Importance of Work Experience for MS applications
[About the author: Sanket Gupte is currently doing his PhD in Stanford University. He did his undergrad in BITS Goa and currently writes on LinkedIn helping aspiring graduate students and computer scientists.]
"How important is work experience for MS applications?" Let's discuss how it's beneficial for the admission process, for your coursework and funding, and for internships and job placements.
For applications - Work exp has two major advantages. Firstly, it helps to demonstrate your skill set and preparedness to handle advanced study. Using work exp to build up your profile is a great way to mitigate several factors such as a low GPA, lack of undergraduate projects, and field transitions (such as B.Tech Civil to MS CS). Secondly, you can leverage work exp to craft a compelling Statement of Purpose which outlines your motivation to pursue an MS. For instance, an SDE at Amazon working with distributed systems can use their experience to apply for a systems focused MS CS program.
During your course - If you're applying for TA / RA positions related to your previous work, you'd definitely be at an advantage. For instance, if you've worked on designing 5G chips at Qualcomm, you may find it easier to get a TA position for intro level EE courses. If there are open RA slots for related research, your experience would again put you at an advantage. As discussed previously (link in comments), TA / RA positions are a great way of subsidizing the cost of an MS degree due to the included tuition waiver.
Internships and Jobs - Bagging an awesome summer internship is easier with work exp. If you have a demonstrable track record of doing impactful work at your previous job, you are more likely to have recruiters reach out to you and schedule interviews, instead of being ghosted or not hearing back. Whether you convert your summer intern to a full time position or apply to other companies for full time jobs, your previous work exp would again help you stand out, and depending on your level of experience, you would be eligible for more senior roles than a student who has directly done an MS after a Bachelor's degree.
Finally - There is no need to rush into an MS program. Take some time to work and figure out what you like and what you don't like, and use that experience to target the right MS program for you. If you have questions about how many years of exp you need before you apply, or if you can get an admit without work exp, or if there are any drawbacks to having work exp, I'd be happy to continue this discussion in the comments.