If you’re dating in grad school, you’re probably already aware that it’s a hassle. From demanding hours, the pressure to succeed academically, and the all-encompassing nature of graduate-level courses, it’s not uncommon to lose out on your social life at the expense of your future career.
However, if you’ve managed to find someone who is going through grad school, you can enjoy a number of benefits that make dating in grad school a huge plus. But then again, what are the challenges you should prepare for?
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about dating in grad school, including the pros and cons to help you decide if this arrangement is right for you and your partner.
What You Need to Know About Dating in Grad School
To start, dating in grad school can be similar to dating anyone any other time in your life - but with extra challenges. On top of the normal relationship dynamics, grad school changes how you interact within the relationship greatly.
Nearly every relationship in grad school requires constant communication and planning to accommodate each other’s schedules and needs. In short, dating a graduate student or someone studying for higher-level degrees takes a bit of work to succeed.
The following are some things you should keep in mind when dating in graduate school.
The challenge of creating a balance
First, focusing on creating a balance between school and your social life is essential. It’s very easy to lose sight of your obligations to your partner while also juggling papers, research, and dissertations. This is compounded when two people are in the picture, creating time restraints and scheduling conflicts. While one partner may be hunkering down to study, the other may want to blow off some steam.
Second, understanding what takes priority isn’t always clear. Sacrifices often occur, where you may settle for a lackluster paper in lieu of giving your girlfriend the comfort and reassurance she needs. Both of you may put a priority on education or simply have a relationship of convenience, but this may ultimately lead to both your academic career and relationship suffering.
The stress of higher degrees
Third, stress is always present when dating a graduate student. Deadlines are always looming and it’s easy for one another to lash out with misdirected anger when stress levels remain high. A bad grade or financial difficulties ramp up an already difficult situation - and even more so if either of you has to work to put food on the table.
The nature of their education
If you and your girlfriend are in the same discipline, it’s certainly easier to stay connected between classes and have some overlap of downtime. However, this changes if one person is studying music while the other is working in anthropology, for example, finding common time and common ground can be more difficult to achieve.
Additionally, fieldwork can be a daunting challenge for many couples, creating long-distance relationships that are even more difficult to manage. The time spent away from one another may erode relationships and demand more time to stay connected.
Making the most of the weekend
While graduate school is known for its early mornings and late nights, the weekends are usually reserved for rest and relaxation with loved ones. As a couple, you’ll be spending more time making up for lost time. Whether this includes seeing friends, watching movies, or taking a trip somewhere, the weekends give you and your girlfriend a chance to reconnect socially with the outside world.
That being said, some disciplines are so difficult that they encompass weekends, too. This can strain a relationship and create an imbalance that may threaten the relationship. After all, if you’re this busy in graduate school, what will your relationship look like when you’re both employed full-time?
The Apps Dating Coaches Recommend if You Want to Date in Grad School
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Always make a schedule
Having a transparent schedule is key when dating in graduate school. This ensures that there are no misunderstandings about what one partner is up to. It can also help the other plan to accommodate their needs. Even just knowing when the other is expected to come home can provide reassurance and make a better life, especially if you both live in the same house/apartment.
A schedule also creates a way of sharing all responsibilities of the relationship so that the other doesn’t feel neglected. For example, one partner can cook dinner or draw a bath while the other relaxes after an intense day of work. Then, when the other partner has free time, he or she can reciprocate around a schedule to create a more harmonious relationship.
Pros and Cons of Dating a Graduate Student
Now that we’ve covered what you should be aware of when dating in graduate school, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of dating a grad student - whether you're currently a grad student yourself or not.
Pro: You have a support system
Having a partner in your corner during arguably the most work-intensive period of one’s life makes getting through grad school easier. By helping one another through mundane tasks (e.g. laundry, preparing meals, etc.) or more important tasks (e.g. reviewing each other’s work, talking through research issues, etc.), you work synergistically towards common goals.
There’s also the added advantage of understanding what one another is going through. Because one or both of the partners are going through similar struggles, having someone in for the long haul eases the burden and provides reassurance that others cannot.
There’s an all-consuming aspect of graduate work that throws off students from understanding life outside their academic goals. However, a relationship helps ground each partner’s life, creating a balance to your life other than constant studying and writing papers. This ultimately creates greater success by ensuring that each partner doesn’t have a myopic and detrimental focus on just school.
Pro: Motivation to succeed
Graduate school takes a number of years of high-intensity work. There are essentially no days off and the grind erodes why you started in the first place (even if it's a field that you love).
That’s where having a partner to provide motivation helps. Here are a few ways that dating in graduate school gives you more motivation to succeed:
- If you’re in a committed relationship, you know that your coursework is building a better future for you both. This helps give you an extra impetus to hit the books harder, work more efficiently, and look to a happier future
- Having another trusted person to give you an extra set of eyes on your work helps you get ahead with fewer bumps along the road and recognizes problems before they become serious issues in our studies.
- There will be times in graduate school that can feel overwhelming, so having somebody who cares enough about you to keep tabs on how hard or stressed out you seem.
Pro: Someone who understands what you’re going through
Unless they’ve been through it before, graduate school is its own world that most people can’t relate to. Having somebody to talk through problems and relate to issues - such as an overbearing professor - is a big plus.
Unfortunately, there are also plenty of downsides that come with dating a graduate student. Let’s take at some of the most common cons that come with dating a graduate student:
Just as it’s great to have a girlfriend as a support system, there can be a compounding of stress if both of you are under pressure. It can be difficult to escape from the demands of study when your partner is cramming for a test or fine-tuning a dissertation that’s due in a few weeks.
Con: Lack of time
Free time is always in short supply when either of you is going to graduate school. The never-ending deadlines and tests take up most of your time, only leaving a few hours per day to live as a couple.
It’s not uncommon for a relationship to deteriorate as free time becomes scarce, often leaving one partner feeling that their emotional needs are left unaddressed. This type of neglect can erode relationships fast, as important dates like birthdays are shelved for another day when academic success swallows what time you would have to enjoy one another’s company.
And when burnout starts to occur, it’s unfortunate that your partner often gets neglected in favor of unwinding after a long day or day of constant school work.
Quantifying who does what and who makes themselves available in equal measure is difficult. But because of this difficulty, it’s common for relationships in graduate school to develop resentments over time.
If left unaddressed simply because you’re too busy to notice, this resentment causes more conflict and anger, creating doubt in the relationship that could be fatal to its longevity. Every missed date or excuse to stay in for the night builds up over time and may lead to fights, exacerbating already-difficult circumstances.
Also, if you’re dating a graduate student and you’re not currently in school, it can lead to resentment in the relationship. She may not feel that you truly understand the nature of coursework. That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure both partners are willing and able to be flexible about each other’s schedules so that neither person feels as if they are the one doing more work than the other.
Con: Financial stress
Graduate students are notoriously broke while they’re pursuing a degree. Being strapped for cash puts a damper on your dating life, where you both may not be able to participate in activities to feel “normal” outside of academic life. And if one or both of you are struggling financially, the stress from limited finances often affects relationships negatively.
There may come times when either one of you needs to rely on financial support from one another (e.g. rent, food, bills, study supplies/materials), which is fine for long-term relationships; however, short-term arrangements may make either partner back out for fear that they’re losing money over time.
If you’ve moved in together as a pragmatic financial option, it’s important for each other to pull their weight financially. This can be another burden on top of a graduate student’s to-do list. There’s also the impending issue of paying off student loans after graduating. Being stuck with a partner that has dismal prospects of recouping their cash may mean couples rethinking their future together.
Con: Housing issues
Grad school is expensive. And while living together is a money-saver, both of your situations should be stable enough to support the other. If one person is consistently late on their portion of the rent and bills, it may fracture a relationship sooner than later.
Another factor of living together for financial reasons is that it also puts extra stress on the relationship, as you will be occupying the same space and be together a lot.
Con: Better options?
A woman in graduate school is surrounded by those in her field and may find a more compatible match after spending more time researching, socializing, and being in the presence of people who are “going places”. If you don’t measure up or are pursuing an entirely different field, you may start to grow apart.
With all this in mind, you can determine whether dating in grad school is right for you. It comes with a multitude of benefits, but it can also be challenging to maintain a relationship during this time.