Published on 2013/09/04
Choosing the Right Graduate Program
Before committing to a graduate program at either a for-profit or non-profit institution, prospective students should take the time to evaluate each program against a set of important criteria.

Potential graduate students choose their schools and programs for a variety of reasons. The program is typically the main focus for the student, with the school being a secondary consideration. For example, students may determine they want/need more education within a certain area (e.g. international relations) and then decide to pursue an advanced degree. The next step, typically, is to seek out an institution with the program they are interested in. From there begins the process of narrowing down the schools by a variety of considerations, including cost, proximity, school reputation and so on. Until recently, students haven’t paid much attention to whether or not the school they select is a for-profit or non-profit institution. Recent media and government oversight focusing on the for-profit higher education sector has helped add this criterion to students’ decision-making process. But should it?

As with traditional non-profit institutions, for-profit institutions are varied in terms of their mission, offerings, values and target students. Painting all for-profit institutions with the same brush is as problematic as doing so for non-profit institutions. Students entering an MBA program at Harvard University likely have very different expectations than those seeking one from the University of West Georgia. While the content may not differ significantly, the experience likely will, as will students’ outcomes (network opportunities, etc.) These programs also differ significantly in terms of cost. As such, when students are considering a for-profit institution, they should do the same due diligence regarding cost, outcomes, time-to-degree and other metrics, as they would for a traditional institution. Moreover, because there are a variety of for-profit institutions, students should compare them. Reputable for-profit institutions will provide students with a rich educational experience that differs very little, if at all, from that offered by a non-profit institution. If fact, students may enjoy the experience at a for-profit institution even more than a traditional institution simply because student satisfaction is critical to the for-profit institution’s success and reputation.

In short, students considering graduate school should not be deterred by the fact that the one they have carefully reviewed and selected is a for-profit institution; rather, the decision should hinge on the following criteria:

  • Is the school regionally accredited? Does the program also have program specific accreditation, if appropriate?

  • Does the school have a good reputation?

  • Are its graduates working in the field they received their degrees in?

  • Does the program cover the areas/topics the student is most interested in?

  • Is the program affordable? Remember: Acquiring some debt to go to graduate school is to be expected, but students should do their due diligence to ensure the cost of the program is competitive and the degree is likely to position the student to obtain a job that pays well enough to make repaying loans feasible.

  • Do the school’s faculty have the expertise the student is seeking?

  • Does the program meet the student’s needs? For example, does an online degree make more sense for the student given work/life demands?

  • How will the program prepare the student for work? Is there internship availability, career assistance or professional development resources?

  • What kinds of financial resources are available? Scholarships or fellowships?

  • Are faculty and staff committed to student success?
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Readers Comments

Bill Myers 2013/09/04 at 11:09 am

This is good advice, but some of the questions are hard for prospective students to answer on their own. For example, how would prospective students know where to begin comparing the reputations of the different programs? A simple Google search for “executive MBA programs” yields more than 17 million results. What does the average person know about college accreditation? What people need is help in aggregating and then filtering all of the information available about their field of interest.

Neville Lansing 2013/09/04 at 1:06 pm

I know of an institution that offers prospective students a service where they can meet with alumni or recent graduates to discuss some of the questions Campbell raises. Alumni or recent graduates can help prospective (or even incoming) students to develop realistic expectations on how much time to spend on a particular subject, how to balance school and other obligations and so on. It’s an innovative service that more institutions should adopt.

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