This week, I went back to school.
That’s right, I donned my metaphorical backpack, moved into a dorm, and started business school classes. So far it’s been extremely fun, really educational—and completely overwhelming. I’ve been having a great time meeting people and starting classes, but I don’t feel like I’ve had a free second to spare since I got here.
There are a few things I did before moving, however, that have ended up saving me a ton of time and stress. I’m passing them along to you—hopefully they will make your move back to school a little easier, too!
1. Make a Budget
Unfortunately, it’s a fact that full-time business school is expensive. And once you’ve figured out how you’re going to pay for school, it’s important to figure out how you’re going to stick to your plan—and pay for your life.
Before I left for school, I sat down and created a serious budget. While there are lots of ways to do this, I decided to keep it simple. I created my budget in Excel by starting off with how much I receive each semester from my loan. Then I subtracted all of my “fixed” costs that I know I have to pay each month no matter what, such as rent, utilities, and cable. From there it wasn’t too hard to divide up the rest into my remaining categories—food, shopping, social, and travel.
Knowing how much money I have available has given me tons of peace of mind the past couple weeks, especially since there have been so many opportunities to spend—from taking that first trip to Ikea to exploring a new city to starting to socialize with new friends. By starting out with a good sense of how much you have to spend, you can confidently buy what you need without stressing that you’ll end up with an empty bank account.
2. Find Resources to Back You Up
Business school isn’t cheap—and it’s not easy, either. B-schools often also have rigorous curricula that cover a lot of content in a semester, and no matter how smart you are, you may need a little help along the way.
Before you go to school, think about areas you anticipate struggling with and find some good resources that can help you out. Know that math isn’t your strong suit? Seek out some good resources for answering questions about problems you’re working on. (Khan Academy and Investopedia have definitely been saving the day for me.) Can’t stop making grammar mistakes in your writing? Find a friend who’s willing to proof your work before you send it in—and tell you about all your mistakes so you can keep improving. By taking some time to find useful resources before you get to school, you can start off on the right foot in the classroom.
3. Think About Your “Me” Time
I’ve been loving b-school so far—I’m meeting tons of interesting people, I’m learning a lot, and there is always something fun for me to do. There’s only one downside: I’m tired!
When you first start b-school, you’ll be going at 1,000 MPH all the time—and if you’re not careful, you’ll burn out fast. One of the best ways to avoid this is to be very proactive about setting aside time for yourself. And the perfect time to plan this out is before you’re in the middle of the action. Spend some time before you leave thinking about activities that recharge you—whether it’s spending some time alone listening to music, reading a book at a coffee shop off-campus, or heading to the gym for a solo workout—and then think about a way to prioritize them as part of your weekly routine. You can even add them to your calendar if that’s what it takes for you to take some time for yourself.
4. Get Copies of Your Health Records
Going back to school full-time likely means that you’ll be changing health insurance companies, and if you move, you also may need to find new doctors. Which may not seem like an immediate priority—but there’s nothing worse than feeling sick but not being able to get a prescription because you have to spend the day tracking down old health forms.
So, do yourself a favor and spend some time before you move calling your old doctors to get all your information in one place and updating your insurance information. (This ended up taking me about four hours.) Bonus points if you go ahead and find a new primary care physician in your area. It’s one of those things people usually don’t think about until they need it, but when you wake up sick one morning, you’ll be glad you already have a doctor lined up.
5. Buy a Calculator
It sounds so old-school in today’s high-tech world, but it’s time to bring back the good old graphing or financial calculator. Excel docs and iPhones are great, but nothing gets the job done like the original. Also, as I’ve learned, some b-schools don’t let you bring your laptops to class, so you’ll need a calculator if you want to make any quick changes to your work during a lecture.
While I remembered to bring a calculator along—the trusty TI-83 I’ve had since high school—it promptly broke on my first day. Learn from my mistake, and buy a new one just in case.
Tell us! Is there anything else you’ve done that makes it easier to move to grad school?