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?