April 17, 2017

How to Use Your Professional Experience to Earn an Advanced Degree


Once you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you may find yourself staring at a glass ceiling. Perhaps that job you’ve been eyeing just went to a “more qualified” outside hire, or maybe recruiters are saying you’re not competitive enough for your dream job because you don’t have the right piece of paper.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could further your education while keeping your hand in the game?

Well, if you’ve been working professionally for a few years, you may be able to apply some of that real-world work experience to your education – and save time and money while you’re at it.

You’ll want to watch out for programs that seem too good to be true. The internet is rife with websites promising to give you academic credit for work experience.

“Many of these websites are indeed scams, and the diplomas they promise are, in fact, fake,” writes consumer advocate Vicky Phillips.

However, MBA GMAT waivers are real, and professional school applicants with business experience may qualify for them. A GMAT waiver lets you skip the entrance exam for business school. That saves you money, plus the time you’d spend studying for the GMAT, taking it, waiting for the results, and waiting to apply to business school. Instead, you can spend all that time working and earning money to pay for tuition.

Wherever you are in the world or wherever you’d like to study, you can use tools like MastersPortal to compare programs and find the right fit for you.

When you do apply to professional school, your work experience will give you an advantage over applicants coming straight from undergrad. Admissions officers love applicants with practical know-how. They’re better students and are more likely to land jobs after graduation – things that make the professional school look good.

Jessica L. Soban, a former chief admissions officer at Harvard Law School, told The Harvard Crimson that work experience “is something we actively preference and look for in the application process.” (To underline that point, Harvard Law School launched the Junior Deferral Program three years ago. It offers early acceptance to Harvard undergrad juniors, provided they’re willing to work for two years between graduation and law school.)

So, how many years of work experience are enough to give you an edge?

“The average amount of experience among students entering top-tier business schools is typically 3-5 years,” Graham Richmond, former admissions official at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told U.S. News & World Report.

When analyzing whether you have enough experience to make the jump to professional school, Richmond recommends asking yourself, “Have I made a significant impact on my company, clients, or coworkers? Have I been recognized in some way for my efforts on the job? Have I learned all that I can in my current role?”

If you answer “yes” to these question, you may be ready to seek that degree.

Article by Joshua O’Connor. Joshua has worked as a business journalist for 20 years at companies including CNN, Bloomberg, and the South China Morning Post.

Read more in Work Experience

Alison Napolitano is a Senior Marketing Manager at 2U where she supports all community outreach for 2U's programs. Alison has a background in digital marketing and a passion for helping great brands succeed online.