When you apply to graduate school, admissions committees are looking for a few distinct qualities. Because the quality of their program relies on the preparedness and abilities of the students in the program, they often prefer applicants who have some work experience.
Your work experience can actually be a benefit to you while you are working on your graduate degree. Navigating the rigors of earning a master of health care administration, MBA or other degree can be challenging when you are in the trenches every day, managing a staff or climbing the career ladder, but your experience helps you get more out of the graduate school experience.
Why Schools Want Students to Have Experience
Graduate programs want students with work experience for a number of reasons. First, having a few years of “real world” experience under your belt helps you clarify your career goals and shows you what you want out of your career. Grad school is not the place to “find yourself” or figure out what you want to do; instead, it’s best suited for students who have a defined goal and an idea of how to reach it. By working for a few years, you have an idea of what it’s like in the world of healthcare administration jobs, for example. By applying to a graduate program, you are showing your commitment to the field. Admissions committees want students who are committed, focused and enthusiastic.
Students with work experience also have the advantage of a base level of knowledge that they bring to the program. Coursework isn’t just about instructors lecturing, assigning readings or writing papers. Collaborative learning is an important part of the graduate experience. Students are encouraged to learn from each other. If none of the students has any type of real world work experience, then the collaborative learning environment suffers. On the contrary, when students come to class with a variety of professional backgrounds and unique experiences and perspectives, the learning environment is richer for everyone.
Working before enrolling in graduate school also has some financial advantages. If you work for an employer that offers tuition reimbursement, you might be able to have all or some of your master’s degree paid for, as long as it’s related to your current industry. Even if your boss won’t cover the cost, if you work for a few years, you have a chance to save up to cover your tuition, lessening the potential debt burden after graduation. From the perspective of an admissions committee, a candidate who has already had a successful career before grad school is a good bet to be successful after graduate, enhancing the reputation of the school.
How You Can Use Your Experience
Your work experience isn’t just useful for getting you into a graduate program. The skills, experience and perspective that you bring from your career help you learn more and get more out of your courses, and vice versa.
As you work through your studies, seek out ways to apply your new knowledge in the office. Perhaps a theory or principle can help with a challenge, or one of your classmate’s ideas is the perfect solution to a process issue. Use your experiences at work in class discussions, case studies and other assignments, to make the learning more relevant, and provide your classmates with a new perspective. Again, grad school is a collaborative environment, and your contributions are valuable and necessary.
Getting some experience in the field is an important first step in the graduate school process. The fact that you have been out of college and working for a few (or even more than a few) years is actually a benefit when it comes to getting accepted to certain programs, and can play an important role in your success as a student. Use the experience you have, both as a tool and as a benchmark for the things you need to learn and improve, and your graduate school experience will be the rewarding experience it’s designed to be.
Guest Author Bio
Jeffrey Ross is frequent blogger on academic issues. He is also a graduate student who spent several years in the workforce before going back to school.