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Applying to graduate school? Here are some tips from Rutgers students

<p>From gaining prior work experience to considering the cost of higher education, students and faculty at Rutgers University give advice on the best ways students can further their degree.</p>

From gaining prior work experience to considering the cost of higher education, students and faculty at Rutgers University give advice on the best ways students can further their degree.

Rutgers undergraduate students have many options to consider before applying to graduate programs, including simply taking a year off or gaining work experience.

Prior work experience related to your desired field is extremely valuable to anyone’s graduate program application, said Dionne Higginbotham, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. 

Graduate schools receive an abundance of applicants each year with similar qualifications, so work experience can make the difference between an acceptance and a rejection for an applicant.

“It looks better if you’ve had some work experience before going on to get your master’s degree,” she said. “If you get experience that you can connect with the field you’re going into then we get excited about it." 

Students with experience in the field they are studying have an advantage over students without the same experience, said Ralph Rodriguez, a professor in the Department of Human Resource Management. 

“They might think they understand their coursework in a graduate program, but because they don’t have any real world context, they don’t really understand it,” Rodriguez said. “They understand it as an academic exercise but they don’t really have the meaning of it.”

Learning in the classroom is also more meaningful to students if they have had real-world experience to relate the course work to, according to

Work experience also allows students the opportunity to decide if they are choosing the right career path, Higginbotham said. 

“By waiting a year you might have more clarity on what it is that you want to pursue,” she said.

Students will have the opportunity to expand their interests or work in a new field during their year off before they commit to a career they may not actually be interested in, said Layne Smith, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Students must also take into account how they will afford graduate school, Smith said. Some companies will assist in paying for the degree if it is related to the career field.

“Depending on where I work, that could possibly be an option that I’d look into pursuing,” Higginbotham said. “There are different options to find a cost-effective way to get my master’s. For example, at the Rutgers Student Affairs program, they pay for you to get a masters.”

Fifty-two percent of organizations offered graduate educational assistance and 4 percent of organizations offered student loan repayments, according to the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Employee Benefits.

A lot of students decide to take a gap year but then fail to return to school, Higginbotham said. 

“I think once you start working and the money looks really great and it’s coming in, it’s kind of hard to find the motivation to go back to school again,” Higginbotham said. “You kind of fall out of the habits of school.”

Students may become unaccustomed to the study habits and discipline they acquired in their undergraduate program, Smith said. 

Taking a year off to travel does not appear worthwhile to possible employers, Rodriguez said. 

“Taking an internship or language class would be (more) productive," he said. "They now see you as an aggressive person dedicated to learning.”

Travel that involves learning about other cultures, languages and expanding one’s awareness of the global community can be viewed highly by admissions committees, according to

Mental health is another reason some student take a gap year. 

“I feel mental health isn’t really looked at a lot and taking time off does help mental health,” Smith said. 

It can be important to take a "breather" because students have been in school for a majority of their lives, Smith said. 

“I know there’s other options and I haven’t had the opportunity to fully explore them yet, so that’s what I’m hoping to do in the next year,” Higginbotham said.

Kayon Amos is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in human resources. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

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