I'm interested in going to grad-school but I have been working at a "real job" as a software engineer for the past few years (since I graduated with a BS in Math in 2010). What are the best ways to to break back into the academic world? How can I spin my work experience in a positive way to departments?

Ideally I would be getting a phd to study Mathy CS, or CSy Math.

  • You may need to specify location.
    – Nobody
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 5:31
  • America would be best, but there are interesting looking programs in Europe as well.
    – user833970
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 5:35
  • 3
    For math, at least: the Graduate Record Exam is essential. It will show (for example) that you do not need lots of remediation for what you have forgotten.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 18:57

2 Answers 2


We see a number of students who apply to graduate school after an undergraduate degree in math/cs followed by some years spent working at a not-any-realler-than-faculty job. In short, what admissions committees would like to know is:

  • what have you been doing since then, and in what way does it influence your current interests and desire for grad school
  • have you continued working on projects on the side ? (not a problem if not, but good if yes)

In other words, I don't view work experience as a negative in CS. In fact it's a bit of a positive because the student then usually knows what they want to do and is a lot more focused about it. There's a lot more maturity as well.


I have seen people coming from top companies like Google into PhD and still they struggle a lot during their PhD. So, when it comes to research, the work experience is not everything. You can see it from a couple of different perspective.

  1. Given that your "real job" is relevant to your future program, a good practitioner style CV would be beneficial.
  2. Also, if your "real job" is truly cutting edge AND you maintain good relationship with your past organizations AND you can demonstrate that you can use your industry experience to involve organizations in a way that it will add empirical component to your research, THEN it is quite an attractive offer for universities. Too good to refuse.
  3. However, if your "real job" is yet-another software engineering job and distant to your future program, then your industry experience is somewhat irrelevant.

On top of it all, for US universities a low academic scores such as GRE could be deal breaker with or without experience.

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