Most students don’t apply to a graduate school for its athletic teams, dormitories, or campus life, but the social side of graduate education can be just as important as the academic side. While a university’s reputation, faculty, convenience, and cost are important, graduate student activities can help you network, make friends in a new location, and provide a much needed break from the heavy load of coursework graduate students sometimes experience.
Whether you decide to go to a small liberal arts school or a large research university, most departments offer membership in national academic societies, such as Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society or Alpha Epsilon: The Honor Society of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. Societies like these offer opportunities to meet students studying in the same discipline at other universities and sometimes help members get published in professional journals.
Even if your university doesn’t participate in national societies, you may still be able to join a graduate student organization in your department. Groups at George Mason University, like the Environmental Science and Policy Graduate Student Association and Graduate Students in Conflict Studies, help students network, plan events within their department, and participate in faculty search committees for new faculty. At most campuses, there are also many political, social, and athletic groups open to both undergraduates and graduate students that do not necessary relate to your academics.
Academic performance and research are important, but the connections you make while in graduate school are invaluable when you start looking for work at the end of your degree program. While student organizations may not be the main reason you decide to apply to grad school, they may end up being extremely rewarding both personally and professionally…and they might just take your mind off of all the studying you’ll have to do!