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#HLSDITL Day 3: Scholarships, rankings, and teachers, oh my! (On choosing a library school)

October 30, 2013

As I mentioned at the end of Day 1, I get a little obsessive when it comes to making decisions. I like to compartmentalize my anxieties and wrap them up in shiny, color-coded diagrams. Organizing information this way helps me to visually process it, which in turn helps me to feel more confident about my choice.

Pictured: confidence

Since graduate school is a serious investment (as ominous headlines about the looming student debt crisis like to remind us), I knew I had to break out the big guns. This is the process that worked for me, but it was tailored for my own unique needs and circumstances. Although I love my program, I’m not necessarily saying that it will be better or worse for you than any other school. Anyway, take it or leave it.

Here are my steps for finding a graduate program:

1. Search the Directory of ALA-Accredited Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies

Since I wanted to have the option to continue in academia, I avoided schools that lacked clear accreditation. The searchable database allows you to limit results based on your particular program preferences. Since I work full-time in an archives, I knew I wanted a 100% online program that offered concentrations in archival studies, records management, and/or digital libraries. Pro-tip: Search for the concentrations separately, or you’ll only see a list of schools that offer all three. I made a master spreadsheet of the programs that met my requirements.

Here is a snapshot of the searchable ALA database of accredited schools.

Here is a snapshot of the searchable ALA database of accredited schools.

2. Get the real scoop from the school’s website

The ALA directory was not always accurate. I went to each school’s website to find up to date information about tuition, scholarship opportunities, credit requirements, concentration offerings, application requirements, internship programs, credit for work experience, and and whether or not the school required me to visit the campus for any reason (i.e., an orientation or practicum course). I also looked for schools that offered asynchronous instruction, meaning students don’t have to “attend” class at a scheduled time.

3. Check out the school’s reputation

Library school rankings have questionable value as a measure of a program’s actual quality, but they can tell you a lot about its reputation. I also watched social media networks and blogs like Hack Library School, INALJ, and Hiring Librarians to see what people have to say about various programs. This played a fairly minor role in my decision, but it was still helpful.

Here is some food for thought on library rankings in general:

4. Narrow down your top candidates

I whittled my master list down to 12 programs. After eliminating incompatible candidates (highlighted below in grey), I chose four universities to apply to. The number four was arbitrary. Basically, I had my top three and a safety school (highlighted in pink). The key factors for me were tuition price (including expected financial aid), available concentrations, spring enrollment, and visitation requirements. I also looked at what kind of courses each program offered and made note of any that particularly appealed to me.

My name is Sam, and I have a spreadsheet problem. (Hi, Sam)

My name is Sam, and I have a spreadsheet problem. (Hi, Sam)

I ended up applying to three schools. My top choice, Drexel, offered me a generous scholarship so I took the money and ran.*

My Top 3 Take-Aways (YMMV

1. Don’t be fooled by inflated rankings; take the time to figure out what you want out of a program.
2. For insights about library schools, other students are often your best resource.
3. If you’re happy with your program, you made the right choice.

*I apologize for the terrible, terrible Steve Miller pun. I hope this video will make up for it.

Day 3 Tweets


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