Prospective students tend to evaluate MLIS programs based on brand or price or location. Another way to evaluate potential programs, however, is within the framework of how well they’ll do at helping you create job prospects. In that case, you may want to explore the programs from a slightly different angle, considering the following program characteristics:
Faculty make-up. There are a number of elements to consider here. In the academic universe, scholarly/research credentials signify accomplishment and value. However, if a program has mostly full-time tenured faculty who focus primarily on scholarly work (which undoubtedly has value), they’ll be unlikely to have many professional connections or experience outside academia, which means they’ll not be able to help much when it comes to helping you find great internships and/or jobs. Another consideration is who teaches in the subject area that interest you? Are they publishing interesting papers, exploring new applications, leading interesting projects (that you could participate in)?
A third consideration is how many adjunct faculty teach in the program, and the quality of their teaching. Adjunct faculty are usually practitioners who have had successful experience in the topic they’re teaching, and can bring real-life insights (and a practitioner’s network of connections) to the subject at hand. On the other hand, some adjuncts can have poor teaching skills, poor communication skills, and little understanding of how to help students master the material. So if you’re getting serious about a program, you’ll want to learn more about the faculty, and perhaps research them online to see if their strengths align with what you’ll be looking for.
Career services. The level (and effectiveness) of career support for students differs radically from school to school. Some MLIS programs have dedicated career-services counselors, others share one of the main campus’s career-center staffers. Some schools provide a tremendous amount of career information and support resources online (see, for example, San Jose State University’s Career Development section on its website), others almost none. So when talking with a program representative about their strengths, be sure to ask about what resources and support they provide for career counseling and job placement.
Internships. Internships are a dynamite way to 1) gain job experience, 2) test out potential career paths, and 3) build professional connections. Does the program have internships set up with organizations that reflect your career-path interests? Are the internships paid or unpaid, virtual or onsite or a blend of both? If possible, ask to speak to someone who’s done an internship in your area of interest. If the school doesn’t help with internships or practicum placements, it’s sending a pretty clear signal that you’re going to be on your own when it comes to finding a job when you graduate.
Corporate relations. Related to the internship question, does the program have any relationships established with key employers? If so, how will those relationships benefit you as a student? That might be internships, opportunities to participate in real-life business projects, working with professional mentors, willingness to do information interviews with you, or even job placement for top students. Your job is to see if these relationships are in place, and how they benefit program students and graduates.
Professional associations. Does the program have active student chapters of the professional associations relevant to your interests? If not, this can either signify a great opportunity for you to step into a leadership role and create the chapter or it can indicate that no one else in the program shares your professional interests, which might mean it’s not the right school for you.
Alumni network. A great alumni network can be a major career asset for students. Alumni can mentor students, be available for informational interviews, make wonderful guest speakers, and connect you to their professional network for job contacts. They can also show you career directions and paths you might not have considered. So you’ll want to ask about the program’s alumni network – what is it, how does it work, and would it be possible to speak with some alumni in your potential field.
Employment statistics. Where do students go to work once they’ve graduated (what organizations or types of organizations, what roles or job titles)? How long on average did it take them to get a job? Some schools don’t have this information, but if they can discuss even anecdotal data with you, it means that they realize how important it is for students (and prospective students) to find decent jobs as quickly as possible when they graduate.
Advisory board make-up. Who’s on the advisory board for the program? Is it mostly people from industry, mostly from traditional libraries, a mix? Any non-LIS folks? The make-up of the advisory board can often signal what types of LIS paths are most highly emphasized in the program.
Technology focus. This is two questions. First, how much is technology is used in the program? Organizations today are looking for employees who are adept at using a wide range of collaborative and communications technologies, and it’s a lot easier to master these tools in grad school where there is faculty and IT-department support. Second, how many courses in the program focus on technology-based LIS skills? If few, you have to assume that you’ll be graduating without the most in-demand professional knowledge and skill set, and will be competing for jobs against other new grads who do have those skills.