Choosing a university is no easy task. It's one that requires deliberate thought and planning. You want a graduate program that will help you achieve your goals—nothing less will do.
There are a variety of qualities you should consider when making your choice, including academic offerings, the program's reputation, financial aid options, and campus features. Naturally, some of these qualities may be more or less important to you, depending on what you are hoping to accomplish.
Over the summer and early fall of 2013, six graduate students at The University of Tampa (UT) conducted a research study to find what students deemed most important when searching for a graduate business program. The survey, sent to more than 4,000 applicants at various stages of the admissions process, revealed some interesting information.
According to Diane Dean, author of Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student, the primary reason today’s youth is in school is to “get training and skills that will lead to a job, and let them make money.” This is no surprise. With the most recent economic downturn, many students experienced or witnessed financial hardship. This was an impactful lesson learned that now guides priorities. That's why it makes sense that the top four reasons respondents were interested in graduate studies relate to their short- and long-term career goals.
When the UT team asked respondents what the primary motivation was in pursuing a graduate business program, the top four reasons were to:
- Advance their professional career
- Develop business skills
- Make themselves more marketable
- Expand their professional network
This theme carried throughout the survey. The top two reasons in choosing a school were reputation and location. While not immediately clear, the reputation of the school has a lot to do with the quality—and number—of the employers that recruit there. In addition, location could be an attribute that describes the types of opportunities available. If the school is located in a metropolitan city, it is more likely to have opportunities and partnerships with employers compared to a school in a more rural location. This even comes into play for the mode of transportation. It makes a big difference when you can find an internship at a company that is within 10 minutes walking distance versus using public transportation for over an hour.
In specific professional development attributes, respondents were looking for programs that offer the strongest post-graduate opportunities. When applying to a graduate school, respondents wanted the school to be open and honest about:
- The percentage of graduates receiving job offers
- Specific benefits offered by the career services office
- List of companies the school has relationships with
- Average starting salary of graduates
- List of on-campus recruiters
The team's research delved into other areas with significantly more detail, including general factors, campus features, academic criteria, and financial aid opportunities. However, the career-related items were consistently in the spotlight. In a job market that is steadily improving, you need to target degree programs to equip you with the skills to compete with—and in—a global workforce.
What are you searching for in a graduate business program? Share your comments below.
Special thanks to the researchers of this study: Timur Aydin, Frank Cristiano, Carrie Dehlin, Lawrence Dimmitt IV, Michael Friedlein, and Maria Kast-Ondraczek.