Do you need work experience for a master’s program?

Matt Clemons, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and Rebecca Pignot, Head of Admissions at EU Business School, speak about the pros and cons of having work experience before applying for a master’s program.

In short

Big decisions

Making decisions about your career is never easy. Often, fresh graduates have doubts about whether to continue studying right after their bachelor’s or to start working and do a master’s later. There can be several reasons why you should do a master’s instead of working: you have more energy and you’re younger, you’re more resolute when it comes to decision-making… 

But one question remains: Is industry experience a prerequisite for doing a master’s program? This question becomes more relevant when you consider a business school. Whether you want to develop your business acumen with a master’s program or do a specialized master’s, you’ll need to consider your work experience. Let’s find out! 

To work or not to work?

It’s important to note there are quite a few schools that require little or no work experience for a master’s degree – such as Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. As their Assistant Dean of Admissions, Matt Clemons says, “We have two one-year specialized master’s programs. They are both described as pre-professional programs, meaning that you do not have to have previous experience to enroll.” (01:36) 

Rebecca Pignot, Head of Admissions at EU Business School, adds, “For the master’s program, we are actually eager to welcome students who don’t have work experience. This is because we really welcome what our students can bring to the table for the master’s program.” (08:09)

Master’s programs can provide you with the right foundation for working in any industry. Rebecca is enthusiastic when she talks about the advantages of not having any work experience before joining a master’s. She says, “I think one benefit is that you approach the subject maybe with a bit of an open mind. One thing that’s great about it is that they are fresh [and] they come to the table with no preconceived ideas about what a job might be, and that’s amazing for us because we are really looking to adapt with the times.” (08:53)

The value of non-business work experience

When you complete your bachelor’s, you already have gained specialized knowledge. With a master’s program, you carry these learnings into the business world. Master’s programs at Fuqua School of Business are designed to develop self-awareness and self-confidence in young professionals. Therefore, it doesn’t matter which background you come from, or if you have non-business work experience. 

Matt explains, “We have no issues with people who either don’t have an undergraduate background in business or economics or finance. If you have a business background, that’s great – your learning curve is going to be a little less steep but part of the magic of some of those programs as well is bringing together people with different backgrounds and putting them into groups because we run a team-oriented program.” (09:54)  

Master programs at both these schools are designed to be hands-on, giving an experiential learning experience where students do not necessarily have to draw from the context of any past professional experience in order to enrich their learning process. Thus, students coming from different backgrounds are encouraged to apply to these schools. “We are really eager to welcome students with diverse backgrounds because we at EU Business School feel that business overlaps with everything, with every subject,” Rebecca elaborates. “It’s really more for their own comfort and the academic level of the program to make sure that they have the experience that helps them succeed.” (15:50)

Defining success

The key to success is to become proactive in every field of study. Ultimately, you should take responsibility for your own grad school experience. Of course, being aware of the program requirements and adhering to timelines is important, but the most crucial thing in order to attain success is to focus on what you want to achieve. It is about having the right skill set as well as the right mindset. 

The Career Management Center at Fuqua School of Business helps students think strategically about their future. As Matt Clemons points out, “We at the Career Management Center do not place candidates for jobs. We help manage your career journey. Over 90% of our graduates within six months are employed.” (19:54) 

Applying & beyond: Final words

If you are considering postgraduate studies, you’ll first need to craft a successful master’s application. Though it takes time and effort, this application process is part of your lifelong learning. Stressing the importance of the application process, Matt says, “My advice is: just apply! The worst that can happen is that you are not admitted to the program. You can always go find a job and then re-apply. We do not have any negative opinion about the people who are not admitted.” (23:02)

With a master’s degree from schools like Fuqua School of Business, you also have the opportunity to build great networks. Needless to say, networking is one of the most valuable tools to boost your future. “You are here to get an education and we want you to do well but at the same time, we want you to develop relationships and network because that’s going to be really enduring over time for sure,” Matt confirms. (27:32) 

As we’ve seen, work experience isn’t completely necessary for a master’s program. However, it is always helpful to have it. It can help you stand out from the crowd, your application will have more context, and if you don’t have full-time work experience then an internship can be handy, too! Overall, this shows to the admissions committee – even when it’s not a prerequisite – that you have been proactive and you are battle-tested. In this world of uncertainties, remember: nothing goes to waste! 

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