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Making the Most of My Graduate School Experience

October 15, 2015

By Kate Shaw

I began graduate school for the same reason a lot of people do — I was making a career change. In my case, it was from publishing into higher education administration, and I wasn’t sure how well I’d transition back into academic life after being out of school for a few years. For my first semester, I just stopped by campus for class and then left. I was really enjoying my classes, but as the semester went on, I realized that I craved more of a connection to the campus. I sought out opportunities at Mason and eventually applied for and won a position as a graduate assistant for Graduate Student Life. Since then, I’ve switched to full-time student status and am now involved in the Graduate and Professional Student Association and hold a position with the Center for Global Education as well. In the process, I’ve met some amazing people (faculty, staff, and students), and I’ve realized that Mason has so much more to offer its graduate students than I originally thought.

I know my situation is not the same as everyone else’s. Mason is unique in that the majority of our graduate population consists of part-time students with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities or obligations. Additionally, we are spread out over three campuses, another factor that leaves many students feeling a lack of connection to the university. I also know, from working with Graduate Student Life, that many students want to establish a connection with Mason, but aren’t sure how to do so or are unaware of what resources are available to them.

The best thing about coming back to a college campus, at least for me, is that the university offers so many unique events and resources for its students that you wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere (and a lot of times – the events are free or offer free food, and I’ve never been one to pass up free food). If you want to feel more connected to the campus, my advice is to find opportunities, however small they may be, that work for you and your schedule to get involved with the campus and check out everything Mason has to offer.

As graduate students, we can use all of Mason’s recreational facilities (if you’re full-time, you can use them for free, and part-time students pay only a small fee). Did you know we have a bar on the Fairfax campus? We do! It’s called the Rathskeller, or “the Rat,” located in SUB I. The Mason Center for the Arts holds a number of events year-round at very affordable prices, and depending on the event, tickets are sometimes free for students. Graduate students can also attend athletic events as well as other types of events (again, sometimes for free) held at EagleBank Arena (formerly the Patriot Center). Additionally, graduate students can study abroad — the Center for Global Education offers a number of programs for graduate students, many of which allow you to earn credit towards your program.

The Graduate and Professional Student Association (GAPSA) holds monthly happy hours (near both the Fairfax and Arlington campuses), student outings, and an interdisciplinary graduate student conference in the spring. Any Mason graduate student can be a member of GAPSA, and it’s a great way to meet other students. Finally, Graduate Student Life, the department for which I serve as a graduate assistant, puts on a lot of great events during the year for students, including educational workshops and a write-in day to help you get your biggest projects finished in a quiet, focused environment. Similarly, University Life Arlington offers a range of workshops and special events for students at the Arlington campus, including the annual Networking and Etiquette Dinner in February. I could go on and on, but websites like Today @ Mason, which lists everything happening at the university every day, can provide information on university-wide events much better than I could.

I was working an event the other day for Graduate Student Life, and I was chatting with a student about Mason. He was telling me how much he was enjoying his time here, and before he walked away, he said, “This campus surprises me more and more every day.” I have to agree with this sentiment, and I hope that this campus will surprise you every day in positive ways throughout your graduate experience, too. By the time you graduate, whenever that may be, I hope you have the chance, even if its just once or twice, to take advantage of the great things our university has to offer. Getting involved and meeting people has been the best part of my experience thus far.

This blog post has been edited and updated to reflect current changes in information.

Edited by Sydney Glass, 02/04/2019

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