Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
More and more graduate schools are encouraging students to obtain some work experience in their field of study before attending graduate school. And more and more students are realizing that, if they have had experience outside of school, they need to bring their real world into the classroom.
If you plan to be a doctor, lawyer or educator, it's highly likely that you’ll be required to have some work experience before graduate school. And conversely, it may be mandatory to receive schooling while working. But those fields aren’t the only ones in which real world experience can be helpful. In fact, almost any grad degree can be enhanced by bringing a dose of the real world into the classroom with you.
Any experience is good experience
You may move on to graduate school immediately after receiving your undergrad degree. This is a perfectly good move for your career, but don't become too focused on being an academic. Remember experiences you've had outside of the "ivory tower." Think back to internships, volunteer work or even side jobs you may have had. Many of the experiences you had then can be brought into the classroom with you. Needing to make sure your register is fully accounted for at the Gap can directly impact your work on a case study regarding corporate accountability. Volunteering to dress up as a mascot for a fundraiser can prepare you for lessons on communication theory. You'd be surprised at how much you've done to prepare yourself for grad school. Don't let all those helpful little moments go to waste.
It never hurts to gain more experience
Working or interning before graduate school allows you to assess your career goals and could also help you further establish them. You will have the opportunity to define your career path and perhaps find your true calling within your field. It also affords you the chance to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Giving the work world a try before graduate school - whether during your undergrad classes, through a summer internship or even for a while between your undergrad and graduate work - will help you before attending the program, as well as when it comes time to begin your career after you earn your graduate degree. Working after you finish your undergraduate coursework, for instance, can get you recharged to study and perform research again. Working outside of school in general allows you to maintain your competitive edge and to develop a network of future employers and colleagues. Think about how much clearer class will be when you can take moments from your own life to use as case studies, instead of relying on tales from a textbook.
Many students opt to work before graduate school in order to save some money to pay for the program they wish to join. You can work full-time before continuing your education or decide to go to school and work part-time. For some students, becoming a research assistant is a prime option. It may not pay well in dollars, but what students gain in experience, working with a professor one-on-one, is, as MasterCard puts it: priceless.
Work experience related to your field of study can, in addition to better preparing you for classes, actually enhance your chances of gaining admission to the graduate program of your choice. Your work experience before graduate school can be in the form of an internship, volunteer work, traineeship, apprenticeship or full-time employment. Entering graduate school with work experience can enhance the confidence you have in your abilities, as well as the confidence that graduate admissions officers have in you. Think about it: you've been there, you've witnessed the real world, so how hard can this class be?
Make yourself stand out from other applicants and students
Just about all students who apply to graduate school have high test scores and impressive GPAs. Having work experience before applying to graduate school can make the difference between admission and rejection. In addition, if your grades or test scores were not what you'd have liked them to be, your work experience in your field of study could be what pushes you over the edge and helps you get admitted.
Graduate programs appreciate the fact that working before graduate school gives students the ability to bring up-to-date ideas and knowledge to their academic department. Working in the field equips you with hands-on experience, professionalism and knowledge of new technologies. Students who have this experience can share it with their classmates, as well as with professors who have been in academia for some time. Again, this makes the entire graduate school process that much easier on you, because you are bringing knowledge with you to help you acquire new knowledge.
Working before graduate school can also help you determine just what you need to learn when you enter a program. During your spare time away from work, you can engage in some research in your field. Once you begin graduate school, you can seek to answer the questions you have formed while working in the field. This can be of great help in identifying routes for your research and dissertation. Some employers who make investments in their employees will even provide you with financial support to help pay for your graduate program.
But no matter how you go about it - and no matter what your work experience involves - having dealt with issues in the workplace will help you deal with issues in the classroom. By bringing the real world into the academic one, you will be better prepared to succeed in your graduate work.
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