look forward to.

And looking back, there’s a lot that got me through my first sometimes-hellish, sometimes-awesome year, and I’m sharing my incredibly helpful and super-serious knowledge with you.

Here’s how you, too, can survive your first year of grad school:

Get a blender. You never know when you might need a margarita or piña colada, and most of us can’t afford to always be hitting up the bars. The best part about owning a blender is you can enjoy your favorite frozen drinks while working on assignments… or while binge-watching Orange is the New Black and thinking, “Hey, at least I’ve got it better than those gals.”

Find healthy distractions. Sometimes, when it’s midnight, you just need to procrastinate before getting to the assignment that’s due tomorrow. My favorite distractions are scouring apartment listings on Craigslist (with no budget limit, of course—Beverly Hills, anyone?) and trolling dog rescue websites while showing dogs’ pictures to John telling him how we need to save the puppies right now.

Give yourself something to look forward to. And by that, I mean food.

Invest in your mental and physical health. In certain high-stress moments of the semester, my cohort’s classes would turn into very expensive group therapy sessions. (“Why do they want us to suffer?” we’d sob.) I also bought a Groupon for 70 percent off yoga classes at a local studio. I might’ve been cursing the teachers under my breath every time we were instructed to hold a plank pose, but ending on savasana every time was a great way to get a quick nap in.

Soak it up. And not just the margaritas. If you’re in a two-year program like I am, the first year makes you realize just how quickly the whole thing will go by. Before you know it, friends will disperse all across the country, hopefully landing some kickass jobs in the process. (Or in our program’s case, moving back in with our parents, because hello, we’re in journalism school. GUYS, I’M KIDDING. WE GOT THIS.)

Follow these five easy steps, and you’ll rock grad school. Cheers and ¡Salud!

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  1. Oh god, grad school is beyond me… I am currently on a three week break before I head back to school for another 10 grueling weeks of the doctoral program in physical therapy. I’m so worn out. I’m barely surviving and I feel like I let my health suffer because of the stress and the amount of unhealthy food I’ve been eating. Also, now that I’m on a quick break, I seriously don’t feel like eating healthy at all.

    I love how your group photo with your classmates reminds me of the bar-hopping celebration I had with my classmates just weeks ago. Alcohol is what keeps me going, to be honest.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Take care of yourself, girl! It’s funny how when you don’t exercise or eat right for a long time, your motivation to do so drops completely. I’ve totally been there. Hope your break is restorative and that you can get back to a better life balance soon. <3

  2. I will be sure to keep this in mind for when I go to grad school 😛 Right now I’m planning returning to finish my bachelors but that’s still a work in progress. A lot of planning on my end involved, all money related, lol. I think that having something to look forward to is crucial not just for grad school but with anything in life. 🙂 Congratulations on completing your first year Cassie and enjoy the second one coming up! Have a great summer and drink plenty of margaritas!! Have a great one -Iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thanks, Iva! Having something to look forward to is key for me no matter what I’m doing. Good luck getting everything together to go back to school!

  3. Congrats Cassie! I applaud you for doing grad school…currently I cant even imagine going back, but maybe one day!!!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thanks a lot, Ashley! Having been out of school for a couple of years gave me a better appreciation for it. It’s had its ups and down, but the first year was good overall, and I’m really looking forward to the second!

  4. Kudos, chica. You are beyond impressive for doing this whole grad school thing. I’m too weak. =] I’m headed to the Midwest for a couple of weeks, but when I get back, LET’S CELEBRATE!

  5. What is it about being an adult that makes summer so busy? I haven’t stopped since school ended. Literally. I had an easy-ish first semester, but I have a feeling I’m in for it next semester since I switched to English/writing.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      No kidding! I’m arguably busier now that it’s the summer than I was during the semester, haha. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

  6. Congrats on finishing your first year! Lots and lots of margaritas are VERY WELL-DESERVED.

  7. makes me wanna go back to school haha!

  8. Oh this is basically just a guide to survive any old day of the week, anytime! lol

  9. Ha, this resonates well with me. 1-1.5 more year for me, and I’ll be done! In the meantime, I should probably get back to work…

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