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Is work experience important for an MS Engineering degree?

Katie Schenk - October 20, 2016

Engineer portrait

Some students just can’t get enough education. After graduating from high school, they enroll immediately for an undergraduate degree, spending three years soaking up as much information as they can. From there, it’s straight on to a Master’s degree. There are plenty of ways to extend this into a lifetime of academia. Work experience is something that happens along the way.

For others, postgraduate education is the means to a specific end. These students want to change fields, progress into management, or better equip themselves in the modern workspace.

These students face a choice between work experience and continued education after completing their undergraduate degree.

Of course, some disciplines require work experience before applying for entrance to a Master’s programme. MBA hopefuls, for example, should have between three and five years of work under their belt before applying to schools.

Most MS Engineering programmes aren’t as explicit regarding work experience in their application directions.

Minimum work experience requirements for MS Engineering applications

Very few MS Engineering programmes specify minimum work experience before application. You may find a few that suggest it. However, it’s not the norm in the United States for MS Engineering. (Engineers wanting to pursue MBA degrees to progress in their field, however, will need to demonstrate work experience.)

But, that doesn’t mean these programmes don’t value candidates with work experience. Depending on the particular field of engineering, a move away from academia can prove useful before returning to the classroom. But, it’s usually a case of personal motivation and career goals.

For acceptance into top American engineering schools, more attention is paid to GRE scores, personal statements, and reference letters than work experience. You may, however, be able to balance a lower GRE score with reliable references – and this is where work experience could be beneficial.

As many American engineering schools have professors reviewing applications (rather than general admissions committees), work experience that leans towards research goals demonstrates a strong commitment to your field. However, the same group might lean towards candidates that will benefit their research community in the future rather than worrying about what’s brought to classroom discussions.

Deciding between work experience or jumping into an MS Engineering degree

Whether you choose to get a job or head straight to grad school for MS Engineering is largely a personal decision. And, there are pros and cons to both paths.

Work experience may not be required, but there aren’t many drawbacks to gaining it before heading back to school. The income (especially in the field of engineering) will assist financially when you’re sitting back in class and may even be useful for obtaining on-campus research work during that time. Typically, professional work allows you to understand the real-world challenges beyond the theoretical. And, it’s (perhaps) the best way to determine the path you want to pursue in and after your Master’s.

On the other hand, work experience isn’t a requirement for most MS Engineering programmes. You may not want to get out of the study groove (which might be helpful for higher GRE scores). And, if you want to contribute meaningfully towards a specific body of research, it’s sometimes easier when you dive in immediately.

Some undergrads don’t have a choice. They may have borrowed heavily to fund their Bachelor’s degree and are unable to pay those loans without working. Others may experience difficulties finding a job that matches their interests and doesn’t require an MS Engineering degree.

If you have a choice, your best bet is to reach out to alumni or professors from the programmes you would pursue. You could also consider chatting to professionals in the field who have a Master’s degree. The advice from either will be invaluable.

And, no matter when you plan to pursue your MS Engineering degree, it’s never too early to begin studying for the GRE.

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