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Is work experience important for an MS Engineering degree?

Katie Schenk - February 12, 2020

Prodigy Finance looks at MS engineering work experience

Some disciplines require work experience before applying for entrance to a masters programme. MBA hopefuls, for example, should have between 3 and 5 years of work under their belt before applying to schools.

And this is really important to note if you're thinking about moving up the management ranks - even in the engineering field. If you're interested in pursuing this option, you may want to hit the job market rather than jumping back into academia, even if most MS programmes aren’t as explicit regarding engineering work experience in their application directions.

Some students just can’t get enough education. 

After graduating from high school, they enroll immediately for an undergraduate degree, spending 3 or 4years soaking up as much information as they can. 

From there, it’s straight on to a masters degree

There are plenty of ways to extend this into a lifetime of academia with engineering work experience becoming something that happens along the way.

For others, postgraduate education is the means to a specific end. 

They may want to:

  • change fields,
  • progress into management, or 
  • better equip themselves in the modern work space.

These students face a choice between work experience and continued education.

Minimum work experience requirements for MS Engineering applications

Very few MS Engineering programmes specify a minimum of engineering work experience before application. You may find a few that suggest it, and only for specific degrees, but, it’s not the norm in the United States for MS Engineering. 

Indeed, the latest GRE Test Taker Report (2018) shows that 34% of those sitting for the exam have less than 1 year of work experience. This is more than double the next highest grouping: those with 1 to 2 years of experience. 

But, that doesn’t mean these MS engineering 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.

Applying to top American engineering schools

More attention is paid to GRE scores, Statement of Purpose essays, and reference letters than work experience. 

You may, however, be able to balance a lower GRE score with reliable references from the field – 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.

Typically, it boils down to the philosophies and aims of these specific universities.

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 masters.

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.

There are some without a choice. They may have borrowed heavily to fund their bachelors 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.

What if you want an MBA after an engineering undergraduate degree?

For some recent engineering grads, the field isn't everything they expected it to be. Or, as is often the case, they're hoping to move up through the ranks within a highly technical company. If you fall into either category, an MBA degree might be a more attractive prospect than an MS engineering degree. 

And then you'll need to take work experience seriously - especially if an international degree appeals to you. Although you could always do an MS engineering degree and then find a job, you're keeping your prospects open by securing employment first. You might find that it's easier to decide when you've really tasted the work at hand. 

If you have options, 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 masters 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.

Ready for your dream MS or MEng degree?

If you've already applied to your dream MS Engineering programme (with or without work experience), why not see if the school accepts Prodigy Finance loans from qualified international students?

Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. 

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on February 12, 2019. Originally published on December 9, 2016.


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