Engage - Claremont Lincoln University

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a CLU Graduate Student

This student post was written by M.A. Social Impact alumna, Alycia Elfstrom.
Please see author bio at the end of post.


I’m just going to shoot you straight—like real straight: graduate school is hard.

Please don’t stop reading. The above statement is in no way meant to scare you. Seriously. Rather, it is a universal truth. Austen might have claimed otherwise, arguing something about rich men and their desire to marry. But I’m here to tell you, graduate school is hard. This is the only universal truth I can offer you with certainty.

Please, my dear friends, make peace with this. Graduate school is hard. 

Now, see there, I’ve said it three times and you’re still reading.

When I began my own exciting— somewhat naïve— journey at CLU, I prepared like I did for all my undergrad work and went to Target.

Despite it being a late Wednesday night in January, you’d never know it wasn’t back-to-school season. My cart was filled with 3 ring binders, tabbed dividers, spiral bound notebooks, those fancy InkJoy gel pens, and more highlighters than Rory Gilmore needed when she went to Chilton.

As a CLU grad student, I can definitely relate.

Rest assured, none of these things really helped me. My security blanket, made of mostly pink and purple hued school supplies, didn’t actually ready me for my time at CLU. So, in an attempt to save you some time and keep you from delicately labeling the divider tabs in your brand-new Trapper Keepers, I’m here to offer you a few tips I wish someone had shared with me before I spent $82.68 on junk I didn’t need.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a CLU Graduate Student

  1. The week starts on Sunday.

    You must overcome the notion that the work week begins on Monday. Not anymore.

    Check into the weekly class modules on Sunday. Do your reading for the week on Sunday. If you’re super ambitious, outline or draft your discussion posts on Sunday. The faster you can post on the discussion boards, the better—you don’t want to be up on a Tuesday and/or Sunday night stuck with the remainder of the reading, writing your post, and responding to people. Your week now begins on Sunday.

  2. You’ve got to be vulnerable. Like way more vulnerable than you’re going to want to be.

    This is perhaps the most brilliant thing about CLU. The classes are designed to make you uncomfortable and to get you to ponder about things bigger than yourself.

    Remember, this program is entirely online. Most of your work is communicated via written discussion posts and papers. To really grasp the content, you must be able to share how it impacts you mentally, emotionally, and physically. This can be hard to do with words on a screen. Be brave. Jump in and muster all the candor you can. Not only will it help you learn, but it will also help create a safe container for your classmates to do the same.

    The classes are designed to make you uncomfortable and to get you to ponder about things bigger than yourself.
  3. Life happens.

    The world will not pause for you to finish this degree. In fact, I’d argue this experience is liable to make things feel like they are happening in rapid succession—completely without pause.

    In the last cohort, we had babies, we got engaged and married, we lost loved ones and jobs, we started new careers, our kids were in school, our significant others worked, we moved, we traveled, we got colds and had surgeries, there were birthdays, and we even survived the holidays.

    You will survive these things. You will survive all of these things while doing homework. I promise you will.

  4. Ask questions.

    As a rule, people don’t ask enough questions. Avoid this mistake.

    Ask questions of your peers about their thoughts and interpretations of the coursework. Ask the amazing professors for their advice on your work, ask about their work as professionals, and ask them to clarify the rubric.

    The more questions you ask, the greater connection you’ll feel to the university and the more you’ll learn.

    Ask the staff and admin team for their insight into what makes CLU so great and why they choose to devote so much time to managing this incredible online learning community. The more questions you ask, the greater connection you’ll feel to the university and the more you’ll learn.

  5. Develop a routine and then stick to it.

    It is so important to create space to actually do the work this program requires. You are undoubtedly busy. Do yourself a favor and form some hard boundaries for how you are going to manage your time and where you’re going to get work done.

    For me, this meant working from 7:30pm until 11:30pm most weeknights hidden away in my bedroom, hotel room, or the window seat of an airplane. Most of my weekends were spent at my favorite local coffee shop from 10:30am until all the assignment tasks were checked off my list. A routine helped me create balance and kept me from putting off the coursework.

  6. Give yourself a night off.

    Let me be clear, there is no way you can manage the speed and course-load of this program without giving yourself one night off every week.

    Your brain needs some time where you don’t think about all the work you’ve got do before the next week starts. Thursday was my night off. It just so happened to be the night Scandal was on—this was intentional. I needed a little TGIT, gladiator watching, TV time and one night where I could get to bed before 12am.

    Treat yourself to a night off, curl up with some wine and popcorn, and get your Olivia Pope on.
  7. 10 weeks is not that long.

    Especially when you are leading your Capstone Action Project and creating an e-portfolio.

    Don’t over-extend yourself in your last term. Do good work but make sure it is work you can manage. You will undoubtedly create a grand and intricately detailed change initiative. Be prepared to scale back and don’t be discouraged if you’re told to think smaller.

  8. There is a cadence to this program.

    The first term will emotionally prepare you, the second term is grueling but foundational, the third term will challenge you in unexpected ways, the fourth term will have an intense and driving push, and the last term will be filled with nostalgia and slight panic. 

    Embrace whatever it is you are feeling, learning, or experiencing.

    There will always be a learning curve. Embrace whatever it is you are feeling, learning, or experiencing. There are times this program will feel like it is happening to you—don’t fall into that trap. Be present. Be super present.

  9. Do the reading. Do all the reading.

    You might not understand all of it. I certainly didn’t, and that was okay. Make note of what doesn’t make sense and then bring it up in the discussion boards or send an email to the professor.

    The reading is meant to help guide your learning but the discussion boards are the actual learning. You’ve got to do all the reading, watching, and thinking you can before you engage in discussion. Otherwise, you run the risk of not understanding the nuance of whatever theory you’re studying.

  10. Your cohort will become super important to you.

    Embrace these people. Love on them. Get their phone numbers so you can text or call them in moments of confusion or if you need a little support. Learn about their lives outside of school. My cohort was made up of some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. And some of them, I’ve never actually met in person. The people in your cohort are the only people who understand the magical little world you’re suspended in for 30 hours a week.

Graduate school might be hard but graduate school at CLU is life-changing!

Congratulations on choosing to do such a courageous thing. You won’t regret it. It might feel like a long way off, but 15 months from now, you’ll have completed a Master’s program. And—can I just say—it’s a pretty incredible accomplishment.

Sending you lots of love on your own CLU journey. Do yourself a favor and return those school supplies.


About the Author

Alycia Elfstrom is a recent graduate of Claremont Lincoln University’s Social Impact program.

She works as the Manager of Advancement for the Girl Scouts—Arizona Cactus-Pine Council. The technical work involves creating a robust individual giving program that supports the operations of the organization and the girl-led programs provided to 21,000 girls and 10,000 volunteers across 2/3rds of Arizona. But her real job is to help people see the value of a girl and encourage them to make an investment these bright and beautiful, young leaders.

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Want to be a student contributor for Engage? We and our readers would love to read your submissions on driving positive social change. Contact us at info@claremontlincoln.edu.

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5 comments

  • Thank you Alycia for sharing your insight! I want to get this routine set in place, I known it will make all the difference in this new world of mine!

  • I hope new students will take your wisdom to heart. I can see how your 10 things supported you to be the stellar student you are!

Student Contributor

We invite featured student contributors to write a submission for Engage. Learn about the featured student contributor at the end of each individual blog post.

Want to be a student contributor for Engage? We and our readers would love to read your submissions on driving positive social change. Contact us at info@claremontlincoln.edu.

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