Three Tips For Staying on Track to Graduation in Grad School

Jennifer Merzdorf

Jennifer Merzdorf, Student & Alumni

Are you thinking about applying to Purdue’s Online Master of Science in Communication? Good for you! As an alumna, I can tell you it is a widely respected, highly ranked degree that will benefit you both personally and professionally. Are you a bit nervous as you think about adding challenging coursework to your already busy life? I have three important keys learned while earning my degree that I would like to share with you.

1.) The Importance of Facing Your Fears in Grad School

Health professionals note that “when our comfortable life is disrupted, we feel disoriented and out of place” (Bailey, 2013). Beginning your communications graduate degree is a life-changing transition. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for starting your online degree program is to face your fears. All of the questions swirling around in your mind are valid and should be addressed. Do not dismiss those questions; instead, prepare mentally with possible solutions to the changes you will encounter.

Some of my questions were:
- How will I pay for school?
- When will I study?
- What will I give up to achieve my goal?

These questions and others contributed to my nervous feelings about returning to school. By thinking through various solutions, I was better prepared when I actually began my graduate degree program.

2.) Remember the Reasons You Got Started in the First Place

The reasons for earning the M.S. in Communication are as unique as the students themselves.

For some students, it is the satisfaction achieved while learning and accomplishing an important goal.

For others, the degree will lead to career options that are unattainable without it.

What is your personal reason for earning your graduate degree? Identify it in detail, and write it down! As psychotherapist and keynote speaker Amy Morin points out, “if you aren’t sure where you are going, you’ll never get there. Define clear goals for yourself” (Morin, 2016). The more you identify and embrace your reason for entering the program, the more motivation you will find to handle any nervousness or fears you might have.

3.) Envision Your Future

Earning your M.S. is an investment in your future. Think of yourself like the employee who keeps an eye on her retirement fund. By regularly checking the balance and making any necessary adjustments, she is more motivated to sacrifice and make contributions today. Approach your degree in the same way. Leaders know that “focusing on the future sets [them] apart. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competency — perhaps one of the most important ones, next to integrity and resourcefulness” (Hunt Executive Search, 2016). Visualize the future you want to create, and keep your mind focused on that future!

I hope these strategies will be helpful to you in overcoming any nervousness or anxiety. All of us who have completed the M.S. in Communication have been exactly where you are – nervous yet eager. Believe in yourself and your ability to handle whatever comes your way, and before you know it, you will complete your studies and receive your diploma.


Bailey, E. (2013). 9 Tips for Managing Stress During a Transitional Phase. Retrieved from:

Morin, A. (2016). 15 Things to Remember If You Want to Be Successful. Retrieved from:

Hunt Executive Search, Inc. (2016). Focus on the Future: Be a Forward-Looking Leader. The Executive Edge.  Volume 12, Issue 1. Retrieved from:

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Jennifer Merzdorf is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.