How Much Free Time Do Grad Students Have?

Ahhhh, the age old question. Will you have any free time in grad school? The answer, is always, and will always be, YES!!!! If someone says that you will be busy from sun up to sun down, everyday, stay away from them. They are clearly doing something wrong. So then why do people say you won’t have any free time in grad school? If you want to find out what I think, you have to promise me that you will read this whole post. I’m just kidding, I’ll talk about it right after this.

free time in grad school

Will You have free time in Grad School?

As I said above, yes, you will have free time to do things you love. In fact, you might have a ton of time to do many things. Yes, you will be plenty busy towards the end of semesters and deadline. But, for the most part, you’ll likely have enough time to do the things you are passionate about. People often say that you will be busy all of the time. This just isn’t true. The people that are busy all of the time are the ones about to graduate or the ones that are about to hit a bit milestone such as defending or doing their qualifying exam. People often want to feel important so they brag about the hours they spend in the lab. I guarantee that they spend like a hour actually doin work and the rest of the time is watching Netflix.

People say that you will be busy all of the time because maybe they think that everyone needs to be busy. Apparently, in grad school, as well as life, it’s a cool thing to brag about how busy you are all the time. You know what happens when you are busy all of the time? You burn out. Also, being busy all of the time and working non stop is a great way to just let your life fly by. I would rather end my day at a reasonable time and enjoy things than work a few extra hours to get some small tasks done. I get that hard work is good, but people take it to the extreme and really make things toxic.

amount of free time in grad school

So about how much free time will you have?

If you are coming in to grad school directly from undergrad, you may seem like you have less free time. Undergrad, for most people, has a ton of free time. Now, by free time, I mean non classwork related activities. So, clubs, jobs, and other things I will put as “free time”. Outside of the classroom, you have ample amount of time to do whatever it is you do. In grad school, you’ll be focused more on coursework and research, so it may seem like there’s less time to do other things.

For those that are going to grad school from working full time, you’ll pretty much have the same amount of free time as you do while working full time. As I said in past blogs (link here), grad school is like a full time job. Once you’re done for the day, leave the work at the office and go home.

So, to answer the above question, grad school will take about 8 to 10 hours of your day. Sometimes much less, sometimes much more, and the rest is free time. That leaves about 8 hours of the day to do other things such as wood carving, doing other hobbies, working out, getting extra money, blogging, meditating, and everything else that I mention in blog posts lol. I highly recommend reading those posts if you are interested in any of them.

free time in master's program

How Much Free In Grad School: Master’s Program?

So, I am going to break this into two sections. The first will deal with master’s students and the second will be PhD students. I won’t be covering medical students or law students because I am neither and do not want to give you the wrong information.

So, in a master’s program, you will be mostly dealing with course work. I laid out how many hours you should spend doing coursework based on how many credits you are taking (here). A rule of thumb is you will spend about 3 hours per credit hour studying. A full time master’s student will most likely take 9 credits, 12 at the very most. 9*3=27 hours a week on classwork which leaves the rest to doing whatever you want! That’s right, spend the rest of the workweek doing anything except classwork lol.

Of course, these numbers will fluctuate throughout the year. While finishing my master’s, I had weeks where I works seemingly non stop for like 2 weeks straight. Other times, I maybe put in 5 hours tops during the week. You will have plenty of free time in a master’s program, trust me.

How Much Free time in grad school: PhD Program?

free time in PhD program

This one is a bit different than a master’s. You will probably be doing research mostly, and you’ll technically be “on call” 24/7. This does not mean that you need to work all of the time. No, keep it like a job and make sure to end the day. I would say that a PhD is a 8 to 5 job with the occasional 8 to 8 days/ multiple days. Yes, you’ll have free time. As much as a master’s student? probably not, but you will have a decent amount of time to be a human. Remember, you’re human and not a robot.

I have known people to work and publish a ton and I know of people that put in like 3 hours a day and go do other things. An old coworker of mine held a full time job on top of his stipend while in his PhD program. I know many people that finish at 3 each day, get plenty of work done, and manage to make it to 2 or three intramural sports events. The amount of free time that you have in a PhD program is completely up to you.

This changes when there is a deadline. The amount of free time leading up to your qualifying exam is near 0 and the same when writing your thesis. Those are not year long events and will only take up a small percentage of your time in academia. Deadlines will have you running around, doing work, but all deadlines do. There’s nothing different.

Final Thought

If you are thinking about going to grad school but are concerned that you will work your life away, don’t worry, you won’t. You’ll be plenty busy but not overly busy where you can’t enjoy the occasional hike around your apartment complex or going to a bar at night lol. I actually believe that being constantly busy in grad school is a terrible thing to do and you shouldn’t do that. Towards the end, you may start to actually like what you do. I know, I have gotten to a point where my free time is spent building things for experiments or reading about my research. Yes, I do work in my free time but because I actually want to. You may get to this point later on.

Enjoy these few years in grad school. You won’t get them back. The years will pass by very quickly so enjoy every minute of the ride. If you have any questions or concerns, send me an email at benswaringen@yahoo.com. If you haven’t already, go check out my blog on how my cat doesn’t really let me work lol. I have a link to that blog (here). I hope you all have a wonderful week, and I will see you next time.

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