Let’s Talk Strategy: A Business Plan for your First Year of Graduate School | Jheanelle Gilmore

Applicants to graduate programs in higher education and student affairs typically do so due to their extensive leadership involvement as undergraduates. However, the concept of involvement is different in graduate school. While your undergraduate years were spent being involved in a variety of organizations to help determine your passions and gain leadership skills, graduate school will require you to be more strategic with your time. Getting involved does not mean joining every organization that your university has available for graduate students. Instead, you will need to be more intentional in terms of obtaining experience in your career areas of interest. For example, if you want to work in student conduct after graduation, seek out graduate assistantships or internships in the student conduct office. Future employers will expect to see evidence of experience in the field on your resume and that you will be able to tell stories about those experiences. As graduate school can be difficult to navigate, the purpose of this article is to provide suggestions on how to make the most of your graduate school experience.

Written by Jheanelle Gilmore of Florida Atlantic University.


Do More than the Minimum

Most undergraduates are inclined to exert just enough effort to achieve a particular grade or to put on a good event. However, the people who future employers are seeking are the ones that consistently do more than the minimum. They read the optional articles listed in the syllabus and they seek out opportunities to gain hands-on work experience beyond their graduate assistantship. For example, a few highlights of my graduate school experience were serving as an intern at The Placement Exchange Program as a first-year student, becoming a founding member of Florida Atlantic University’s Chi chapter of Chi Sigma Alpha, the honor society for higher education and student affairs, and serving as an intern with my university’s Trademark Licensing and Marketing office. In addition, I have consistently sought opportunities to contribute to the success of my graduate assistantship office – after all, the job description is just the start of any position. The most important experiences are those additional duties that you take on not for additional pay or recognition, but simply to learn and to become a trusted member of the team.

Summer Internships

Completing a summer internship within your two years of graduate studies is a critical opportunity to expand your skillset and to learn how a different institution functions. Even if your program does not require students to complete an internship, I strongly encourage you to proactively seek out this vital opportunity to gain hands-on experience. Partaking in a summer internship often involves the opportunity to travel to a different state, where you will experience the culture, the lifestyle, and the policies and procedures of another institution. Such experiences will help you to determine the type of institution and/or office you may want to work in after graduation.  In a time where employers are constantly looking for the right fit, you can help to narrow down their options by already knowing your ideal work environment. Plus, it is also possible that a strong performance as an intern may lead to a job offer after graduation.

Welcome the Red Pen

Have you ever had a professor revise your paper in red ink? It makes your heart sink, no? However, what I have learned in graduate school is that one of the best gifts you can receive from professors, supervisors, and colleagues is honest and constructive criticism of your work. How can you get better if you do not receive feedback? Yes, it initially can hurt your feelings to be critiqued, but usually when you consider the suggested corrections, you realize that your professor has helped improve your writing. As a graduate student, you should actively seek feedback from faculty and supervisors, especially those that are committed to helping you become the best professional you can be. Upon seeking feedback you should graciously receive it, people are more likely to continue to give feedback to those who take the suggestions in the same spirit in which it is given. They will be impressed that you are asking for feedback and actively working to develop into the best professional that you can be. Finally, never forget to thank the people who are courageous enough to give you constructive criticism.


Two years in a Master’s degree program will pass by quickly. Therefore, I encourage you to develop a strategic business plan for making the most of your graduate education. I believe that by strategically seeking out opportunities, doing more than what is required, and actively seek out feedback you are sure to build a strong foundation that will prepare and support you as you launch your career as a higher education and student affairs professional.


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