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Work experience before master's studies

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Joanna Hughes :
Many people think of internships and work experience solely as a bridge between university and a career. However, internships are also a smart way to facilitate a successful transition between bachelor's and master's degrees while optimizing your future job prospects. Here's a closer look at the many things you stand to gain from doing an internship before pursuing a master's degree.
 A new perspective
University environments have been described as everything from a "bubble" to an "ivory tower."  Unfortunately, moving straight from your bachelor's degree to a master's degree can result in a narrow perspective of today's complex professional landscape. Conversely, doing an internship or completing work experience can broaden your viewpoint-not only of your area of study, but also of how it fits into the world in a practical context. In short, an internship can also help shape and refine your career goals.
As ex-Google Engineering Director Theo Vassilakis wrote for Business Insider of working before getting an advanced degree, "Work experience will help you to develop an independent perspective - in your field of study, in industrial applications of research, and in life in general….Work experience would have taught me better accountability, time management, and other lessons that come from the responsibility of having a job."
The same underlying principles apply-whether you're studying math, engineering, business or another field. And gaining hands-on experience doesn't have to delay your studies.  There are plenty of programs and opportunities that let students gain work experience while studying.
Says FindLaw of the upsides of interning before doing a master's degree, "Not having additional work experience will limit what you'll gain from an [business school] experience. Many group projects are involved that incorporate real world experience. You'll be at a disadvantage both in that you'll have less to contribute to others (which itself is not a good feeling) and less to gain for yourself (unable to apply, in great depth, what's being discussed). With so much time and money needing to be invested you'll want to think twice about entering [a Master of Business Administration] program so early (in fact, many schools require more work experience prior to acceptance)."
 The new mandate
At one time, it was relatively unheard of for newly minted college grads to leap right into internships, or to enter into employment as a means of continuing their education in the short term. However, when it comes to getting into a master's degree program, work experience and internships are no longer just perks. Says Science, "Many graduate schools and employers have come to expect it."
Explains MyGraduateSchool.com, "From the perspective of an admissions committee or individual faculty member, the applicants with relevant experience have a lower risk of failure than the inexperienced applicants. It is reasonable to assume that an applicant with the right type of experience may be more dedicated to a career path than one without such experience, and therefore, the former student is less likely to drop out before finishing graduate school. Moreover, because they have already shown they can do things that are essential for success in graduate school (e.g., writing, public speaking, creative expression, critical analysis, etc), there is a relatively high probability that they will finish their program in the normal time period, without causing any grief for the faculty members who supervise them."
Of course, it's not just about how schools bolster the success of their programs by prioritizing master's candidates with internship experience. Participants also come out ahead. It's no surprise that professionals who hold master's degrees (especially in STEM fields) can expect higher earning potential, but a master's degree comes at a cost.  Doing a paid internship or work experience prior to your graduate studies not only gives you a chance to develop your skills in a real-world environment, it can give you the resources to fund your master's degree.
But aspiring leaders can also use internships to enhance their own understanding of their job prospects. Advises US News & World Report, "Use the experience to try out an industry or company and see if you love it and want to return the following summer, or move on to a new and different industry instead."
Hands-on experience means you'll be sure of your passion for the field or industry you plan to study during your master's degree.
Two more tangible benefits? The role internships can play in helping prospective graduate students get letters of recommendation-another important factor in graduate school admissions-as well as the fact that real-world experience can help ensure that your resume makes it to the top of the pile. And, if you're not sure if you want to work or keep studying after your Bachelor's, maybe this quiz can help.

(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).

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