5 Reasons Why My Doctoral Program is Easier than Undergrad

Here are some disclaimers: I attend the same university for graduate school as I did for undergrad. This means I know the university and I got to keep my job from undergrad which a nice desk job where sometimes I do tasks and sometimes I study. I currently commute from home which is 20 minutes away, and pay no living expenses/ don’t have to cook or food shop if I don’t want to/ don’t have car expenses/ don’t pay for my cellphone. I live with my family (which might be a given) and my sister is currently attending the same school as me, so I have a close proximity support system.  The fact that I did not have a lot of change in my transition is definitely a contributor to my success.

I’m in a DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, professional program not a PhD/ research program.

1. You are in grad school

The pressure is off! You made it! Woo-hoo! That stressor is out of your life, you can focus on the material not on the “If I don’t get above a 3.7 GPA than I won’t get in.” Here’s a real life conversation I had with then- Director of Physical Therapy Program, now Director of Kinesiology at my university, “You’re competitive, but you’re not exceptionally competitive.” This was the most stressful statement I could have heard. I had a 3.6 GPA, As/ A-‘s in all of my prerequisite science classes (except Bio 1, I got a B- in that but I also took it as a senior in high school and didn’t really get that GPA is forever. Also, I got B+’s in organic chemistry and microbiology but those technically aren’t prereqs). My GRE score was a 309, a 155 in math, 156 in verbal and a 4.5 in writing…. my school website said the average score was a 310, so when I got my score at the end of the test my heart sunk. However, I was not spending another $200+ to retake the test for one point. Cue me applying to 9 DPT programs…. which is excessive. Fortunately, I got into the first school I interviewed with, and immediately put my deposit in order to secure my seat in a program. My dad described this as “musical chairs” and you don’t want to be left without a chair. After this I cancelled 5 other interviews, completely botched 1 interview (it almost ended in tears and the dude definitely called me “Jessica” when I walked in…. that’s not even close), got into another program and then finally heard back from my #1 choice! So here I am. During the application process, I wrote 9 drafts of an essay, lost ten pounds and probably cried a lot more than the average student. But I made it!

 

2. You have more time to do things

Yes, there is more school. But I’ve found there is also more time for school and other activities to balance life out. In undergrad I was a Resident Assistant, actively involved in the Greek community, I held a second job for 10-15 hours a week, I volunteered, I studied for 20+ hours a week, and I still had time to hang out with friends and procrastinate. In grad school, all of that has fallen away. I still have a desk job and picked up a second job as a fitness instructor. But I have none of those other responsibilities! Which is awesome. If I reallllllyyyyyy wanted to, I would have the time to workout 1 hour a day 7 days a week. I don’t want that. I’m still striving to move from 3 days consistently to 4. Eventually, I will get to 4-5, which is really exciting! But 3+ is great for me right now.

Now my responsibilities include: 10-15 hours of work a week. I have the time to study and hang out. Look at me! I’m literally blogging and in one week I have an exam in every single one of my classes but have found the time to write. I still have time to procrastinate, so I know I’m doing alright.

3. You actually care about the things you are learning about

If you don’t care for what you are studying in grad school (or at least the majority) there is a problem because grad school is too expensive to pursue something you do not care for or have an interest in. I’m in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. I’ve know that I wanted to be a Physical Therapist ever since I was 14 and tore my ACL. I always had an interest in health care, but doctors and nurses were the only professions I had been exposed to. However, I had a very kind, caring, helpful physical therapist and thought “I could do this.” And here I am! I got through seemingly useless (for me) elective courses such as French History, Intro to Theater, Judaic studies. I will say I took some interesting classes like Public Speaking and Relationships Across a Life Time that I enjoyed and learned from but now I am learning about things that will directly influence my professional career. I shadowed 100+ hours in 3 different settings of physical therapy and am still learning there are all types of things in PT I had no idea existed. So I feel I am more engaged and encouraged to stay on top of material!

4. You can form closer relationships with your professors than in undergrad

In the first days of our program, our director told us that we are an “admission program, not an attrition program.” This means there is a more highly selective application process, but once you’re in, you are given as much support as possible from faculty to help you learn your material. Our program director has a tradition of taking the 1st years out to the campus bar after the first summer term! That was something I never thought I would experience! Our teachers care, and they care a lot.

One of the best things they have done is created “A safe environment to fail.” This is how they described our comprehensive exam that we take at the end of our second year before going out to clinical rotations. However, I think it is perfect. Obviously, no one wants to fail! Our program mandates that we maintain above a 3.0 GPA average per semester. But even when I don’t get the “A” I was hoping for on an assignment or test, I do get to identify areas I need to improve. This will make me a stronger student and physical therapist in the long run. The emphasis here is on the learning, not the regurgitation of information for an exam

5. You have a support system (hopefully!!)

I am very fortunate to be in a cohort of 28 students in a professional graduate program. This means I am in the same classes with the same people. My classmates get it, because they are living it with me. This post is not saying grad school is not hard, I’m just saying that I’ve found it to be easier than undergrad. Yes I study 30+ hours a week, yes I stay up late and get up early. The first finals week of graduate school, I found myself shaking because of caffeine the day before my last exam and all I wanted to do was sleep or cry. So I went to bed. But guess what, I stayed up late and got up early during crunch time during my undergrad too. It’s all how you frame it in your head.
I have a particularly awesome cohort, and this is of course my biased opinion. But let me tell you ’bout these people:

  1. We have a Facebook cover photo of the week for our Facebook group. We love it, or at least I do and they support my enthusiasm because I’m the group admin. :p
  2. We hang out a lot. We’ve had house parties, lake house days, bar nights, Superbowl parties, Secret Santas, board game nights, casino nights, gone to basketball and hockey games together. We run on the same general schedule, so we make time to breath and chillax together.
  3. I have an awesome study group. We use a google drive system, and each person in my group makes study guides and posts them. We have class wide sharing as well. This is amazing because you get new materials to study and do not have to worry about digesting everything all by yourself. One of my proudest moments where we came together as a class was when we summarized several chapters of our bio mechanics book into one large, comprehensive document.
  4.  We are a team. Our program does not have a valedictorian, so that eliminates any “I need to be better then them” competitiveness. We are there to help each other, not out-do each other and I am blessed to have that environment in my graduate program.

And there you have my take! Please know that: I do complain about my work load, I complain about studying, the material is not intuitive and requires time and effort to master, but if the hardest part of my day is studying something that I chose to do/ am paying for, then my life is pretty damn good.