The 5 Real-Life Struggles of Grad Students

For those who don’t know, I am a graduate student, working on my Master’s Degree in Sociology. I began the journey to this degree in the fall of 2015, after taking a gap semester between my undergraduate studies and the beginning of this new academic journey.

The last year has had its ups and downs within my cohort, but for some reason, this semester is especially rough on all of us. We all have things going on outside of the four walls of our classrooms, and that is an additional toll to each of us.

There are so many memes about grad students–tumblr blogs (my favorite will be linked here), Instagram, and Twitter all give an easy look into the many jokes of grad student life. And many of them are true. But many of them are exaggerated to the highest extreme.

So, based upon the experiences of myself and my cohort (whom I loving refer to as the same seven idiots I see every week), here are the 5 real-life struggles of grad students.

  1. Student Loans. Many of us are taking student loans out. Some of us have jobs year-round, others don’t. Some of us have parents helping us out with paying for school. The vast majority of us don’t. There are even some of us who are purposely taking out more loans than we need.

    We’re all so focused on figuring out how we’re going to pay for our education that we don’t really pay attention to the fact that we’re all going to eventually pay the loans back.

    Even then, I know of people who take out extra every semester to pay for rent, to pay their bills, to pay for clothes for their kids, etc….But they never really think about having to pay them back. Until you start to get towards the end of your degree, as my cohort is (hopefully!) starting to do. Then the worry gets all too real.

  2. Family Life. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m living that #single life. Really, at this point it’s more like #foreveralone, but that’s not the point. I’m working on it, okay???
    A good number of my cohort have partners, children, and fur-babies who depend on them. A good chunk of the time, those family members take up more time than a grad student has when they’re trying to focus on school. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do both, but from what I’ve heard it’s really freaking difficult.

    It’s to the point with one of my classmates that she’s wanting to quit. I’m trying to convince her not to, but she knows what’s best for herself. At the end of the day, you have to prioritize, and sometimes education falls to the wayside. But either way it’s a struggle.

  3. Jobs. Every single one of the members of my cohort has a job. It doesn’t matter if you work eight hours a week like I do (in retail, but that’s a story for another post), or teaching everyday, or working in an office– Job + Grad School = STRUGGLE.
    Some people even have two or three jobs ON TOP OF SCHOOL. I don’t know how they do it. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely making it, and I’m fairly stress-free.

    If days were 28 hours instead of 24, we might be able to balance everything. But work takes up precious time that could be used to do research to get that degree in hand. Even if you aren’t at work–no matter what sector you work in, if you aren’t at work, sometimes you think about work. And that’s a struggle when you’re trying to survive grad school.

    All of us constantly say we’re on the struggle bus because of work stress.


  4. Time Management. I literally just explained it. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything that you need to do done.

    When it comes to grad school, especially when you’re in your second year like my cohort, time is of the essence. Any time that I’m not in class, I’m working on research, or reading literature relevant to my research, or reading for class, or writing for class, or at work. I do try to eat three meals a day, and I do sleep–but I know that compared to my cohort mates, I’m one of the rare few that has some balance.

    You try to balance everything, something tends to be forgotten. #thestruggleisreal

  5. Cohort Drama. When you stick a group of people into a room on a consistent basis, there’s bound to be some drama happening. Lord knows it’s happened in my cohort. There are too many personalities to not have some sort of conflict. It’s inevitable.

    Someone could say the wrong thing at the wrong time and completely offend someone. Someone could completely diss your theoretical home, or your methodological home, or say something about which they don’t have personal experience, and therefore, haven’t lived through–and that might offend you.

    That can be a good thing. It will make you think of a decent rebuttal for why the white-hetero-cis-man can’t really mansplain the gender pay gap as “women choosing to work in lower paying jobs” (even if you don’t say it out loud).  It will make you think about why you chose to focus on your theoretical home. It will make you think about WHY it is that you are able to get actual critical results from doing eight interviews.

    It will make you critical about the ways others (and yourself) think.

    That in and of itself is a struggle.

You just have to work through it all to become the most-educated self you can. That’s the main struggle. You can do it.


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