Grad School 101: 4 easy ways to prep for your first year of grad school

By Emily Elia: To prepare for your first year, it's worth it to focus on the logistical aspect of this new life change.

Fireworks over Lovett Hall

Congrats on your admission to Rice! We know you possess a passion for learning and a high motivation to succeed academically, and you may feel like you should be doing everything in your power to prepare yourself for your first year but are unsure where to start. Some programs do have summer assignments or crash courses that they want their first year students to complete prior to the official start of the semester. However, one big piece of advice is this: don't start graduate school already exhausted. Beginning grad school feeling refreshed and excited is a much more positive start than feeling overwhelmed and intimidated because you tried to cover everything you possibly could over the summer. Your program does not expect this of you. Spend time on the pre-semester work that your program may assign, but don't feel like you need to get a jumpstart on your first year. Doing this is only going tire you out prematurely. Below, you'll find various ways to help get ready for graduate school without overwhelming yourself!

Get to know your new home (and welcome to Space City!)

To prepare for your first year, it's worth it to focus on the logistical aspect of this new life change. If you have the flexibility, figure out the best time frame to move that will allow you to settle into your new home before the semester begins. Take the time to find a place to live that will work well for you. You likely are not going to want to juggle the first week of seminars and research and the move into a new apartment all at the same time, so if you can, give yourself adequate time to adjust prior to the beginning of the semester.

Don't be afraid to reach out to current graduate students in your program for tips about where to live, especially if you don't have the ability to visit Houston much before your big move. Current students will have knowledge about which neighborhoods are best for grad students, commute times from different areas, and even which apartment complexes to avoid. Most current grad students are more than happy to share their Houston wisdom with incoming students.

Try and explore Houston (even virtually!). Houston is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country, and there is a little bit of something for everyone. Get to know the many museums, the biking and running trails along Buffalo Bayou, and the extensive list of restaurants and bars that Houston has to offer. Rice campus itself is a Houston attraction! It's well-known as a beautiful spot in Houston to spend time in, with lush trees, exciting architecture, and lots (LOTS) of squirrels. During your first year here, you'll quickly become a regular at the student-run Rice Coffeehouse and the grad student bar, Valhalla. The campus is encircled by a ~3 mile walking loop, which is a popular run route among many Houstonians. Campus also has cool campus art spots to check out such as the Moody Center for the Arts and the unique James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyspace at the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion. You can check out a calendar of Rice Events here.

Reach out to your new cohort

Don't be afraid to reach out to your new cohort members! Many graduate programs are organized such that you will be spending a lot of time with your cohort due to taking seminars together, occupying the same office space, etc. Many cohorts form close friendships because, along with being together for much of the semester, everyone can relate to what everyone else is going through. If you and your cohort members can connect before the semester starts, then everybody can enter the first week of classes feeling a bit more comfortable because you all have begun to get to know one another already.

Connect with Rice online

Rice has a lot of organizations and offices on campus that focus on grad student life specifically. By following these groups on social media before your semester begins, you'll get a chance to learn more about our community and about the different events and resources for grad students on campus. Be sure to follow Rice University Graduate Office on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Graduate Student Association is very active on campus, and they host many events throughout the academic year to bring Rice’s grad student community together. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to start seeing announcements for the graduate community before your first semester begins. For international students specifically, the Office of International Students and Scholars is a wonderful resource for preparing for your move to Rice. OISS provides necessary information and guidance for international students coming to the US, but the office also hosts numerous events for international students on campus. Through the academic year, the Graduate Office, GSA, and OISS serve as great resources for professional development opportunities, social outings, and campus events for grad students.

If you are interested in the many student clubs and affinity groups that will be available to you at Rice, you can start looking for potential students groups to join online here, here, and here. Graduate students make up about half of the entire student population on campus. With such a large population of grad students at Rice, there are lots of active student groups that cater to grad students. Joining a campus organization is a great way to break out of the office or lab and connect with other graduate students who hold similar interests.

Don't be afraid to reach out to your grad program administrator

If you have worries prior to starting your semester or want specific information directly from your program, don't hesitate to reach out to your graduate program administrators. They will be able to help you with questions regarding your program specifically, and they will be able to direct you to different sources on campus for more general questions about life at Rice.

Further Reading:

Grad School 101: Approaching the application process

Grad School 101: New challenges in the time of COVID

Grad School 101: Discover your research interests

About the author: Originally from Massachusetts, Emily Elia is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in political science. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2018 and currently studies comparative politics with a focus on Latin America.