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What to look for in a university as a postgrad

James Davis

As a postgrad, you know going to university is about more than just choice of degree. Here are some things to keep an eye on for your second time around.

Unless you’re learning a trade, it’s almost mandatory to go to university these days if you want the best employment options available. The ABC once reported that university graduates have the potential to earn $1 million more over the course of their lifetimes than people without. Further still, Graduate Careers Australia reported in a 2013 survey that 61.2% of all postgraduate students felt their post-bachelor qualifications were a necessity for employment or at the very least an important factor. So it makes perfect sense why you’d want to go back. The question is where? Here are some of the top things to look for before you decide.

Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking

It’s unfortunately the case that employers will judge you not only by what you study, but where. These rankings and others show where the institution you’re thinking of heading to stacks up on the world stage, using a variety of measurements like research output to determine who’s on top.

THE is naturally a big proponent of aiming for a high ranked university, but findings closer to home reveal this to be a real phenomenon. The Australian Graduate Survey from 2014 discovered that students from Australia’s top Group of Eight universities earned 6% more on average; this is controlling for similarity of course, gender and a variety of other extraneous variables. That’s a huge bonus over the course of a lifetime; if you’re starting on $60,000 pa, a graduate from a Go8 equivalent is making $63,600 pa despite having done the same study and having learned the same thing.

It’s unfortunate we even have to check this sort of thing, I know. Just keep it in mind when you’re choosing a postgraduate institution.

Clubs

You’re not 19 anymore, but it doesn’t matter. There’s no better way to meet your fellow students who might one day be coworkers and business partners than joining a club or society. Checking to see if your university has a good selection could be the difference between meeting a vital connection and missing out. You can exchange ideas, make friends and maybe even share some war stories with other grizzled postgrads. It’s a good idea. Trust us.

Professors

A great way to assess the quality of an institution is to have a look at the faculty within. World rankings might be a convenient way for employers to generalise the quality of any given person’s education, but don’t let it completely inform your choice. Good teachers make all the difference. A study from the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education found that instructors ranked highly among students for enthusiasm and teaching ability over a three year period saw higher academic achievements in their students than for instructors ranked lower.

So how do you tell a good professor from a mediocre one without meeting any of them? It’s tricky, but staff details for all universities tend to be publicly available. This applies to the lecturers and tutors you’re likely to meet, not just heads of faculty. Take ANU, who allow you to browse every staff member’s biography, CV, position and contact info. This provides a wealth of information to those with the willingness to fully scope out their intended institution.

What do you look for while looking through these records, then? This is contentious, but a wealth of private sector experience in a field relevant to your interests is ideal. If you’ve got a professor who used to hold a client-facing role in management consulting for instance, you know they must have great interpersonal skills. If you’ve got a professor who worked as a senior accountant for KPMG, you know they’ve got the experience to understand exactly what skills students need to land an accounting role. If you feel like putting in the extra mile, this is something extra you can do to get an understanding of what your desired institution can bring to the table.

Check out these examples of great professors here.

Facilities

The campus experience can change the entire feel of your education. Ask questions like:

  • What eateries are available nearby?
  • Do the labs have the latest technology?
  • Are the lecture halls comfortable enough for a three hour seminar?
  • What’s the parking like?
  • Public transport accessible?

If you know the lay of the land, your time back at university will be all the more pleasant and productive.