Getting Your Head in the Game: How to Tackle Graduate School

stressed student at computerThe whistle has been blown. You’ve been tackling the rigors of graduate school for a while now, but it is becoming more difficult to keep up your stamina. It’s 4 a.m. and you haven’t had an ounce of good sleep since your graduate experience kicked off. You’ve been working all night, every night, on a blitz of increasingly demanding assignments. Your field placement site has monopolized any free time you thought you would have to complete your assignments, and your once-vibrant social life has fizzled to a thing of the past.

Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on your assignments for the week, another round of classwork and self-paced material are there to smack you back down to reality. Suddenly anxiety sets in, and you are one late-night study session away from a complete meltdown. Starting to think you were crazy for taking on so many classes? Fortunately, there are some tried and true ways to help you push through the onslaught of challenges and get your head back in the game.

Organize Your Playbook

Let’s face it; what worked at the undergraduate level is not going to work when you are a MSW@USC student. Reduce your anxiety by organizing yourself. Get a firm grasp of your syllabi and be aware of the dates assignments are due. Daily planners are a must-buy, as well as a large wall calendar, so that you have reminders of when your assignments are due. As you are now working at the graduate level, you are not simply paraphrasing the material you learn in class when you write your papers. You are expected to critically appraise the subject matter, adding your perspective of how the concepts you’re learning apply to the field of social work. To manage this task, start early so that your papers cover the entire scope of the subject matter you are addressing. Gather your research and give yourself time to review each source so that your papers really show off your academic prowess. Professors are able to distinguish papers that are thrown together from those that have been mindfully crafted, so make sure your work shines!

Keep Your Eyes on the Clock

Time management is one of the most important skills you need as a graduate student. As you have to navigate field placement requirements, classes, self-paced material, study time, papers, projects, family time and other responsibilities, it helps to have excellent time management skills. Don’t bite off more than you can chew with respect to taking on more duties, and be mindful of how much time it may take for your various commitments so that you don’t run out of time for what is most important. Dig out that planner and use it, bearing in mind the need to prioritize. You may even surprise yourself and have time to spare.

Fight On!

What more can I say? Trojans are known for excellence, from academia to sports. If you were not worthy of carrying forward that legacy, you would not be a student here. Know that you’ve got the goods to get the job done. Working hard toward earning your MSW is important, but you’ll never be able to keep going at full speed without calling a timeout every now and then to take care of yourself. Go out with your friends, or make time for that long-awaited date night. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you give yourself a break from school until you are done having fun. Don’t party too hard, because school will still be waiting for you when you return. Keep in mind your reasons for wanting to be a social worker, as it will help you power through the rough times. If you find that you are still in need of help, make use of student support or mental health resources in your community. Fellow Trojans are likely to feel your pain, and can also be an excellent source of support. Just remember to stay focused, and that even when life gets tough, Trojans always find a way to fight on.


Lazette Nalder is currently a foundation-year MSW@USC student. She was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia and currently lives in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Prior to applying and being accepted to University of Southern California, Lazette earned a Master of Science degree in Psychology. Lazette is a proud wife and mother of five children, and in her free time she enjoys playing a variety of instruments, writing music, enjoying her favorite football teams, cooking, and spending time with her family. Lazette Nalder has chosen Mental Health as her concentration at USC, and plans to utilize the skills she will learn to help individuals and families live happier and more-productive lives.