Student Life: The Johns Hopkins Survival Guide

After finishing my first semester at Johns Hopkins SAIS, I walked into the Office of Admissions ready to start my shift as a Student Ambassador. As a Student Ambassador, my job requires me to speak with prospective students and address their questions and concerns. When speaking to applicants, many expressed concerns regarding curriculum, adjustment to graduate life, what factors led me to select Johns Hopkins, and other related inquiries. Above all, many were relieved to speak to someone who had recently been in their shoes.

I love speaking with potential students, answering their questions that I pondered less than a year ago. It is something I attribute to paying it forward for the next entering class. But, doing so on this day prompted my curiosity. With the backdrop of speaking with prospective students and my own semester reflection, I thought: what did I wish I had known before coming to SAIS? What would have helped me to know before beginning classes here?

And this, the SAIS Survival Guide was born. In my reflections and speaking with some of my close friends, I arrived at five important aspects to consider before beginning SAIS. While this list is certainly not finite, it does provide an important look into the first semester of SAIS and some important things to consider throughout the Master of Arts (MA) program.

1. Imposter Syndrome Never Goes Away

Imposter Syndrome is a very real phenomenon that never goes away. Johns Hopkins SAIS attracts some of the most brilliant students from around the world; that’s simply the nature of the institution. I still bask in awe at some of the amazing accomplishments of my colleagues, but this can very easily spike one’s imposter syndrome. It is unfortunately in our nature to compare ourselves to those around us; something that social media only exacerbates. You may find yourself wondering, “if they accepted this person, why in the world did they decide to accept me?” And you are not alone. It happens to all of us and will likely continue for the remainder of your time at SAIS, perhaps henceforth throughout life.

That’s because you’re looking at it the wrong way.

Consider it from this perspective: we’ve already mentioned that SAIS brings together some of the greatest minds of our generation from incredibly different backgrounds. And contemplate, for a moment, what you can learn from being in an environment like this and, furthermore, what your unique vantage point will add to the conversation. SAIS is like a puzzle of many, but every piece is necessary. Your experiences are unique from your colleagues and your puzzle pieces are just as important as theirs.
Johns Hopkins SAIS saw something brilliant in you. They recognized your potential. Never allow yourself to forget that.

2. There will be times where you think you can’t do it – but you can.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, and difficulty.” The same is true for graduate school. It is intentionally difficult to challenge you, refine you into becoming a master of what you are studying; literally and metaphorically. 
All things considered, it will be hard. Your first semester will most likely be the most difficult, as you adjust to a new schedule, new expectations, new housing situation, a new city, and new friends. Your reading list will be never-ending, as is the amount of assignments, papers, and social events. You will feel exhausted. You will be frustrated. You will doubt yourself. You will question whether it is even worth your stress. You will wonder why you are doing this, but the end result is worth it and you can do it.
It never gets easier, you just get better.

3. Do ALL the things! But, stay true to yourself and your goals.

I say this jokingly, but I genuinely mean it. Get involved in every. single. thing you can. Join clubs at SAIS, attend guest lectures held on campus, go to talks at nearby institutions like Brookings or the CSIS, go on career treks with your classmates, the list of opportunities is incredibly expansive. But, be honest with yourself and your goals through it all. If you try and go to everything, you might become more lost and more burnt-out than before. Stay true to yourself through it all and follow whatever you feel passionate about.
Sure, you will not be able to attend everything because there are only 24 hours in a day. But, making time for the events you really care about is drastically important. This expands your knowledge, allows you to network in the field, and gives you a much-needed break from studying.

4. Your corner is critically important – take advantage of it!

In every boxing match, each boxer is given a “corner” where their trainers will provide help and encouragement. Grad school is similar in that those who surround you will assist by encouraging you when it is needed most.

Let’s revisit the earlier statement about the wonderful students at SAIS causing your imposter syndrome. Networking with your colleagues is just as crucial as networking outside your courses. By nature, I am very social and a great networker. However, I know that not everyone is like that. In fact, I was surprised at SAIS to find how many of my colleagues were not actively networking within SAIS. In fact, a few I met had not met many of their fellow classmates.
But, your fellow SAIS-ers are invaluable members of your corner. They will give you advice, help edit your papers, supply notes when you miss class, and pick you up when you are feeling down. Most importantly, your classmates, more than anyone else, understand what you are going through and can relate to your anxiety and frustrations. Their stress level is just as high as yours, but they will not hesitate to give you a pep talk when its needed.
I have, on numerous occasions, been astounded by how supportive my fellow SAIS students are. Never be afraid to turn to them whenever you need it because they will always have your back.

5. Expanding your knowledge is more important than grades.

This one is a difficult realization for me. I am a perfectionist and, by nature, do not like getting anything less than an A. Many first-year students at SAIS are unsurprisingly the same way.
However, venturing outside your comfort zone is the best way to expand your knowledge and grow exponentially. Taking a course like this may result in a B, but I contend the B is worth it without a doubt. Why? Gaining the most out of your SAIS experience is drastically more important than the grades you earn while here.
It is still challenging for me to accept, even though I know it is true. Push your limits and it can teach you what you are made of.
“Smooth sailing never made for a good sailor.”

As I mentioned, this is in no way a complete list. However, these are some of the most important aspects to keep in mind as you attend SAIS.

About the Student Blogger:                                                                                           
Chase Kelly
(MA, International Relations)
Chase Kelly is a first-year Master of Arts Candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Orginally from Tifton, GA, Chase aims to pursue a career in either diplomacy journalism after SAIS. In his spare time, Chase is an avid writer and reader, live music lover, and car enthusiast.

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