The Importance of Relevant Experience in Grad School Application


“Most students recognize the importance of getting relevant experience in research or fieldwork prior to applying to graduate school.  Indeed, relevant experience is one of the most important of the nonobjective criteria that admissions committees and prospective supervisors assess in graduate school applicant.  For some programs it is virtually a requirement.” 

Mumby recognizes that experienced applicants have a lower risk of failure because they have demonstrated an ability to do the kinds of work that will be required of them in graduate school.

“There are many benefits to the student who obtains as much relevant experience as possible prior to applying to graduate school.  First, such experience often gives students an opportunity to find out in advance what a career in their field of interest might be like.  If the experience is not enjoyable, students can save themselves from years of training for a career they would ultimately dislike.  If the experience is enjoyable, a student might become even more focused and determined to pursue a career in that field.

“Getting relevant experience is also essential to lining up the best letters of recommendation and for writing an effective personal statement for graduate school application.”

The author recognizes that there are some areas of graduate study and research for which there are no obvious ways for an undergraduate students to get preparatory experience outside of a classroom, but argues that the real problem is that students often fail to realize the number of ways there are to get the experience they need for graduate school.

Mumby goes on to mention research assistantships paid for through research grants, and college work-study as being two sources ideally suited for gaining relevant experience. 

Mumby also encourages students to seek other kinds of experience related to their field of study, such as attending events hosted by their academic department.  Not only can students use these opportunities to learn something interesting, but they can gain insight into some of the things that specialists in their field do, and the kinds of careers or research that they might wish to pursue someday.  Additionally, faculty will get used to seeing certain students at these types of events, and will consequently view them as especially committed and dedicated. 

Mumby encourages multiple experiences, if possible, under the supervision of more than one potential future referee for letters of recommendation.

Source:  “Graduate Schools:  Winning Strategies for Getting In With or Without Excellent Grades,” Dave G. Mumby, Ph.D.