Importance of Work Experience for MS Applications

Let’s begin with what’s familiar – MBA. ‘Coz when it comes to an international MBA degree, the significance of a 2-3 year work experience cannot be stressed enough.

As an MBA candidate, you are likely to bring in more experience, diversity, knowledge and a bagful of case studies to share with your fellow MBA trainees, as compared to the fresh faced college graduate (Read Work experience for MBA- Why is it important?).

But what if you were looking to apply for an international MS degree?

If you are on the brink of graduation and toying with the idea of a paid gig, somewhere, you may want to consider its impact on your postponed academic journey.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of having work experience in a Master’s admission process, in the US.

Importance of Work Experience for MS Applications

Do people often choose to work before getting an MS degree? According to the 2016 GRE Test Taker Report, surveyed among responding test takers, nearly 122k GRE examinees had 1-4 years of work experience.

While the largest number belonged to the less-than-1 year (or basically no work record) slot with nearly 200k examinees, the little blue protrusions for test takers with over 15, or even 30, years of employment were quite hard to ignore.

In fact, candidates are known to pursue a Master’s degree at all stages of their life. Read What is the right age for an MS?

Years of full-time work experience for GRE test takers (2016)
Years of full-time work experience for GRE test takers

So, if it is fairly common to have job experience, among MS candidates, can it aid their admission selection just as it does for MBA candidates?

How useful is it to work before you apply for an international MS degree?


Advantages of a work experience

Let’s just take a peek at the advantages, going by how important its cousin, MBA, has found it to play up a candidate profile.

  • A Capital plan

It is expensive to study abroad (Read Cost of studying MS in the US) and quite often students rely on loans, generous benefactors, and those minimum wage campus jobs, to survive.

Unless you have been a millionaire yuppie, you probably won’t have sufficient savings to cover all the costs of tuition, rent, food, travel and the occasional Big Mac, but at the very least your job may provide some amount of start up fund, taking care of costs related to application, moving and settling in.

And that is a substantial help for anyone looking to relieve the financial strain stemming from this rather costly investment of education.

  • Worldly wise

By virtue of not being a freshly peeled college graduate, you will be much more aware of the quality of job opportunities available out there.

That knowledge does help to decide the area of specialization, keeping in mind the measure of returns on the investment in an MS degree.

The years spent at working around professionals can enhance your problem solving skills, discipline and your ability for goal oriented training.

The job experience can even work to display your dedication towards your field, as long as it is pertinent to the subject of your chosen field.

A pharmaceutical stint can be a positive, for someone looking to find a job after a Biochemistry MS, but 2 years spent as an insurance agent will probably do you no good.

  • Update your profile

A decent work experience can fill the void left by a sub par college performance. You can involve yourself in projects, patents and a multitude of other accomplishments to portray yourself as a high achiever.

It can also give you a credibility when you claim that you can apply your training beyond the classroom.
These being the biggest driving forces, rooting for employment prior to an MS, let’s also take a look at how this employment could in turn be holding you back.

Disadvantages of having work experience

  • Loss of academic contacts

The more time you spend outside the academic world, the less likely you will be to stay in touch with latest research, findings and the more relevant problem of your contact list going dormant.

Master’s applications require letters of recommendations and the admissions offices will not care for your office manager’s stamp of approval.

Being an academic degree, the only weight that will carry through will be that of your undergraduate professor or project adviser.

The advantage of applying right out of college is that the faculty body would have had very little time to let the memory of you fade by, however absent minded they may be.

Your recent classes, grades and class participation will be only a short reminiscing jog away.

  • Loss of time

It is quite likely that by getting into an MS, late, you will be setting yourself to compete with younger academics who will have the luxury of time over you. If you choose to pursue an academic career, there could be age caps to put your research career on the clock.

  • Fading Subject Content

This could happen to anyone going through life beyond the classroom. While the work experience can add to your real world wisdom, your subject matter expertize is often compromised with each passing year.

Fresh college graduates are usually quite well versed with most of the subject content, giving them the edge of staying ahead of anyone who is going through bouts of flashback.

In a tough, rigorous MS curriculum, this distant memory can spell disaster in grades and over all performance.

  • Juggling roles

It is hard to maintain a full time work schedule whilst preparing to get into graduate school. Both have rigorous schedules where one of them, often GRE prep, takes a back seat when it comes to prioritizing.

Shades of such a struggle are apparent when you compare the GRE test scores between takers with varying work experience, in years.

The image below seems to indicate that with increasing number of working years, the average Quantitative score reduces.

Though a crude estimate of analytical skills, it is able to reflect the essential weakness of candidates juggling work schedules.

The Verbal score, on the other hand, seems to reflect a vocabulary rich brain improved with reading and professional communication.

The trend is similar among test takers in 2014 and 2015. Read GRE Preparation Guide 2017-18.

Work experience vs GRE scores
Work experience vs GRE scores

The take away is simple. It is not essential to gather a substantial work experience, to apply to graduate school for a Master’s degree. Certainly not like it is for MBA applicants, abroad.

While there are a few advantages, they are also often applicable to the candidates with an outstanding employment record, in the relevant field. On an average, it doesn’t make an MS application stand out over the rest.

So, if you are undecided on whether to apply for graduate school or take up a job offer, the determining factors will be your interest in either, your circumstances with finances and your future plans. Consider all the caveats before making your decision.

Good Luck!

Meanwhile more reading for all international MS hopefuls – Guide to an international MS degree.

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