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Selecting a Graduate Business Program

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Diana Sloan, University of Iowa

Selecting a graduate school to attend involves more than academics.

Diana Sloan is director of Graduate Marketing & Alumni Relations, Iowa State University.

Whether you are just starting to shop around or already making a choice with admission letters in hand, selecting a graduate school to attend involves more than academics. Sometimes, the unintended consequences will not be obvious or taken as necessarily relevant until you are already in the midst of a program, and by then it may be too late to change your mind without a considerable opportunity cost.

Before selecting your graduate business program, consider these three things that are often ignored.

  1. Location. This may not seem like a critical factor in the decision making process prior to starting the program, but it will soon become apparent just how much of an impact location does have. For instance, chances are that the school has strong ties with local employers, and your career may be tied to a nearby location. And, while completely unrelated to school, it is possible that you may develop personal ties to the local community, be it through a significant other or any activities that you choose to engage in. Either way, pursuing opportunities elsewhere may become complicated.

  2. Weather. While you shouldn’t discount a program because it is in a location that is “too cold” or “too hot”, it is important to be aware of what you are moving toward. You may need to budget for the appropriate wardrobe and adjust your expectations regarding simple decisions such as whether you can plan on exercising outdoors, or what can be considered walking distance to classes, especially if you are likely to encounter inclement weather. Whenever possible, planning a campus visit can be a helpful step for making an informed decision.

  3. Future earnings. Finally, you will want to look at future earnings or expected salary upon graduation. Six figures will go much further in the Midwest than in either coast. Be it through alumni or via the career services staff, your school will offer connections to employers with a variety of salary ranges. The cost of living at each of the potential locations should be factored in. If available, look for data on where the program’s graduates are employed. And, while you are pondering this information, do some research on quality of life as well. It may sound like a bit much right now, but you may be choosing your new hometown.
Most applicants will search for programs with parameters that include a school’s prestige, financial aid availability, and various other signs of the success they can expect upon graduation. If you haven’t made a final decision, take these less obvious items into consideration before you commit to a program