University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Ambassador Blog | Caroline

Caroline

How hard is graduate school?

, by Caroline · email · comment

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Prospective students frequently ask: how hard is graduate school? What might I be getting myself into? Will I ever do anything other than study? Let’s jump in!

How many days per week do you have class?
The Entry-Level Masters program is full-time; I take up to 18 credit hours per semester, which means I spend 18 hours in the classroom each week. This is usually broken into 6 hours of class, 3 days per week. Most of the time, classes are 9AM-12PM and 1PM-4PM, with a break at noon for lunch. Professors also give us a break in the middle of class to get up, move around, and snack! Additionally, I have Level I fieldwork experiences one day per week. Total, that’s 4 full days per week devoted to schoolwork, with weekends and one weekday off.

For more information, check out our course sequence.

What are graduate school classes like?
Each course is organized differently, but I’ll describe some of the common course designs.

Some courses (OT 538: Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging or OT 534: Health Promotion and Wellness, for example) are held in a large lecture hall that fits my whole class. These courses are primarily lecture, with some group work mixed in. Often, we will have guest lecturers come in to speak about a particular area of expertise or lived experience, which is cool!

Other thread courses (OT 523: Communication Skills for Effective Practice or OT 518: Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, for example) are smaller, just with my cohort of about 45 students. These courses include time for lecture and instruction, but also time to work on group activities and semester-long projects.

The 3 practice immersion courses (OT 501: Adult Physical Rehabilitation, OT 502: Mental Health, and OT 503: Pediatrics) are unique in a few ways. Instead of meeting only once per week like the other courses, these courses meet 3 times per week, each time for 3 hours. Twice per week I have lecture for my immersion course with my cohort of about 45 students. I also have lab once per week, which is with just half of my cohort – about 22 students. The immersion courses utilize principles of team-based learning. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture for 3 hours straight, a lot of time spent in class is active and interactive. I’m frequently working in groups and teams of classmates on case studies, application activities, discussions, and hands-on learning experiences. This means that my professors expect me to come to class having read the assigned textbook and articles, ready to ask questions about them and then apply what I’ve learned.

For more information, check out our course descriptions.

What about homework, projects, and exams?
Similarly, each course syllabus is structured differently. All courses require textbook and/or article readings each week. Some courses have weekly quizzes on the readings (sometimes taken individually, often taken with a group). Many courses have a midterm exam and a final exam (sometimes cumulative, sometimes not). A few of my classes have had large semester-long group projects, research papers, or presentations. Participation and professionalism are always a component of my final grades, so I always make sure I am in class, prepared for class, and ready to participate!

So…how hard is it all?

I’ve truly found graduate school to be quite manageable. When I think about what’s expected of me in the program, 3 things stand out:

1. Support
First, the program and the people in it are incredibly supportive; it’s far from a competitive environment. I share notes with my classmates and divide up study guide preparations with friends to make exam prep more manageable. I want my friends and classmates to be the best OTs they can be, so why wouldn’t we help each other out? Faculty and staff have been so relatable and understanding and always make themselves available to answer questions! They understand everything we have on our plates, and they never give us more than we can handle.

2. Knowing Myself
Second, it’s important to know yourself and how you work. I’ve learned that I work best under pressure. I like to juggle a lot of different things and stay busy, so when I do have time set aside to get work done, I know that I will be productive and efficient. I also very much value balance, and know that I won’t feel happy if I spend all of my time on schoolwork. I have a “No Homework Saturday” rule that I have not broken throughout my entire graduate school experience (I’m quite proud of this). I reserve Saturdays to get out of my apartment, explore LA, and spend time with friends. “No Homework Saturday” has become a mantra among my friends in the program, serving as a reminder that it’s OK to take a break even when the work is piling up. Everyone is different, however, so it’s important to figure out your style so that you can manage your time and responsibilities!

3. Passion for what I’m learning
Third, and finally, I’m in this program because I am pursuing my passion to become an Occupational Therapist. The curriculum and expectations of me in the program are designed to prepare me to be the best OT than I can be. As a result, I see the value in the courses I take, the assignments I’m turning in, and the pages of reading I complete. The time I spend on schoolwork is not time wasted. Sure, I sometimes have long hours studying, but I feel motivated to study, and not only because I want to do well in school or pass my national boards exam. I also understand that what I’m learning now is information I will continue to be tested on when practicing in the real world for the duration of my career as an OT. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by school, I try and zoom out to see the big picture! It’s hard work, but will definitely be worth it!

In short, graduate school is challenging, but it should be! I’m learning so many new skills, theories, and ways of thinking that I constantly feel like my mind is stretching, but not to the point of feeling overwhelmed. It’s the right amount of challenge, and I always have time for my “No Homework Saturday” smile

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