Grad school, just like any other large institution, uses paperwork to ensure that all criteria are met and all the standards are maintained. Sadly, all too often this safeguard against delayed graduation is either ignored until the last minute, or is not well-explained from the beginning. The end result can cost you a great deal of time, and even money. GET the paperwork early, and check it often!
4. Get a PLAN.
Your official Study Plan is the key to success. Use it to help you think through each semester, as well as through the program. Take into account any prerequisites or requirements that must be met that are outside the scope of your course content. It’s very easy to forget about the details, but these details can delay your graduation.
Remember as well that you are beholden for your degree not only to your own department, but to the Grad Studies office, the university, and possibly other entities therein: the Library, Parking & Police, and the Testing Center spring to mind (Did you return all your library books? Pay off your parking fines? Take the EWP?). Go in person (if you can) whenever you receive any notifications about forms to be signed or fees to be paid. A face-to-face conversation is more likely to get you all the answers you need in one sitting than a game of phone tag is.
Sometimes degree-bearing obligations fall outside the curriculum or classroom, or even outside the school entirely (Does your department require a publication or conference presentation before graduation? Certification by a state or nationally recognized body?). Find out about all of these extra-curricular criteria, and start planning how to complete them from the get go.
Finally, be sure to read the fine print carefully, fill out your Study Plan with your adviser, and be well-versed in your options for both classes you can take, and alternatives available. Don’t trust your adviser to know it all, or to keep you abreast of changes. You’re the one getting the degree, so you are the best person to stay on top of knowing what you need to do.