Graduate School Part 2: 7 Things I WIsh I Knew Prior to Arriving

by Sean McQuaid

1- You Will Not Have NEARLY As Much Free Time As You Think

The amount of credits you are taking is not indicative of how much time you will need to put into each class. You will need to put in SERIOUS time into each class to get the most out of your time at your school. Oh and did you forget about practicing?! On top of this, you must consider that you will have “real life” responsibilities to attend to; start working on your time management skills NOW before it’s too late. Invest in a day planner or even make a list on your computer for your daily tasks every morning when you first wake up. The best thing I ever did was make a word document as my “To-Do” list every morning. It helped me stay focused on everything I needed to accomplish from the moment I woke up until I went to bed at night. If you can limit the amount of time you aren’t productive to a minimum, you will be surprised how much you can accomplish!

2- You Will Need to Practice A LOT

As if you didn’t have any free time already, you also must make sure to practice plenty so every lesson with your teacher is incredibly productive. You only have 2 years to get the most out of them, so be sure to prepare adequately for every lesson. And on top of your lessons, you also have to account for practicing for your ensembles...which you will also NEED to be on your “a-game” for as well. Try to make a list of everything you want to accomplish musically every day, and REALLY make sure that you get through each task. Be sure to split up your practicing into various sessions so you don’t lose focus or fatigue to easily. I personally have 3 different sessions that focus on different aspects of my playing. It’s much more productive to do 2 hours of intense and focused practice as opposed to 4 hours of noodling around. 

3- Some of these Undergraduate Students Might Be Better Than You

As tough as this may be, this may very well be the case and you need to be prepared for this reality. There are some people out there who just have a natural talent and might have started cultivating this talent at a young age. Don’t let your ego get the better of you. Just keep on your own path and know that with hard work, you will be okay. Try thinking positively and discussing this with your teacher if this concerns you. Remember, everyone develops at different rates. This is why we love music, it’s so individual! 

4- Each Person You Meet is A Future Connection For Gigs/Employment

This is an important lesson to learn ASAP, do everything you can to be a like-able person. The music industry has such a social component that you need to do your best to be as personable as possible. Make sure you do your best to make a good first impression with everyone you meet! Sure, there will be people you don’t get along with, but always make the best effort to be a “good hang.” You will be surprised how many people get hired for simply being incredibly fun/positive to be around. 

5- You May Not Get Into Any Large Ensembles

This actually happened to me my first year - I didn’t get into the Jazz orchestra. Some people might have gotten angry or bummed out by this result, but I viewed it as a chance for self-evaluation and improvement. If this happens to you, view this as an opportunity to improve! When you re-audition, you will be incredibly motivated to try and get in. You will naturally work harder for this and will make it even more satisfying when you do get in! 

6- Your Professors May One Day Become Your Colleagues, Try to Cultivate a Personal Relationship with Them! 

Your professors are by far your most valuable resource, and if you develop a good enough relationship, they will help you not only get gigs but a potential job! So, go out of your way to be a little bit of a teacher’s pet! Find out their favorite food, sports teams, TV shows and try to just talk to them. While these professors are incredibly accomplished, I can guarantee you that they have a life outside of music. And they will appreciate that you made an effort to get to know them so personally. Keep in mind, they have hundreds of past alumni. Try to stand out by getting to know them!

7- You Get Out What You Put In

The underlying “theme” of graduate school is that you get what you put in. Even more so than your undergraduate, you only get out of this experience what you put in, so be sure to work your butt off!! Hard work will eventually beat out “talent” 100% of the time. Just because you aren’t where you want to be now, doesn’t mean you could be that much closer when you graduate!

My last article in this series will be released in May once I graduate!

Happy Practicing,


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