What makes a college application look good? What are colleges and universities looking for in student applications? Is a college application a resume of work experience and educational qualifications?  Do universities value skills over experience? What does an ideal university application consist of?

These are some of the questions that all students have faced while applying for a college education in India. And, the answer is that a university application is all of those things.

While all colleges are different, of course, with some valuing certain qualities or skills more or less than other schools, all colleges generally look for smart, studious, ambitious, and passionate students.

Your university application should list out your best and most relevant education and job skills, job experience (if any), and any other relevant skills that will make your application stand out. A good college application will also provide an account of why you are interested in applying to that university.

Find out if you have the necessary extracurricular activities to show in your application.

university graduates
University education is considered the pinnacle of academic learning. | Source: Baim Hanif on Unsplash.

A little bit of research on the Internet of sample resumes and examples of university applications will reveal that including work experience is not mandatory. However, it can definitely enhance your chances. Work experience is an added (desirable) qualification that can appeal to professors reviewing your application, just like your CGPA and application documents.

What is Work Experience?

Your university admissions, though not dictated by your professional work experience, can be augmented by it. But, what constitutes work experience? Does it have to be a career in a job related to your graduation subject? The answer is: NO.

Any job after your Bachelor’s degree, ideally a full-time job, is counted as work experience, regardless of the field or position. 

However, examples of work experience, such as college internships, a job during your undergraduate studies, do not count as work experience during university admissions. Additional examples of such jobs that are not included as job experience are volunteer work, training, and internships, and other related activities.

If you so wish, you can include gaps in your experience. However, be sure to provide valid explanations in this section of the resume. Examples of such reasons include maternity leave, life events such as marriage, moving to another city, and other activities resulting in major changes in your life.

You can also include (ideally, you should) if you are currently not in a job or in between jobs. However, the template or format of the resume might be slightly different for management courses. Admissions committees in B-schools tend to consider the applicant's “current work experience” to determine admission.

Required v Recommended Work Experience

The next question that students consider when they write university applications is how much work experience is optimum? To find this, we recommend you check individual university websites for specific guidelines and criteria.

While some universities with 1-year programs strictly stress on a cut-off of work experience, there are others who may consider relevant skills in the field you are applying for or knowledge of new technologies as a determining factor.

Check and read the academic requirements carefully to figure out the probability of being accepted by the university.

For example, the IIMs in India all have required cut-offs which vary from 5 to 6 years of work experience. In the UK, on the other hand, business schools require a minimum of 3 years’ work history. In such a case, if the requirement is 60 months of employment history, and a student comes up short by even a few months, his/her application is likely to be rejected.


university application
Your application should highlight your all-round achievements. | Source: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Relevant Work Experience

A student must know what kind of work experience will add value to the resume. Research examples, look for a sample or template that is tried and tested. Determine what constitutes relevance in your field of work. Which job it is that will likely push your application to the top of the pile.

Relevant job experience is the experience accumulated in the same field in which you are applying.

For example, if you are applying for an electrical engineering course, write an application that will include your work experience in the relevant industry. Examples include jobs in the IT, manufacturing, telecommunications, and aerospace industries. Use this information to impress upon the professors your eligibility for admission.

The length of your job experience is also critical information. 1-2 years is considered optimal for your application to look impressive. If you started working in the relevant field right at the time of graduation, count the number of years/ months from then till the time of your university application.

Is Work Experience Valued in the Admission Process?

In the cover letter of your application, include your statement of purpose and explain why you chose to apply at the particular university. However, statistics for the top 3 IIMs reveals that the admission process is not at all about work experience, but about the presentation of skills, overall performance in academics, and aptitude for education.

Selection Criteria

Interviewers usually include the following parameters in their evaluation of a student at the time of admission, be it a graduate or a post-graduate with an impressive employment record:

  • Communication skills
  • Attitude
  • Professionalism
  • General approach and attitude towards life and lifestyles

A student will also benefit from his/her past academic records, including their performance in the Board exams (across education Boards), and graduation scores, CAT score, performance in GDPIs, and Essay Writing (WAT) skills.

Some universities will require a motivation letter. You will find many examples on the internet on how a motivation letter should look like.

No academic achievement is small. Include every last one of them, old and new to create high chances of selection. Make use of all your entrepreneurial skills into making your application the crown jewel of all university applications!

indian money
Higher work experience does not equal higher income in India. | Source: rupixen.com on Unsplash.

Does Work Experience Guarantee More Income?

Aspiring university students often question whether their relevant work experience guarantees more income across different courses of study. For example, does work experience help in earning as much with an MS or an MSc as it would with an MBA?

You will be surprised to learn that the answer to this question is in the affirmative, although terms and conditions apply. The most important of these conditions is that you get yourself an admission in one of the top universities in the country, in your field of study. This is one of the best tips on educational and career motivation you can give yourself.

Even if you have set a clear goal that you want to be a student at a certain university, it is always best and wise to apply to at least three universities, even if they are in different locations abroad.

No matter how many samples you peruse online, no matter how many application templates you research, all of them will reveal that the best applicants have made it through the top-ranked educational institutes in India. When you have this working in your favor, no job experience, relevant, required or recommended, or the lack of it, can stop you from reaching the heights of success, in your professional life.

Irrespective of the B school or university you apply for, student applications need to be tuned to the requirements of the institute. And, requirements and criteria vary from one university to another. Different educational professionals lay out different values and vision for the next generation of learners.

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Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.