Life As an Online Grad Student

Attending graduate school is a big commitment, regardless of whether you study in a traditional classroom or online. Since you will be taking in-depth specialized courses, you can expect to devote more time to studying than you did at the undergraduate level in order to become an expert in your field.

There are many components to grad school besides just attending your online classes.

Depending on what type of graduate degree you are pursuing, you can expect to spend a significant amount of your time outside of class conducting research, participating in internships, and writing a thesis or dissertation.

Continue browsing this article to explore what life as a graduate student online is really like. Find out what to expect in your classes, how much time you should devote to studying, and what it is like to balance your personal life with your school life.

What to expect in online graduate classes

Attending graduate classes online is similar to attending undergraduate classes online. Although online programs allow for flexibility, you will be expected to handle the same workload and conduct the same amount of research as you would in a traditional graduate program.

Course Format

The online course format at the graduate level is also similar to that of online undergraduate classes, but you will find that you have less interaction with you instructors or peers.

Graduate students often work independently conducting research or working on a thesis, so class lectures are often not as prominent in online classes as they are at the lower degree levels.


You can also expect to take fewer classes each term as a graduate student. This is because the coursework is more intense and specialized, requiring more time devoted to each course. Whereas a full-time schedule at the undergraduate level is 15 credit hours, at the graduate level you will most likely only take nine credit hours.

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However, you can expect to do twice the work to earn those nine credits. When you reach grad school, your professors expect you to be a professional student devoted to your field, and they are not as flexible on deadlines, late assignments, or missed online sessions.

Studying as an online graduate student

The general rule of thumb for academic success is to spend two to three hours of study time for every credit hour you are enrolled in. While this may seem like a lot, if you learn to study correctly and efficiently, studying will be much less stressful and time-consuming.

Take a look at the following study tips that will help you become a more proficient studier.

Take notes

Take notes during class lectures and while reading your textbooks or other class materials.

  • Learning how to take notes on the most salient information will help you later when you go back to study for that class.
  • Devote a separate notebook to each class or subject.
  • Highlight anything your instructor emphasizes or that you see repeatedly in your course material, as you will probably be tested on that information.
  • Make sure you organize your notes in a way that makes sense to you.
  • Use abbreviations or symbols that are meaningful and help you to quickly locate information when you need it later.
  • Put terms or concepts into your own words so they become more familiar to you.

Refine your reading skills

Although strong reading skills should have been developed at the undergraduate level, many graduate students still haven’t mastered some of the keys to effective reading.

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Learning how to read your textbook or other class materials in a way that helps you retain the information is essential for success in grad school. It can be hard to get through a chapter that seems to never end, but there are some strategies you can use to make your reading experience less mundane and overwhelming.

  1. Review the material before you begin reading.
  2. Look for headlines, bolded words, or topic headings that indicate important subjects.
  3. Ask yourself questions about what you will be reading by turning these headings into questions.
  4. Read the material thoroughly and make sure that you can answer all your questions. If not, go back and reread.
  5. Recite and review what you just read. Ask yourself what you just read and why it is important.
  6. Go back and look at any important concepts or terms that you might want to take notes on.

Make a study plan

Creating a realistic study plan is critical for ensuring you spend your study time wisely and manage your time well.

  • Plan study sessions and mark them on your calendar or in your planner.
  • Program a reminder in your cell phone to help you follow through with your plan.
  • Think of these study sessions as if they were an important appointment that you cannot miss.
  • Schedule study sessions that are not too long.
  • Spending hours on end studying will leave you feeling frustrated. Instead, study more frequently for shorter periods of time.
  • Cramming before a big exam the night before will not help you retain information in the long run.

If you plan regular study sessions, you will have a better overall grasp of the information, leaving you feeling more prepared and confident.

Managing school and personal life

Because online graduate programs are demanding, it is imperative that you know how to manage your time wisely. This involves learning how to balance school with your personal life, work, and other commitments. Although you can expect to spend a significant amount of time on your studies, remember to take time for yourself to keep from getting overwhelmed.

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One of the keys to achieving balance is to create a comprehensive plan that involves physical, mental, social stimulation. By taking time for physical exercise, you will actually have more energy when it is time for the mental exercise of intense studying.

Also, schedule time for regular social interaction with your friends in order to have an outlet to life beyond school.


There is no single plan that works best for all grad students. To keep your sanity throughout grad school, develop a schedule or plan that works best for you. Prioritize the activities in your life, taking into account that a balanced approach will keep your stress levels low. Even when you’re studying, be sure to schedule breaks to regroup your thoughts.

It is also a good idea to seek emotional support, since graduate school is one of the most stressful times of life. Surround yourself with family and friends who understand that your education is important to you.

Sometimes a little extra encouragement can go a long way, so find people who respect your decision to attend grad school and will support you along the way.