Pre-professional experience is often listed on a program’s website as a prerequisite.
This can include a simple task, such as a teacher credential program requiring that an applicant have 30 hours of classroom observation or a more a complex requirement such as an MSW program that asks applicants to have 2 years of work in the social services in either a volunteer or paid position. For other degrees and programs, there is often an ‘informal’ or implicit requirement that goes unstated. Certainly if you are applying to a PhD program there is the expectation that you have either worked on a research project or perhaps even multiple, or you have completed a project of your own. The informal requirements will, of course, depend on the discipline and program to which you are applying, but having some pre-professional experience in the field in which you hope to work after graduate school is a good way to demonstrate your commitment to the field and also make sure for yourself that this is a good professional direction.
Hopefully you’ve discovered by now that your time as an undergraduate is not just about going to classes and you have already started to build a portfolio of either paid or non paid positions that indicate your growing skill set and area of expertise. There are an enormous amount of informal learning opportunities on campus that may count as pre-professional experience. Research opportunities with professors and graduate students, jobs, internships, summer programs, programs abroad and in other parts of the country may all be considered pre-professional experience.
How do you find out if a program has an implicit pre-professional experience requirement for applicants? Attending an information session might provide you some insight into what any given program considers desirable. You can also ask program coordinators, graduate students and/or professors with whom you are in contact if programs prefer applicants who have some work experience or if classroom-based knowledge is sufficient.