If you’re looking to advance your career, a master’s degree might be the next logical step. A master’s degree is one of the gateways to specialization in a field, often leading to higher salaries and/or more responsibilities within a profession. Therefore, you may be considering or planning to attend graduate school for your master’s degree.
Unsurprisingly, the experiences that “graduate schools” share are similar in many areas — whether you have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Master of Public Health (MPH), a Master of Business Administration (MBA), or acquire another master’s degree.
For example, the MSN is valuable to both nurses and the healthcare system because it prepares nurses for leadership roles and advanced clinical practice. The MSN is the foundation of academic preparation for nursing practitioners, midwives, clinical nursing directors, nursing educators, and many other nursing professions.
When working with students on the MSN program, it’s not uncommon to hear them say that graduate school is challenging and time-consuming, but also very rewarding.
If you’re transitioning from an undergraduate education to graduate school, you probably have a few questions about the process.
What is the difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s thesis?
Throughout life we build up a progressive body of knowledge that we use personally and professionally. In the academic environment, this knowledge becomes more and more complicated with each level of education achieved.
Put simply, the difference between the performance of a bachelor’s and a master’s degree is related to the more complex knowledge that is taught at master’s level. This higher level of complexity is mentally and physically challenging as well as time consuming.
Many students would say that the biggest difference between bachelor’s and master’s thesis is the amount of knowledge that needs to be incorporated into their work, along with the requirement to base your thoughts, observations, and claims on scientific evidence. That means spending more time in the library, scouring databases, and gathering evidence to expand and support the new knowledge you’re gathering, so you can become a master in your field.
How do I prepare for my first day of school?
It is important to note that you will not start alone. Faculty members and student advisors help coach, mentor, and encourage masters students in their transition to graduate school.
Some ways to be successful from day one are:
- Visit the online library – During your studies you will often work together with the university library. Learn where to find resources and how to get what you need. At many universities, librarians are available 24 hours a day to provide you with orientation and support.
- Get to know your advisor – Advisors support students at every step of their academic journey. They are a trusted source of information and guidance.
- Get to know the Learning Management System (LMS). – Explore your university’s online learning platform. For example, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) uses a platform called Brightspace and all course information is available at the beginning of each course. Online courses are similarly organized, and there is a predictable pattern of deadlines to help you remember when assignments are due. Aside from your discussions and assignments, here are some key areas:
- announcements – The lecturers pass on important information about your course and your assignments. This can take the form of announcements. If you want to excel at your work, be sure to read all course announcements, emails from your faculty, and other course-related messages and instructions. This is the easiest first step to understand what’s expected.
- Academic Support – Learn how to navigate your academic support center as it can provide a variety of resources such as 1:1 support, chats, videos, workshops, written guides and more.
- IT Helpdesk – We all need tech help from time to time. By contacting us early, you can avoid wasting time trying to solve a technical problem that a professional might solve quickly.
How can a PhD student be successful?
There are many strategies for academic success on the way to a master’s degree. You start by knowing and using your resources, meeting deadlines and improving your writing skills.
- Use resources. Most universities offer a wide range of student support resources. Explore institution resources and get the support you need for academics, health and wellness, accessibility, English as a second language, and more.
- Talk to your course leaders/professors. They can allocate you the resources you need. Instructors are also great resources for questions specific to your specific courses. People who choose to teach at the graduate level do so because they enjoy working with students and are invested in their success. Reach out to them with questions and take advantage of the help they are willing to offer.
- Stay up to date with your coursework. Do your best to meet your due dates. Too much backlog can make it difficult for students to complete a course.
- Establish good writing skills. It’s important to remember that academic writing is much more formal than the way we communicate in our day-to-day lives. This can be stressful for some students, but many resources are available at academic writing centers and even libraries to support master’s level writing.
How can I manage Grad School while at work?
Graduate school is a challenge for anyone working while attending school, but there are a few ways to strike a balance between the two.
Build a support network
How you balance your responsibilities will change as you study. An existing support system can help with these tasks. A good support system not only helps you buy time to focus on your coursework, but also provides you with the encouragement and moral support that will help you succeed.
Some things your support network can do (if you ask them!):
- Listen and encourage focus on your goals
- Offer childcare so you can focus on your coursework
- Share meals and meal prep tasks to free up your time
- Offer to clean or do chores around your house
- If possible, cover work shifts to give yourself time off to focus on coursework
- Distract yourself with a night out or a fun activity to clear your head and rejuvenate when you’re feeling stressed
Many employers are more flexible than you might have expected before starting your master’s degree. A master’s degree is helpful to many, if not most, employers. As a result, many students are able to change their hours or request time off once their employer knows they are enrolled in the school. Students often say they are surprised at the support they receive from their employers during graduate school. You don’t know until you ask.
Make time for schoolwork
Most graduate programs will take around 15-16 hours of your time per week for a 10-week course. Find times that work best for you and plan ahead to protect that time. This may mean looking after childcare or leaving a busy house to work somewhere else. However, plan for the unexpected. If something interrupts your scheduled time and you don’t have spare time available, speak to your instructor about your options.
Ultimately, you decide for yourself whether and when you attend graduate school to complete your master’s degree. Regardless of your decision, it’s important to understand the commitment you’ve made and to examine and utilize the resources available. These resources can exist as services or as other people.
Connect with faculty in the program you are seeking, your employer, peers, and peers to share experiences, discuss your goals, and understand and plan for graduate school time commitments.
But most of all let yourself be inspired. This is an important life decision that can greatly affect you personally and professionally. What are you waiting for?
A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU master’s degree that can best help you achieve your goals.
dr Kimberly Gibbons, DNP, CNM, RN, CNL, CNE has been a registered nurse, midwife, educator and clinical nurse leader for over 25 years. She has been teaching undergraduate and graduate nursing full-time for over 15 years. She currently serves as a team leader for the Graduate Nursing Faculty and subject matter expert for the development of courses related to population health at Southern New Hampshire University. In addition, dr. Gibbons is the coordinator and instructor for the CNL track of the MSN program at SNHU and actively supports the CNL experience with students and faculty. dr Gibbons holds a PhD in Nursing Practice from the University of New Hampshire, a Master of Science in Nurse-Midwifery from the University of Minnesota, and multiple professional certifications in Nursing Education and Clinical Nursing Practice.
dr Emily Bombard, DNP, RN, CNL, CNE has been a registered nurse for over 17 years. She has experience in higher education and clinical nursing practice with professional roles in education, leadership, quality improvement and nursing. dr Bombard joined Southern New Hampshire University in 2020 as a member of the Clinical School of Nursing. She currently serves as the Course Coordinator and Instructor for the first Nursing Course in the Graduate Program and facilitates graduate experiences for the Nurse Educator (NED) Track. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology, a PhD in Nursing Practice, and certifications as a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL), Certified Nurse Educator (CNE), and Six Sigma Green Belt.