7 Things I Learned During my First Semester of Graduate School

Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Student Insight: Caitlin McCain, M.S. in Real Estate Ambassador, shares her experience

Starting a new chapter in your life always comes with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. As I began my first semester in the Master of Science in Real Estate program, I was excited to further my education and career in real estate, but I was simultaneously anxious about juggling my full-time job while working on my graduate degree. Overall, I knew that going back to school has always been a goal of mine and I was confident that it was the right time for this next chapter, so I embarked on the journey and learned several lessons along the way.


Networking is Invaluable

During my undergraduate studies, I remember professors and industry professionals emphasizing the importance of networking. I am not a Charlotte native and beginning my career in the real estate industry, knowing very few people was daunting at first. One of my main attractions to UNC Charlotte’s M.S. in Real Estate was the strong industry support and alumni base.

Caitlin McCain (far right) networks at a CREW Charlotte/UNC Charlotte Seminar

Throughout my first semester, I had several opportunities to attend seminars and networking events to meet with industry professionals and former students. They were a great source of support throughout the semester and have been a resource for school projects as well as in my job.


Time Management Skills are a Necessity

In regards to my expectations for graduate school versus reality, I had no idea how busy I was going to be. It was easy to get overwhelmed in the beginning of the semester. Making a list of the tasks that I needed to do became my saving grace.

An Example of Caitlin's To Do List

Being able to visually look at what work, homework, and other tasks needed to be accomplished and then mapping it the best way to accomplish these tasks made it manageable. Staying on top of due dates and exam dates made it all feasible and prevented me from getting burnt out.


Never Hesitate to Ask Questions

I am typically the type of student who avoids asking questions in front of an entire class. I prefer to privately ask questions after class, but before I do, I will still attempt to figure it out on my own first. During my first semester of graduate school, I finally learned that it will save a lot of time and effort to ask my question right away to understand the material and get a better understanding immediately. One of my first weeks of class, I was reviewing the professor’s PowerPoint notes at home after class. I was having difficulty understanding one of the examples we had in class. I spent hours reviewing the notes and going through the textbook trying to figure out where I was going wrong. Eventually, I gave up and just resorted to the fact that I was not going to be able to figure out that problem. In the very next class period, the professor announced that there was a typo on that slide I was studying. I still get mad at myself thinking about all the time I could have saved if I had just emailed the professor and asked about that slide before wasting hours trying to figure it out. The professors are always there and willing to help!


Take the Time to Find What Works Best for You

During my first semester of graduate school, I witnessed how each person in my classes had their way of taking notes or studying. What worked for them may not work for me and vice versa. Everyone has a different schedule, different strengths and weaknesses, and different studying techniques. Early in the semester, I felt the need to sit down and think about how I learn best. I figured out what note-taking techniques work best for me. I recognized that some classes would require more reviewing outside of class than others and I made a study plan for each class. By creating this plan and sticking to it, I was able to take more efficient notes and better prioritize my time throughout the semester.


Make Time for Yourself

Between all the work and academic responsibilities that you have during graduate school, it can be hard to find personal time. After a few weeks of starting graduate school, I was finding it easy to fill all my time up with work and school. However, I realized that I excel at work and in school when I had made time to recharge and relax. Getting a good night’s sleep was always a priority so that I could be at my sharpest each day.

Taking Time for a Hike on a Trip to Austin, Texas


Stress is only Temporary

It is inevitable that there will be weeks where important projects are due, exams are scheduled, work is hectic, and the stress piles on. I found it crucial to always remind myself that stressful weeks are only temporary. You will get through it and the following weeks will be better.


You are doing your best and that is enough!

This final lesson is the most important concept I learned during my first semester as a graduate student. I was often plagued with anxiety, wondering am I studying enough, am I putting enough effort towards work, should I be doing more, am I doing too much? However, my mom always reminded me, that I was doing my best and that is enough. I did the best that I could do each day and I made it through my first semester reaching my academic goals, made many new industry connections, and continued moving forward in my career. It was a rewarding semester that was filled with many challenges and I am very excited (and a lot less anxious) for future semesters.

Article Written by Caitlin McCain, M.S. in Real Estate Ambassador

Caitlin McCain, a graduate student in the M.S. in Real Estate program, serves as the Student Ambassador for her graduate program.  Learn more about Caitlin in her Faces of Belk College profile or connect with her via email or LinkedIn.