How to Evaluate Graduate School Faculty

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Student reading in front of laptop.

Graduate programs aren’t just defined by schools’ histories or course offerings. The individuals who make up the faculty at accredited and respected institutions provide important connections for students, and when searching for a master’s-level degree program, applicants often investigate professors’ qualifications, background, and accomplishments.

Studying a particular subject can be a different experience depending on who teaches the course. Students can and should look at universities that employ top professors in their chosen fields of study, seeking out the high-level knowledge and potential career advancement that can come from great faculty members.

When choosing a master’s program in a high-demand field such as finance, applicants have a great deal of choice in who they learn from. The following are a few considerations for seeking out faculty members who will challenge their students, give them opportunities to grow, and prepare professionals for new roles in their industries of choice.

Studying published work and research

Students deciding which university will give them access to the most relevant knowledge have a great well of information to draw on in faculty members’ research and published works. The experienced scholars who are qualified to instruct courses at the master’s level have performed in-depth studies of their own, gaining essential information to pass on to their students. Applicants can review this paper trail and verify the expertise of their professors while confirming that they will be taught by individuals who have an interest and focus in the professional subjects they’re planning to pursue after graduation.

Professors of master’s-level courses are Ph.D. holders who have longstanding and detailed experience in their fields of choice. Though past research doesn’t tell prospective students everything there is to know about instructors’ knowledge and experience in their respective subjects, it is an objective way to compare institutions and verify the qualifications of the individuals they’ll be learning from. Great instructors are creative and driven individuals who have earned respect and leadership roles in their respective fields.

Considering real-world experience

In addition to academic experience, prospective students can check whether faculty members are engaged with real-world applications of their knowledge. Accredited and successful graduate programs often boast influential and respected professionals among their professors. Continued immersion in their chosen fields gives these faculty members an up-to-date perspective and relevant knowledge base for their courses.

Ongoing professional engagement is important for a few reasons. In fast-moving fields such as finance, it’s essential to seek out professors who have present involvement with markets due to the fact that underlying industry concepts today are different from those only a few years ago. Furthermore, professors are important connections and potential sources of recommendations and referrals within their industries. The more engaged instructors are with their fields, the better they will serve students in this connective role.

Professors who have current real-world experience will be aware of updated professional practices, whether that means the latest trade negotiations between world powers or the most recent updates to essential software systems. There is no substitute for practical engagement with the corporate world.

Networking is also highly important, even when courses are taught entirely online. Studying under professors who are currently engaged in the corporate world means gaining relevant contact in the student’s industry of choice, and the potential ability to speak to others in the same corporate world. Today’s online courses connect students to these faculty members through digital platforms, generating opportunities to have relevant and in-depth discussions about the wider professional world.

Directly speaking to professors during applications

When applicants are considering where to apply, they may go beyond studying professors based on their publications and reach out to these individuals directly. U.S. News & World Report noted this isn’t the proper approach in every case, describing the process as typically optional for students at educational levels below Ph.D. Peterson’s added that applicants should start by asking the admissions department whether they may speak to professors before applying.

Both U.S. News and Peterson’s noted that prospective students should take it slow when speaking with professors, not calling them on the phone without an invitation. Instead, it’s best to determine who the instructor in the relevant subject is and reach out electronically. Simple, one-page messages seeking more information about the department and subject are the preferred mode of contact to gain a clearer picture of the syllabus.

It may help to get a response if students mention the particular research that has caught their attention or note their own background in the field in question. In all cases, there is no guarantee of a direct reply — every professor is different and will have an individual approach to speaking with students.

Faculty expertise in online master’s programs

Today’s top-quality online courses, offered by respected and accredited universities, are run by professors with the same kind of deep business ties and extensive research backgrounds as instructors who lead on-campus courses. Faculty members’ unique experiences, priorities, and perspectives make classes unique and valuable, and online platforms that allow students to take in lectures asynchronously allow this distinctiveness to come across.

Seeking out a 100 percent remote degree program involves the same diligent research that goes into picking an in-person master’s. The best schools in each field will set themselves apart by employing highly qualified professors to deliver relevant and valuable lessons.

Programs such as the Online Master of Science in Finance at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business have been created to combine knowledgeable faculty members active in the financial world with courses that fit into professionals’ busy schedules. The knowledge and connections gained in such programs are designed to be directly relevant and applicable to the thriving field of corporate finance. In these courses, the quality of the education on offer is never in doubt.

Recommended Reading:
A look into the field of international finance

How a master’s degree in finance makes you more agile in the financial workplace


U.S. News & World Report – How to Contact Professors As a Grad School Applicant

Peterson’s – Questions to Ask When Speaking with Professors at Prospective Graduate Schools

Northeastern University’s Online MSF Program