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How to assess program culture and strengths

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While we're playing the waiting game, I thought it would be useful to start thinking about the kinds of questions we should be asking programs should we be in the position of needing to choose between different schools and offers. I'm anticipating talking to various program administrators, professors, and current students in the coming weeks and I want to have some really good questions prepared that will help me really understand what the school offers and what it would be like to be a student there. Just based off the websites, it's hard to tell the differences between top programs, but I know that they do exist!

A friend who is in an MBA program posted a list of questions that get at organizational culture in workplaces:

  • What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  • Where and how are people spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  • What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  • Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  • What stories are legend and what values do they convey? 

I don't have any ideas yet for what a similar set of questions would look like for schools, but would love to hear if you guys have any thoughts on what you'll be asking! 

And if there is anything that you already know about a school's culture/strengths, please share!

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Off the top of my head, here are some things I've heard about certain schools: 

NYU - Strength in nonprofit management; lots of part-time students and classes offered in the evening; a lot of team-based work. Less quantitatively rigorous. 

Michigan Ford School - Strong in education and social policy and quantitative methods. 


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Are students expected to be traditional students or working students? Some programs only hold class 9am-6pm, M-F, and hold required courses at the same time. Some schools have flipped classes, while other have options for online or in class lecture. Some programs expect that their students work 25-40 hours per week while other do not cater to part time work, or have part time student specific programs separate from their regular programs. I have seen programs where many students have families, children, and careers. There are other programs where the vast majority of students are mid twenties, no children, and not fully employed. 

How flexible is the curriculum? Do you have a prescribed course load or many electives that allow you to tailor your education to your career goals?

Where have recent students been placed for internships? Did students have to find their own internships or did program staff facilitate finding placement. If you, a student with little to no network, are expected know the field landscape and coordinate internships, bail on that program. 

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