How Valuable is Work Experience Before Grad School?

As we showed in a recent article, only 16% of graduate students immediately continue their education by enrolling in an advanced degree program straight out of their baccalaueate. Why do recent graduates shy away from a graduate education and go to work right out of school?

Many recent bachelor’s earners simply need a breather after four years of undergraduate work. Others are unsure of what path they want to take in graduate school, and aren’t willing to front the costs until more certain. A great reason for recent undergrads to delay an advanced degree is the desire to gain work experience due to the many personal and financial benefits that often result.

While work experience is not always required to apply to or succeed in postgraduate education, prospective students often underestimate how important it is when competing for increasingly more coveted seats in graduate school.

 

Why Does Work Experience Before Grad School Matter?

While not all master’s programs require work experience in order to be considered, it often gives candidates applying to competitive programs a serious edge.

For example, if you plan on getting your MBA, you can bank on needing work experience prior to applying. While most full-time programs prefer candidates to come in with 1-2 years of experience, students entering top-tier business schools have on average at least 3 years of work experience. At the Wharton School of Business, whose MBA program is ranked 3rd in the nation, students enter the program with a whopping 5-6 years of prior work experience.

In MBA programs, as well as many other master’s and Ph.D. programs, work experience is a differentiating factor in the admissions process. Program admissions directors use work experiences as a way to measure an applicant’s motivation for the field of study, and ensure they aren’t someone just experimenting with an idea that seems interesting.

Savvy applicants understand that program recruiters are looking for highly qualified candidates with work experience that sets them apart from the pack. Relevant work experience is also valuable to graduate programs because it adds depth and enriches the learning environment; if you don’t have any, you’re at a disadvantage because you are competing with peers who are more attractive in the admissions race.

Take it from Robert Farrington, a renowned expert on personal finance and college. His advice?

“Getting an MBA [is about] combining the degree with work experience. That’s what makes it extremely valuable. When I went to grad school, I was the youngest in my class. While this was amazing from a networking and learning perspective, I couldn’t contribute as much as others.”

 

Make It Count- Personal and Financial Benefits to Working Before Graduate School

It’s no secret that graduate school can be expensive. For an average 1-2 year master’s program, you’re looking to get set back between $30-40k.

Additionally, time in grad school is opportunity cost to earn a salary. In order to be able to more comfortably pay for a graduate education when the time is right, consider working for a few years to financially support yourself when you won’t have a steady income as a student.

After working and gaining experience,  you’ll also be in a better position to compete for scholarships when you do apply for graduate programs.

Don’t forget- many employers will pay for a master’s degree after a certain amount of time spent with the company, especially if more schooling beefs up a skillset that will make you a better asset to the company. While you might be itching to stay in school and get your master’s, consider how great it would be to have it completely paid for by your employer just a few years down the road.

 

The Bottom Line of Gaining Work Experience Before Grad School

While you might not take your dream job directly following undergrad, working for a few years, being accepted to a stronger graduate program, and excelling in your graduate education can lead to more lucrative job opportunities down the road.

Remember, those who possess a master’s degree are likely to earn much more income in their lifetime than their bachelor’s degree counterparts…and those with doctorates even more. Think about what you can do with a bit of work experience and admission into a top-tier graduate program because of it!


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