How to Prepare For Grad School After Working in Industry

Many graduates enter the workforce aiming to return to school for a master’s or professional degree. However, when it’s time to consider graduate programs, some worry that their time away from the classroom has hindered their ability to go back to school.

Every year, tens of thousands of professionals like you successfully return to school to earn their graduate degrees. And, in many cases, time spent working in industry was actually an asset to them, making it easier to complete their degree.

How Real-World Experience Makes an Impact in the Classroom

Your professional experience can significantly enhance the value of your graduate education, both for you and the broader academic community. By bringing years of work experience to your graduate studies, you can bridge the gap between theory and practice, providing practical examples that enrich your educational outcomes.

For example, going back to grad school after working can directly impact the quality of classroom discussions. When discussing theories on strategic management, you can share how these theories are applied or challenged in real business scenarios that you’ve experienced. Adding these testimonies can make abstract concepts more accessible and relatable to both you and your peers.

Additional benefits include:

  • Improved academic performance: With your professional background, you’re more likely to achieve better time management, which can translate into more effective study habits and improved academic performance.
  • Stronger job market competitiveness: With both an advanced degree and professional experience, you’ll be more competitive in the job market post graduation. Employers value a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills, which leads to better job prospects and higher salaries.
  • Advanced research opportunities: With your work experience, you may already have access to unique research opportunities—especially if you have established industry connections. You can leverage these connections to facilitate data collection, collaboration, and even funding your research.
  • Leadership and teamwork skills: Your professional experience has likely developed key soft skills such as leadership, communication, and teamwork. These skills are highly beneficial in group projects and collaborative research, as well as in leadership roles post graduation.
  • Application strength: Your real-world experience can significantly strengthen your graduate school application since admissions committees often look for candidates who can bring professional insights into their programs.

In addition to these benefits, industry experience can also provide additional value to graduate school.

When you transfer skills—like communication and leadership—from your work to academic projects, you can significantly enhance your abilities in graduate programs. For example, if you have project management experience, you can lead group assignments more effectively by applying your skills in scheduling and resource allocation to ensure projects are completed on time.

Now that you know that your work experience can be an asset instead of a hindrance to your future graduate studies, it’s time to review our detailed guide on the application process and the essential tips to transition smoothly from industry to graduate school.

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Applying to Graduate School After Working

Returning to academic life after working doesn’t have to be intimidating. As an undergrad, you weren’t required to have extensive knowledge and training at the start of your education. In grad school, however, admissions counselors want proof that you have a sense of purpose, clearly defined career goals, and proficiency in your field.

While every school has its own standards for applicants, here are some common requirements in the application process.

  • A completed application form
  • Undergraduate or graduate transcripts from schools you’ve attended
  • Test scores for graduate-level exams, such as GRE, GMAT, or LSAT
  • A professional resumé or CV
  • A personal essay or statement of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation
  • An application fee

Your career experience not only distinguishes you as a standout candidate but also enriches your recommendation letters with real-world relevance. Working in a real-world environment exposes you to a wide range of skilled workers across multiple departments. Not only are you able to learn from fellow professionals, but you’re also in a position to observe how different roles serve an organization. By including recommendations from co-workers in diverse roles, you can demonstrate strong networking skills and your ability to perform well in demanding environments.

Your grad school resumé and statement of purpose are your chance to establish credibility in your own words, and both should be tailored to each program application. The professional experience you gained from an industry job provided the opportunity to explore your strengths and discover work that you find both challenging and satisfying. Use your resumé to show career progression by listing relevant skills, on-the-job achievements, and professional certifications you obtained.

Think of your personal statement as a compelling narrative that charts your professional journey and academic aspirations. Admissions counselors want to feel your passion and get a sense of what motivates your career decisions. Drawing on your educational background, work history, and life experiences, your essay should tell a cohesive story of how your career has evolved and what you hope to accomplish in grad school.

Tips to Prepare for Grad School

Start preparing yourself to ease back into an academic mindset as soon as you make the decision to go to grad school. If you’re like most students, the application process will end up consuming more time and focus than you realize. Before you know it, major deadlines will be looming ahead, and you’ll have a harder time managing all the elements you need for a successful application. Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed, follow these tips to ensure you’re ready for enrollment.

1. Practice time management.

Good time management will aid you before and during your studies. Whether you’re raising a family or you plan to keep working through school, it’s essential to find a balance that allows you to finish important tasks on time. Create a to-do list for each degree program you’re applying to in order to track key deadlines. An application timeline is crucial for tasks with built-in delays, such as requesting transcripts and recommendations. You want to make sure your contacts have adequate time to return materials to you, so you aren’t left scrambling at the last minute.

2. Focus on your professional network.

Networking is one of your most advantageous resources in the application process and afterward. Friends, co-workers, or mentors who have already been through the process often have valuable tips on how to get into grad school after working.

As you compare schools, it’s also beneficial to speak with enrollment counselors who can answer your questions about the degree programs and even connect you with faculty or past students. Many institutions host events for prospective students throughout the year, which provides opportunities to meet people who may end up being your classmates.

Once you get into grad school, building relationships with peers and professors will play a key role in completing class assignments and growing as a professional. Networking helps you to tap into skill sets and perspectives that are different from your own, and you can continue to leverage these relationships throughout your career. The sooner you start building a professional network, the easier it will be to make the transition into grad school.

3. Explore financial options for graduate school.

Research payment options for grad school that can ease your financial burden. Many colleges require you to fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid, which helps to identify federal grants and loans that are a good fit for your situation.

If you’re currently working or plan to get a job during enrollment, find out whether your employer offers tuition reimbursement. By taking advantage of employer-based tuition assistance, you can receive full or partial compensation for courses that are relevant to your job. Eligibility requirements vary by employer, but it’s a common condition that you must stay at your job for a specific period of time to qualify.

Another way to avoid debt is to apply for fellowships or assistantships at your institution. Fellowships are academic merit awards that are designed to fund a specific element of your studies, such as a semester of tuition or a graduate research project. Assistantships are work-study opportunities that involve working for a faculty member on campus. Both programs support activities that are beneficial to your career and education, making fellowships and assistantships attractive options.

Talk to a financial aid counselor at your prospective college to learn more about paying for grad school. Professional counselors can help you find grants and scholarships that match your student profile, so you can subsidize the cost of going back to school.

4. Choose the right graduate program.

Doing more prep work upfront will help you choose a graduate degree program that’s compatible with your personal and professional goals. Consider whether you prefer to enroll in a traditional, hybrid, or fully online degree program. Most colleges have several degree options for each field of study, and while the curricula may overlap, the individual programs have their own specialized focus.

The incorporation of professional experience into advanced education is a valuable aspect of Northeastern, with several graduate programs designed to leverage your real-world knowledge and skills such as our Master of Science in Project Management, Masters in Information Systems, Masters in Analytics and more.

To understand the distinctions between each program and how the curriculum relates to your skills and interests, consult an admissions counselor early on in your research.

Ask questions about the pacing of the courses, the grading structure, and the frequency of required activities. By setting up realistic expectations in advance, you will get better at managing your time and creating a balanced schedule for work, school, and personal obligations.

The Next Step In Your Career

Although work experience isn’t mandatory for many graduate degree programs, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning in a professional setting. An industry job gives you a practical, firsthand look at the challenges and benefits of working in a specific field, so you can decide if it’s right for you. If your exam scores or undergraduate GPA aren’t as high as you would like, a robust work history can significantly strengthen your graduate school application as well, making it more likely that you will be accepted.

As you begin preparing for graduate school, it’s important to note that many of the same things that served you well in your professional career—especially time management and relationship building—will prove essential to your academic success. Your background not only sets you apart as an exceptional candidate but will enrich your academic pursuits.

With these strategies, you’re well-equipped to pursue and achieve your goal of going back to school. So don’t wait any longer to leverage your professional experience and apply to begin your graduate studies at Northeastern.