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Peer Advice: Returning to School after Multiple Gap Years


Adjusting to being back in school can be tough especially to the increased pace of grad school.

While shaking off the rust can be challenging, there are several things you can try to help ease your way back into being a full-time student.

1. Set a schedule

Coming into optometry school, I had worked a full-time job for the past three years. I was accustomed to the work life schedule and completely out of the school one. I found the biggest thing that helped was setting a designated schedule for all my school related activities. I made a study schedule where I reviewed the lectures the day after (e.g I reviewed Monday’s lecture notes on Tuesday). I also blocked out part of my days for studying while other parts to activities such as going to the gym or cooking. I found that keeping in a routine similar to a working week was easier to do rather than adapt completely to a new schedule.

2. Find a good support group

Grad school can get stressful and you will most likely have to devote most of your time towards school related activities. Whether it is your fellow classmates, family, or friends outside of school, finding support will help you get through those tough grinds. When school went online due to Covid, it was my support group of friends and family that kept me from burning out and losing motivation. Burning out is a very real possibility with the higher volume of workloads and the endless exams, but having a great support system will definitely help minimize those feelings. While it may not work for everyone, I found that the journey through my first year was made immensely better by not going solo.

3. Be flexible

Grad school is most likely going to be different from any other experience you’ve previously had.  You will find some of your old habits and routines will work, but there will be also many things you are accustomed to that will not. Maybe you will need to change things such as your study habits or your sleep schedule. Regardless, the most important thing is to have a flexible mindset. Ask your peers what they do to and see what works. For me, I had to overhaul my undergrad study habits as they were not effective for the increased pace of optometry school. The worst thing you can do is be closed minded and not be willing to adapt. Grad school success is all about adapting to new challenges that are thrown at you.

I know how daunting the idea of going back to school can feel, but know that you are not alone! Many of your classmates will also be coming back after one or even a decade plus of gap years. While it may take a bit to re-adjust, you will eventually find your groove and routine that works.