Investing a year or two in graduate studies should pay off by improving your professional profile and your prospects to develop a rewarding career. Master’s degree programmes are the academic training that takes you to the next level of expertise by building specialized knowledge and skills. To choose the best programmes for you, you should look beyond location, price and rankings.
There are almost 14,000 institutions offering degree programmes in business in the world, according to AACSB (US) estimates. The number and diversity of Master’s degree programmes taught in English has grown tremendously in the past 20 years.
In this context, the process of school and programme selection is really of crucial importance. The universities which are at the top of popular media rankings are just a tiny part of the spectrum which you have at your disposal. Consider the following factors that will reveal to you more about the quality of Master’s programmes that you need for a successful professional career.
Take the time to review the content of the programmes. Even programmes which come under the same name – for example Master’s in International Marketing – have great differences in curriculum. Although they will certainly offer a similar core of courses, they may differ in focus, electives, or concentrations. Find the ones which best fit your professional interests and desired specialisation.
Although Master’s degree programmes aim to take you to your job, they also provide the scientific framework of your field of study. Some Master’s programmes are really practically oriented. Others pay a lot of attention to building the foundations of theoretical knowledge in the area and then building the practical skills. What is your preference? What will be better for your career? Make your choice and select the programmes that offer just what you need.
Your professors are your most valuable resource for guidance during your Master’s studies. The optimum learning environment is built when you have a mix of professors coming from the business world and from academia or who have experience in both areas. Every university will list short presentations of the professors for you to check out. If you really want to learn from the most reputable minds in your field, carry out additional research on professors’ publications, research, quotation index, membership of professional and academic bodies, awards, etc.
Peers in class are another asset which nurtures a stimulating learning environment. One factor to consider when looking for a high quality student body is the requirements for admission to the programme. The simple rule of thumb is – the higher the requirements (GPA, admission tests, interview, etc.), the better the quality of the students. You should also look into the statistics of the Master’s class to learn more about who your peers will be in terms of international mix and academic background.
Many universities have career service centres. You should take the time to research what they offer. However, take your research further - on the programme level. Investigate what business connections, internships, projects and career prospects you can get through the department offering your selected programme.
Rank the department, not the school
Although there are global university rankings such as The World University Rankings of Times Higher Education, this is not what you need when you select a Master’s degree programme. Instead, look for rankings of Master’s programmes in your particular field of study. Some are readily available, such as the Masters in Finance ranking of The Financial Times.
The quality of programmes varies, even in top universities. In some universities, the undergraduate education may be of superior quality to that of its graduate school. Or a top school which offers a great Master’s programme in Marketing may be lagging behind with its programmes in Finance. If there are no popular rankings for your field of study, make sure you check the reputation of a programme in the professional community. Professional associations or certification bodies, as well as specialized magazines, are a good starting point for your research.
Reputation differs from rankings. A reputation is how a university is perceived by professionals, employers or the general public. Rankings are what an institution says the top programmes are according to certain criteria.
There are top-ranked universities which are not known in some regions, countries or sectors. This may be because of some cultural and historical factors which have nothing to do with the quality of the programmes. If you have decided where you want to develop your career, make sure you check which universities are reputable among employers in the sectors of your choice.
Although a matter of personal preference, choice does not always have to be simple. In the case of investing thousands to follow your ambition, it is indeed better to make it as elaborate as possible. This will bring your Master’s experience to a manageable margin of dissatisfaction and allow you to dedicate your heart and soul to your studies.