From One Grad Student to Another: 9 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Program at John Jay 

Graduate students throw caps in air

By Jessica Pomerantz – As a graduate student at John Jay, I’ve sometimes wondered how to make the most out of my graduate program. Whether you’re a Forensic Mental Health Counseling student like me or enrolled in a different program, here is a list of the most helpful tips and tricks for success.

1. Classes sometimes have prerequisites, and they’re for your own best interest. Your program’s office will provide you with a recommended layout for how to effectively organize your coursework so that you can build on your knowledge from one class to the next. Trust this process and you’ll avoid being confused.

2. Remember that you will need to choose a track. Your graduate program will likely have multiple tracks, and the decision is yours and must be declared. You cannot complete a Track Declaration Form until you have completed 12 credit hours.

3. Writing a thesis is hard, but setting up the steps to write a thesis is harder. I don’t mean to be intimidating and scary, but there are some major steps that need to be taken in order to succeed at writing a thesis in a 2-year program. John Jay recommends you find an advisor and decide on a research topic within your first semester. So while you are still trying to find where your classes are, where the best location to study is, and adjust to life as a graduate student, you will also need to join multiple research labs to find a well-matched advisor and develop a research topic. Overwhelming, I know, but you can do it.

4. Being part of research can be fun, or you could be doing it wrong. John Jay is great with offering both a variety of clinical and research labs and opportunities. With that said, there are such a wide range of research labs going on at any time. Don’t get discouraged if you are not enjoying a specific lab you thought was going to fulfill your needs. This is prime time to join different labs and try different types of projects, so you can feel out what works for you and what doesn’t. Utilize the opportunities right in front of you.

5. You can never ask too many questions.Your program likely has tons of opportunities and resources to offer, but you won’t get what you’re looking for until you ask. Even if you are not sure if the faculty in your graduate program have what you need, don’t ever be afraid to send an email.

6. Internships and externships are equivalent to jobs. Like a job, gaining an internship or externship will take time, research and dedication. The people hiring you for an internship or externship are trusting you with their own clients. You should take it seriously.

7. If you’re in a psychology program, the MA Students’ Excellence Fee gives you money. Take it! Each semester, the excellence fee allocates up to $500 per semester for students participating in research. Funds may be used to cover participant incentives, equipment, travel to collect data and travel to professional conferences where the research is presented. Not only is this a great opportunity to get some money for the work you are already doing, this is also a great opportunity to travel to conferences and gain experience presenting and networking. Just sayin’, you can add it to your resume later.

8. Summer and winter classes do exist. This is not a myth. Summer and winter classes are offered every year and could really make a difference in your academic timeline. Completing a master’s program in two years feels overwhelming just to say aloud, and can weigh heavy on a student to complete. Summer and winter classes can often help alleviate an aggressive course load during the fall and spring terms.

9. Networking can be easier than you think. Think back to your favorite professor in your undergraduate career? You probably wanted to pick that person’s brain about everything they knew, including what steps they took in their career path. A large majority of our professors (especially the adjuncts) work outside of John Jay in careers you might want to pursue and for companies you might be able to work with. Getting to know these people on an individual level can not only help you feel more at home at John Jay, but can open up a ton of opportunities for you.

Jessica Pomerantz is a graduate student at John Jay. This was first published as an original piece on, John Jay’s MA Excellence Program newsletter. 

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