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If you recently transitioned or are thinking of transitioning into a Master’s program at Walden, you’re not alone. In fact, with the help of Walden’s AIM program, three members of the peer mentoring team recently completed their undergraduate coursework and chose Walden for their Master’s degrees. Now that they each have a few graduate courses under their belts, peer mentors Tiffany JordanJody Nelson, and Des Ellis are ready to share their tips for adjusting to graduate-level expectations:

Get Organized

No surprise, here. If organization was important as an undergraduate student, it’s critically important as a graduate student: more independence and more reading mean you’ll need to flex your organizational expertise. For Jody, many of the skills she uses as a Master of Social Work student are a “continuation from undergraduate work: planning, organizing, and vigilant time management.” If you struggled with organization as an undergrad, try out these three tips before the start of your next course:


Print the syllabus

As Tiffany notes, the course syllabus includes “a synopsis of what each week looks like: when everything is due, what resources are required, and what each assignment entails. Having this tool handy is very helpful in staying on top of all the assignments and keeping organized.”


Create a study schedule

After reviewing the syllabus and course requirements, make a plan. For help setting up a realistic study schedule, check out this blog post on 6 Tips for Successfully Managing Your Time.


Review course rubrics

As you adjust to graduate-level expectations, be sure to carefully review each rubric prior to submitting an assignment. “Even though looking over the rubric was important in undergraduate work,” Jody explains, “it becomes even more important at the graduate-level.” Master’s programs emphasize different outcomes than undergraduate programs, so what earned high marks in your undergraduate course might not yield the same positive feedback in your Master’s course. For help interpreting course rubrics, check out this visual Guide to Rubrics.

Get Ready to Read!

While every pathway is different, it’s safe to assume that most graduate coursework will require more reading than undergraduate courses. Des, for example, noted a marked difference between the reading loads for his B.S. and MBA programs. To ensure he had time to digest “a large amount of reading material” in his Master’s courses, he had to modify the study schedule that had worked for him throughout his undergraduate degree.

As you settle into your new program, track the time you spend on reading assignments and adjust your study plan as needed.

A heavier reading load might also mean that you need to learn ways to read more efficiently, so that you aren’t wasting precious time re-reading course content.

Familiarize Yourself with the Library

Again, while every program is different, many graduate-level assignments require a higher degree of independent research than undergraduate coursework. Often, undergraduate instructors provide the readings and materials you’ll need to complete an assignment. Though you’ll certainly be assigned readings in your graduate courses, Master’s programs encourage you to construct and support original arguments with up-to-date research. In order to perform the complex reading, critical thinking, and writing skills required of independent research, you’ll need to rely on Walden’s library.

To prepare for more research-oriented assignments, Jody highly recommends reviewing the library’s tutorials and getting “really comfortable finding materials efficiently.” If you’re new to Walden’s library and aren’t sure of where to start, reach out to a librarian via the Ask a Librarian feature on the library website. Walden’s librarians would be happy to point you in the right direction.

Connect With Your Peers

Earning an online degree at any level can be an isolating experience, and when we feel alone, it’s easier to lose motivation.

To combat feelings of isolation, Tiffany suggests joining “the Facebook group for your program and start date.” As part of a virtual community, you’ll find quick answers to basic questions, encouragement from your peers, and tips from fellow students.

If social media isn’t your thing, or if you’re looking for a more personal connection, consider attending a peer mentor-led live event. Peer mentors are high-achieving Walden students who provide social support and offer guidance based on their own academic experiences. Peer mentor-led live events and virtual gatherings are opportunities to connect with likeminded students, learn valuable academic success skills, and sustain motivation.

Make Time for Yourself

As with any new endeavor, be sure to build self-care into your routine. As Des wisely points out, “As important as completing this degree might be, it is equally important to take care of yourself. If you are burned out, there is no way you will be able to successfully remain focused.”

Especially when you’re busy, working self-care into your schedule can seem impossible. But know that self-care does not have to be a major time commitment.

Taking short breaks to do something you enjoy has lasting impacts: a 15-minute walk between study sessions or a 20-minute nap can leave you feeling refreshed and refocused. For more tips and ideas, check out our Self-Care and Wellness page!

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or unsure of yourself when starting something new. All three of the peer mentors interviewed for this post agreed that higher expectations in their Master’s programs required them to adjust their study schedules. But they also agreed that their undergraduate programs at Walden set them up for success, so rest assured knowing that you have the tools to succeed in this next stage of your journey!

Emily Bruey is a member of Walden’s Master’s Academic Support team, which provides paper reviews, hosts webinars, and develops resources for Master’s students. Before joining Walden in 2020, Emily provided academic and social support to college students, including teaching and tutoring writing online. Outside of her professional life, Emily enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, and hiking.