Transitioning from Undergraduate to Graduate School

By Atéha Bailly MDiv ’23

Photo Courtesy of Tony Rinaldo

We, at HDS Admissions, receive a lot of questions from prospective and incoming students about the transition from undergraduate to graduate-level studies. Students often feel an understandable sense of uncertainty and even anxiety about the new environment and expectations they will be faced with. This blogpost will attempt to allay those concerns while giving students things to think about as they begin their journey to becoming a graduate student. 

The primary concern, regarding the transition to graduate school, is grades. Students are often curious about how assessment of their work will differ from their undergraduate experience. For specifics on grading requirements and options, consult the most recent edition of the student handbook or reach out to the HDS Registrar’s Office.  

In my experience, HDS professors have been just as fair and understanding as those I had as an undergraduate in their grading. Professors are cognizant of the various levels of experience with graduate work that their students have; as such, they often increase their availability around assignment deadlines and facilitate the support of newer students by their more experienced colleagues. 

Graduate-level classes have a substantial reading load in addition to papers, projects, and reading responses. Something I learned in my first semester taking the introductory course Theories and Methods is that it is essential to strategically prioritize tasks and manage time. As the name would suggest, there is a lot of dense theoretical reading assigned in addition to reading responses and papers. While it can be daunting at first, the class is structured such that students learn to efficiently distill the main arguments from longer academic works. With the help of the teaching assistant in the class, I learned how to engage critically and thoughtfully with the course materials without losing time agonizing over every page of reading. This skill has served me well in every course I’ve taken since. 

Another thing to consider is how your time as a graduate student will inform your future professional goals. Graduate school is a major step in your career development—you will learn skills that you will draw upon throughout your professional life. What is more, the assignments you complete can directly contribute to your career advancement as they can become publications or grant/research proposals down the line. There will also be new networking opportunities that arise as a graduate student. Keeping the future in mind will help you make the most of our graduate school experience. 

The last item to consider in this transition has to do with the community in which you will find yourself. There will be a wider range in age, career advancement, and life experience represented among your fellow community members than in your undergraduate experience. This environment opens opportunities to gain insight and perspective from the diverse experiences of your colleagues. For instance, I have learned a lot about the how to navigate graduate school from the teaching assistants in my classes, who are often doctoral students themselves. 

The most important thing to remember is that you won’t be alone in this adjustment—many other students will be in a similar spot. Helping each other and learning from more experienced classmates will be an essential part of settling into life as a graduate student. 

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