Do You Need Professional Experience to Start Business School?
Deciding to go to business school is a big, often life-changing, decision – one that probably involves a myriad of factors. Perhaps one of the biggest questions is whether or not you should have professional experience before starting your studies. Although not a prerequisite for enrolment at Solvay Brussels School, there are advantages to both.
“Having four years of professional experience definitely helped me connect the dots between the topics discussed in class and my job,” says Marine Hotchamps, an Advanced Master in Financial Markets student. “Having prior experience allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the core concepts and how they can be applied in a real-world environment."
Louise Schelstraete agrees.
“Although I had no difficulties with the theoretical part of the programme, I quickly saw a difference between those with and without professional experience during group assignments,” she says.
Unlike Marine, Louise decided to begin her Advanced Master in Innovation and Strategic Management immediately after completing a master’s in business engineering.
“The biggest challenge was feeling confident enough to communicate and share my ideas with those whose opinions were based on real-world experience,” she adds.
Another advantage of having prior work experience is maturity.
“During group work, those with experience tended to excel in terms of efficiency, the ability to quickly understand tasks, and time management,” adds Naomi Vereecke, who began an Advanced Master in Financial Markets without prior work experience.
That being said, there is at least one disadvantage to having prior work experience: transitioning back into ‘student mode’.
“The benefit of going straight into business school is that you’re still in the pattern of studying – even on weekends,” says Nel Thieren, who started her Advanced Master in Financial Markets programme immediately after completing her masters. “I can’t imagine it being easy to get used to the school pattern again, so I have a lot of respect for my peers with prior professional experience!”
No Professional Experience? No Problem!
Those who began their studies without working first are quick to point out that their lack of experience also brings numerous advantages. For example, Louise felt that even with a master’s degree, she still lacked the ability to apply her academic knowledge to real-world needs. She decided to pursue an Advanced Masters as a means of bridging this gap.
“The advantage of going to business school without experience is that I was able to use the programme as a transition between the academic and career phases of my life,” notes Louise. “I was able to learn new ideas and acquire new skills while also building a professional network and leveraging the career advice of my professors.”
Naomi had similar reasons for pursuing an Advanced Masters.
“I decided to go right into the programme because I didn’t have the confidence to jump into a career in law or finance – I wanted to strengthen my skills and build my background first,” she explains.
The Solvay Brussels School programme was an opportunity for Naomi to not only build her confidence, but also to bolster her CV and open the door to new opportunities.
“The advantage of not having prior work experience is that I was able to go through the programme with a completely open mind,” says Naomi. “The programme really opened my eyes to what I wanted to do with my career and gave me the chance to apply for jobs I didn’t even know about – or wouldn’t have dared to apply for – without the Advanced Masters.”
A Deeply Personal Decision
At the end of the day, the decision to attend business school with or without prior professional experience is a deeply personal one. That’s because everybody’s journey is different and deciding whether or not to do your Advanced Masters with or without work experience really depends on your unique needs and goals.
“It is important to know upfront what your goals are and what you hope to achieve from your Advanced Masters,” says Marine.
“If you’re not sure where to start your professional career, I would definitely recommend attending business school,” adds Louise. “Not having professional experience may make the learning curve a little steeper, but the people you meet, connections you make, and knowledge you gain make it well-worth the extra effort.”
“There are advantages and disadvantages to both avenues, but regardless of your background, my recommendation is to just go for it,” concludes Naomi.