This is probably an unpopular opinion but I enjoyed grad school way more than I did college. I appreciated the smaller class sizes, the more intensive research work I got to do, and the ability to work alongside professors I'd admired for years. The academic experience wasn't the only way grad school was different from college, though. After two years as a grad student, I learned that dating in grad school brought with it an entirely new rulebook I hadn't read in college.
As a grad student, you're in a different phase of your adult life. You're most likely in charge of all of your finances now, you probably have fewer roommates, and hopefully, you're more inclined to do your laundry yourself rather than taking it all home for your mom. I know, I know. Change is scary but I can confirm that Cheetos will remain one of your main food groups so you can at least take comfort in that.
Apart from these personal life changes, you'll notice a few differences in your love life as well, especially when it comes to casually dating. Here are three ways dating in grad school is so not like dating in college. New classroom, new rules.
The ability to swipe through hundreds of people in your college town and the potential to match with literally anyone who catches your eye both sound ideal.
This thought process works out pretty well in college, especially since almost the entire student body is on dating apps, anyway. It's a quick way to meet new people or maybe even find out if that girl from your chemistry lab likes you back (you know, assuming you swipe right on her and it's a match). Dating apps are basically perfect for college because of how easy they are to use and how non-committal the whole swiping ritual is. It's rarely ever awkward bumping into your college classmates on Tinder because it's just what people do in college.
In grad school:
This all seems a lot less appealing once you get to grad school. Presumably, your age preferences in grad school widen a bit leaving you open to a couple risks. The first is that you'll be swiping through professors who might be teaching your classes or whom you might be working closely with on a research project. Either way, it's sure to leave a queasy feeling in your stomach that'll make you question whether or not you really need to be on dating apps at all.
The other more horrifying risk, though, is the thought of accidentally matching with one of your students on a dating app. If, like I did, you work as a teaching assistant throughout your master's program, chances are you'll be teaching your own classes or, at the very least, grading papers for another professor's very large class. Keeping track of all of the students you interact with on a daily basis becomes difficult in a class of 150 students. You won't know them all by name and you might not always immediately recognize them outside of class — like on dating apps.
To avoid this potentially disastrous mishap, I'd recommend narrowing your dating app preferences significantly and avoiding swiping right on anyone who lists your school as the one that they attend. With fewer potential matches to swipe through, you'll be better able to determine which of them might be students of yours and which of them might actually be suitable dates.
Everyone knows "study date" is code for, "I like you, let's spend some uninterrupted, quiet time together so we can do literally anything else besides study."
That's just as true in college as it is in high school. Asking your crush to have a study date with you is college-speak for Netflix and chill. Even if you do study for a couple hours, the conversation will eventually become more casual, you'll both be more relaxed, and it won't be long before you're studying each other. This still counts as biology, right?
In grad school:
Unfortunately, in grad school, a study date is a study date — no matter how badly you'd like to swipe all the papers off the desk and get busy. It's not because grad students are boring or have lower sex drives or anything like that. It's simply because, in grad school, you really do need all the study time you can get. Grad school reading assignments are exhaustive (hundreds of pages per class every week) and final papers can often be well over 30 pages long so winging it is out of the question. Not only are the classes more difficult but the grading policies are stricter. In my program, a B was equivalent to an F and anything below that meant automatic expulsion.
In addition to your weekly work load, you spend a lot of time traveling to academic conferences and submitting your work for publication — both tasks that require an extraordinary amount of prep time. For those students interested in careers in academia, presenting at national conferences and publishing a certain number of peer-reviewed articles before graduation are crucial to their professional advancement. That said, it's not uncommon for grad students to spend a lot of time together actually getting work done... even if they are interested in each other. The truth is that real study dates in grad school are kind of fun; it's comforting to know the other person is going through the same things you are and it's exciting to have someone to talk about your work with.
It's not like the types of places in any given town change between your college graduation and your grad school acceptance so why should your date spots be any different?
Once you've turned 21, the drinks date is fairly standard in college. You probably have a list of local bars with the best happy hours saved on your phone and you've already figured out the best route to walk back to your apartment if you have too much to drink. Best of all, since college bars tend to run outrageous drinks specials, it won't even cost you that much to #turnup.
In grad school:
The college bar is risky in the same way dating apps are risky in grad school — you'll probably run into your students doing body shots on a high top and honestly, there's very little chance of saving the date after that. With college bars off-limits and fancier restaurants a little out of your teaching assistant's budget, coffee shops and more laid-back lounges are the go-to date spots in grad school.
Honestly, any chance just to get off campus would probably qualify as a date. Apart from avoiding your students by heading to a coffee shop, you'll actually be able to hear your date and enjoy their company somewhere more low-key.
Even if you go straight from college to grad school, you'll notice right away that things are a little different. Academically, you'll want to dedicate more time and effort to your work. Socially, you'll find yourself surrounded by similarly intellectual people who are passionate about the same subjects that you are. Romantically, just do your best not to date your students!
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