What to Do the Summer Before You Start Grad School

relaxing in hammock
Take time off to relax or you may find yourself fried by October. Val Loh/Stone/Getty Images

Starting graduate school this fall? Like most soon-to-be grad students you’re probably both excited and anxious for classes to begin.  What should you do between now and the beginning of your first semester as a graduate student?

Relax
Although you may be tempted to read ahead and get an early start on your studies, you should make time to relax. You’ve spent years working to get through college and make it into graduate school.

You’re about to spend more years in graduate school and face more challenges and higher expectations than you encountered in college.  Avoid burnout before the semester even begins. Take time off to relax or you may find yourself fried by October.

Try Not to Work
This may not be possible for most students, but remember that is the last summer that you will be free from academic responsibilities. Graduate students work during the summer. They do research, work with their advisor, and perhaps teach summer classes.  If you can, take the summer off from work. Or at least cut back on your hours.  If you must work, make as much downtime as you can. Consider leaving your job – or if you plan to continue working during the school year – taking a vacation two to three weeks before the semester starts.  Do you whatever is necessary to begin the semester refreshed rather than burned out.

Read for Fun
Come Fall you’ll have little to no time to read for pleasure.

When you have some time off, you’ll probably find that you don’t want to read as that’s how you’ll spend large chunks of your time.

Get to Know Your New City
If you are moving to attend grad school, consider moving earlier in the summer. Give yourself time to learn about your new home. Discover grocery stores, banks, places to eat, study, and where to grab coffee.

Get comfortable in your new home before the whirlwind start of the semester.  Something as simple as having all of your belongings stored away and being able to easily find them will reduce your stress and make it easier to start fresh.

Get to Know Your Classmates
Most incoming cohorts of graduate students have some means of getting in contact with each other, whether through an email list, Facebook group,  LinkedIn group, or some other means. Take advantages of these opportunities, should they arise.  Interactions with your classmates are an important part of your grad school experience.  You’ll study together, collaborate on research, and eventually be professional contacts after graduation. These personal and professional relationships can last your entire career.  Try to get to know or at least meet your colleagues before the busy semester begins.

Clean Up Your Social Profiles
If you haven’t done so prior to applying to graduate school, make some time to review your social media profiles. Do they present you in a positive, professional light? Ditch the college partying pics and posts with profanity. Clean up your Twitter profile and tweets as well. Anyone who works with you is likely to Google you.

Don’t let them find material that makes them question your judgment.

Keep Your Mind Agile: Prep a Little
The key word is little.  Read a few of your advisor’s papers – not everything. If you haven’t been matched with an advisor, read a bit about faculty members whose work interests you.  Do not burn yourself out. Read a little simply to keep your mind active. Do not study.  Also, keep an eye out for topics that interest you.  Note a stimulating newspaper article or website. Don’t try to come up with a thesis, but simply note topics and ideas that intrigue you. Once the semester starts and you make contact with an advisor you can sort through your ideas. Over the summer your goal should simply be to remain an active thinker.

Overall, consider the summer before graduate school as a time to recharge and rest.

Emotionally and mentally prepare yourself for the amazing experience to come. There will be plenty of time to work and you’ll face many responsibilities and expectations once graduate school begins.  Take as much time off as you can – and have fun.