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Evaluating the Prestige of a Graduate School and Its Value to Your Career

Fabulously Broke’s response to Doctor S’s post on the worth of an MBA got my thinking about some questions I’ve encountered in my own grad school planning.

For those who aren’t already aware, I’m planning on going to library school–probably starting in the Fall of 2010. Unlike schools offering MBAs, library schools aren’t thick on the ground. There are 2 in the DC area and then the next closest is in Philadelphia. There are also some online programs I could do while living here.

I’ve been weighing all sorts of things–tuition assistance (possible, not guaranteed) from my current job, in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, and prestige. I’ve been pondering in particular the prestige factor and the cost/benefit analysis of getting my degree from various institutions.

Fabulously Broke examined the cost of a Harvard MBA. She included the usual factors (tuition, fees, books, living expenses) as well as things like loss of salary for that period. Her conclusion was that if you were going to get a Harvard MBA, you’d better be damn sure it would help you in your career.

How do you know how a school will look to the people in your field? Ask them. Ask the people who’ve already been there–friends, colleagues, acquaintances. Ideally, talk to someone who’s involved in hiring for the types of jobs you’re interested in.

Also, look at the people who are in the positions you want to be in. Using the example of MBAs, the head of a corporation probably won’t have an MBA from the University of Phoenix online. On the other hand, s/he may not have one from Harvard either.

If your goal is to be the president or CEO of a multinational corporation such as IBM, then a Harvard MBA might be just the ticket. If your goal is to be president of a smaller company, a respectable and less-expensive school might do just as well.

Keep in mind that a graduate degree of any sort is a foot in the door, it’s not a key to the top. In libraries, everyone above a certain level has to have an MLS of some kind or another. It’s a professional degree.

In figuring out how to weigh the reputation of a school in my field, I’ve had to ask myself about my professional goals. I’m interested in a few areas of library science and I’m not interested in running a department or a library. I like the work for its own sake. I find it fulfilling. I don’t need to shell out extra for a degree that won’t serve my goals more than a degree from any other school.

On the other hand, I need a degree from a school that’s got a decent enough reputation in the field. I haven’t heard colleagues putting down particular programs, but I know that if I find the bottom of the library school barrel, I don’t want to go there even if it’s less expensive.

So what have I been doing? Just what I recommended above. I’ve been talking to coworkers about where they got their MLSes, what they liked about the program, what other schools they like, etc. I’ll probably ask all of them in the next few months, as well as the librarians I follow on Twitter.

I’m not going to choose where I go to school based entirely on prestige. A good bit will have to do with convenience, courses, programs, and cost. But, just as one shouldn’t put so much value on prestige as to waste money on a program that won’t serve their career goals any better than less-expensive options, I’m not going to waste my money on a program whose reputation will do my career a disservice.

What about you? If you’re considering graduate school or have gone/are going, how much of a role has the school’s reputation played in your decision-making process? How might it affect or not affect your career?


Lin Burress @Telling It Like It Is July 27, 2009 at 9:50 am

I’m so glad you’ve written about this because my daughter is currently evaluating graduate schools based solely on prestige, and not taking into consideration all the other factors such as tuition costs etc. I’m emailing this to her right now, and hopefully she’ll realize there is a lot more to picking a graduate school than just how prestigious the college is on a resume.

Brian July 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

I think its a double edged sword. If you have been working for 10+ years and your experience speaks louder than your education than i don’t think the school prestige matters as much.

However, when i went to grad school it was right after undergrad, I wanted to go to a top 10 program in my field to help make my resume stand out when applying for my first real job.

Especially in DC where there are a lot of alum from where i got my masters, i feel its very beneficial compared to if i got it from “no-name” school in the middle of nowhere.

Barb July 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm

I just graduated from library school this June. If no one else has mentioned it, make sure you go to an ALA accredited school (list on ALA’s website). Pretty much every single librarian job requires a degree with ALA accreditation.

Your sister July 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm

One other huge thing to consider is whether there’s enough people specializing in your area of interest. Sure, your main field might be Library Science–but are the grad school profs specialists in technological areas, like I think you’re interested in? The entire point of getting a grad degree is, as you’ve mentioned, to acquire a background for your profession, so this is really major. Frankly, your grad degree might be just a waste of time if you miss out on getting the special training you want.

Doctor S July 27, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Glad to see my post spurned so many ideas. @Brokeinthecity really chimed in with some good stuff!

As graduate of Drexel University in Philly and of the College of IST, I have heard amazing things about the Masters of Library Sciences from my alma mater. I know a few people that went through the program and they spoke very highly about it. I believe for a long time it was ranked #1 in North America. Any questions about it or the area let me know!

I def think grad school is all about getting what you want out of it. If you put in the time, you will reap the benefits, if you just want to cast through then thats what you will do!

Dad July 28, 2009 at 3:14 am

I think you’ve given a lot of good thought to it. No name schools might be hard to get your resume read. Of course the point made above about ALA accredited is critical. I like that you’re getting views from people who’ve been there and want to them from people who hire. Hopefully you’ll be able to take the list you make from this, figure out who covers what you want and who fits your budget and other needs. Best of luck 🙂

mrsmicah July 28, 2009 at 8:27 pm

@Lin I hope it helps. The thing about prestige is that it’s only good when it fits in with our other career goals. A social worker, for instance, who wants to be an ordinary social worker, doesn’t need a degree from Harvard. One who wants to become an adviser to Congress on social policy probably does.

@Brian UMD would give me a huge advantage in networking, since every library in DC has at least one alum, normally a few. And it’s got a good reputation, esp. in some areas.

On the other hand, if I weren’t in DC or a similar city, I’d probably do fine with most library school degrees.

@Barb, lol, yeah. I ran across a couple which weren’t accredited and my reaction was “Why would someone even bother?” Maybe they teach the skills as well (if there’s no accreditation, I doubt it) but the point of a professional degree is to find work, not just to know stuff.

@Lil’ Sis absolument! That’s one reason I’m considering UMD so strongly despite its not having a great online program. I’m thinking about specializing in archival (which includes some digital stuff) and they have one of the best programs. But I need to make sure they have the tech elective options I’d want too.

@Doctor S Drexel is supposed to have a great program. And it’s high on my list because of its option of doing the entire program remotely, online.

@Dad thanks! I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

plonkee July 29, 2009 at 7:37 am

From my own brief forays into considering librarianship, the program that I’d probably consider moving to the US to do is the one at UIUC, which I believe you can do online. Similarly, the course at Aberystwyth in the UK is prestigious, but also good for distance learning etc. But there aren’t any places to study where I am anyway so a daytime course isn’t an option.

Now that I’ve got a few years of professional experience behind me, I’m not as interested in the prestige of a degree, as what I will learn studying. But then, I’m not actively considering starting at the beginning of a new profession and I think that makes the biggest difference.

MoneyEnergy September 22, 2009 at 2:24 am

Found this a little late, but I think you might as well go for as much reputation as you can afford (which sounds like what you are doing). All other things being equal, go with the one that might give you the most networking opportunities, if that matters, and/or ability to connect with peers and faculty. Atmosphere and collegiality of a department/program can be really important and vary greatly from program to program. This matters more the longer the duration of the program, I think (but I’m not sure to what extent it would factor into an online program!).
.-= MoneyEnergy´s last blog ..How Much It Costs to Apply To Graduate School =-.

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