Managing the Stresses of Graduate School: Four Tips to Help You Make It Through

stressed out student surrounded by books

Pursuing your graduate degree is a huge step — one that can lead you down a path filled with achievement and success. But deciding to attend graduate school can also lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety and stress. If you’re a student who began the MSW@USC program last month, your feelings of nervousness and excitement may be fading. Or, you may be asking yourself if you took the right step, because right now it seems like all of your peers have everything under control and understand everything the professor is discussing in class.

If you take the time to ask your colleagues how they really feel about graduate school, you may quickly realize that you are not alone. By now, everyone in your cohort has probably written their first community immersion paper, and they have realized that graduate school consists of a lot of reading. They also may be feeling overwhelmed, and they may be second-guessing whether they are good enough for this program. For all of us, this self-doubt tends to creep in when we least expect it, creating insecurities within us. But, remember that your hard work as an undergraduate student already determined that you are a great asset to USC.

Just like you, I have struggled with these same feelings and that’s why I’ve come up with these tips to help me handle the stresses of being a graduate student.

Four tips to help you deal with the stress of graduate school:

1. Remember to breathe.

Inhaling and exhaling is one proven way to create a sense of awareness and become grounded in whatever you are doing. As a student, focus on your breathing whenever you feel overwhelmed.

2. Take a break it’s ok.

Give yourself a time out, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Go for a walk, listen to music, or drink a cup of tea. If you’re constantly thinking of what you have to read next, you’ll quickly start to feel overwhelmed. Taking short breaks will renew you and help your focus become clearer.

3. Create a study plan and stick to it.

Take time to write down everything you need to do, and come up with a plan of action for how you will accomplish each task. During the first few weeks of class, I often stressed about whether I was going to have enough time for school and everything else going on in my life. But once I took out my planner and started writing things down, my stress levels significantly decreased.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Use your support network and use it often. One of the best things about this program is all of the help that is available to us. USC’s Student Support team has been extremely important in helping me deal with many issues, and I recommend them to all of you. Also, work with your peers — divide readings among each other and discuss them. This collaboration will help you develop relationships. The professors are also willing to help, so reach out to them whenever you are having a hard time understanding something. This will create a community and will help you overcome the negative thoughts that may occasionally cause you doubt about your ability to complete this program.

Once you have tried some of these tips, you will realize how much easier graduate school can be. Most importantly, you will be proud of yourself and all that you accomplish in the MSW@USC program.


Alvely Zoumis is a first year student at the MSW@USC program. She was raised in New York City and currently lives in Raleigh, NC. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, she prides herself in her work with the military as she was actively involved with the Family Readiness Group while her husband served six years in the military. Alvely considers herself to be highly optimistic and believes that her optimism will continue to bring her success as she pursues this program and future career as a military social worker. Learn more about Alvely at or on Twitter: @lifenprceptions