There is an endless of reasons why pursuing a graduate degree (or law or medical degree) is a great idea and just as many reasons why it might not be for everyone. Some students enter grad school immediately following college while others attend several years later, so grad students are a mixed bag of ages and life stages.
Some grad students arrive married, some with kids even, and others are in serious relationships. The question of whether or not to start dating in grad school is a very personal one. There’s no denying that some people thrive with a support system while others lose focus when they have to worry about a relationship.
Getting into grad school is competitive and graduation is based on hard work and maximum effort. After making it that far each student needs to consider his or her place in life and whether taking on a relationship makes the most sense at this point.
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Check out our recommendation of dating sites for relationships and/or hookups for grad school students.
Grad School Overview
Grad school includes most postgraduate studies, not including medicine or law. The first postgraduate degree is a Master’s Degree and the terminal degree is the PhD, which is the highest honor a student can achieve.
Grad school programs vary in length but generally run 1-2 years. In some cases, students extend that out to 3-4 years if they’re not going to school full time or if they need to take a break in the middle of pursuing the degree. A PhD can take just about the same amount of time and three times the effort. A Master’s degree, then, can take 1-4 years and a PhD can take 1-7 years depending on whether the student gets the Master’s and PhD in sequence.
In the case of both degrees it is often expected that students work as teaching or research assistants as part of their program of study, which means long hours of working and studying and class.
When it comes to dating in grad school, someone on the fast track might be able to wait 1-2 years for a Master’s degree before dating, but someone looking at 7 years might not want to wait until he is 28 to start dating. This is why it’s important to think about individual needs and goals.
Cons of Dating in Grad School
There are a number of reasons why dating in grad school could be a bad idea and most of them revolve around time and added stress. As a busy grad student it’s hard to find time to do anything, let alone be a good partner. Not being a good partner leads to fights, and fights lead to stress.
A grad student had to work hard in undergrad to get the grades and test scores needed to be accepted to grad school. No matter the program of study, grad school is hard. There is more reading, more writing, more research and much higher expectations. Much higher.
There’s also the aspect of competition. Unlike law school’s automatic attrition rate, or the burnout expected in med students, grad students typically don’t deal with those kinds of stressors hanging over them but they do have to keep their grades up. Most programs will not allow anything lower than a B grade in any subject.
Stress, then, is not only expected but inevitable. Even the best of students feel it. The last thing a grad student needs is more stress. Dating should be a pleasurable distraction but if a partner’s expectations aren’t met it can lead to fights, and that means stress.
Perhaps it’s better to avoid the situation entirely.
Lack of Time
One of the reasons stress is so prevalent among grad students is that there is no time. Every moment of the day seems to be taken up by class, work or study. When there are breaks, staying home to Netflix and chill might be more welcome than going to the bar or nightclub with a significant other, and this can cause tension if a partner’s needs aren’t being met.
There’s also the challenge of having to miss holidays and birthdays due to school committments. While understandable and out of a student’s hands, it’s bound to cause tension. It’s impossible to guarantee a date or attendance at an event because the grad school demands are constantly in flux, and this can be the source of major relationship consternation.
Housing and Finances
Many graduate programs offer students a stipend and housing in exchange for their work as teaching assistants and research assistants. This is a huge benefit to the grad student because it’s almost impossible to work and go to grad school full time.
Campus housing doesn’t always allow for significant others, and since the stipend isn’t intended for rent it can be challenging to move in with someone. And since finances are often stretched to the limit, finding extra money for dinner and dates can be a problem, too. The last thing a grad student wants is to hear that he’s cheap just because he can’t foot the bill for a nice dinner date.
Pros of Dating in Grad School
Given how many years a grad student will be tucked away in pursuit of a degree, it might be more difficult not having a special someone. Not only do some people have a need for regular physical contact with someone else, but the emotional attachment is just as important.
The biggest factor in a successful relationship while in grad school, assuming that both partners aren’t grad students, is to have an open line of communication. Grad students are busy all day long and it’s hard for an outsider to understand this. Making it clear when to call and text helps ease frustration and make for a much healthier and satisfied relationship.
Some students thrive with a support system. Having someone there at the end of the night to talk with can be very cathartic. Even if they’re in a long distance relationship, the ability to call or text a loved one can ease the stress of a busy day.
Whether they’re newly in a relationship or in a long term relationship, some students really do better when their emotional needs (and possibly sexual needs) are being met.
All work and no play make Johnny Grad Student a dull boy. The fact is that it’s easy to get lost in one’s studies in grad school and so it’s incredibly important to make the most of any and all free time. This helps a grad student achieve balance amid a hectic school schedule, and ultimately it can lead to greater success.
The key is understanding that not all free time means big dates or trips or long nights partying. It could be a quiet dinner, pizza and a movie at home or just a walk through the mall. It’s important that both partners understand how best to make use of down time.
Having a fiance or a steady romantic relationship while in grad school can help as motivation. With so much to look forward to after graduation, dating while in grad school might help someone decide whether or not to take a semester off. For a Master’s degree, getting done in 1-2 years is more desirable than 3-4 years and in some cases having someone cheering from the sidelines will help get the work done faster.
Dating in grad school makes a lot of sense for students who thrive when in a relationship. It’s a high stress time and having someone there at the end of the day to talk with can make a huge difference. However, a stressful relationship will only makes things worse.
It’s important to think about what’s right in your particular situation when considering whether or not to date in grad school. You’ve put in all of the work to make it this far, so if a relationship will jeopardize your success then it might be better to wait to start dating once you have graduated.
Lastly, check out our top picks for dating sites for grad school students: