In today’s digital communication age, buyers are able to find valuable first-hand information on almost any product, allowing them to make the best choice for their needs.

Before I purchased my camera, I asked friends about the models they have and what they thought of them, and I read online reviews from people who had purchased the one I was considering. I sought out first-hand information about the user experience to gauge its ability to meet my needs.

Despite this trend in consumer decision-making, I’ve noticed that when people are researching where to invest in their education, they tend to rely on other sources of information such as rankings, programme recruiters and marketing materials and often overlook the valuable insights that can be gained by simply talking with someone who has actually graduated from the programme.

Insider info

If you really want to know what a programme is like, the best source of accurate information is someone who has gone through it. Most schools keep a database of their alumni; simply ask to speak to one of them.

If possible, ask to speak with an alumnus from your company or industry, as he or she will be able to give you the most accurate information on the relevance of that programme to you and your career goals.

I have participated in alumni panels for my Executive MBA programme with the University at Buffalo (UB), The State University of New York, at SIM. Prospective students who attend mostly ask: “What is it really like?” Only a graduate of the programme can give you the level of detail needed to help you make a smart decision about which programme is best for you.

Asking to speak with an alumnus can also provide you with other valuable information you may not have otherwise learned or even considered. For example, does the school keep in contact with its alumni? The answer can indicate the level of commitment a school has to its graduates.

After graduation

When researching MBA programmes, most people are so focused on schedule, cost, curriculum and other immediate criteria that they don’t question what happens after they graduate. But you should!

Some schools offer benefits that extend far beyond graduation and tuition payments. As a UB alumnus, I’m able to sit in on classes to refresh my memory and learn about changes in global trends. I’m able to hear guest speakers and attend professional development workshops in addition to the ongoing networking opportunities through our local alumni association.

These are lifelong benefits that I enjoy as a UB alumnus, greatly extending the value of the investment I made in my MBA education.

Added returns

Finding a programme that has an active and committed alumni group provides not only valuable insight into the quality of the MBA experience, but also added returns after you graduate.

A vibrant alumni association offers a wealth of professional contacts, an opportunity to stay connected and grow your contacts with each graduating class and, of course, a social outlet.

Depending on the size of your school and its alumni base, it can also help with global mobility through international networking.

Long-term benefits

My advice to anyone considering going back to school for an advanced degree is to look at the long-term returns as stated in first-hand accounts from those who have done it.

Ask to speak with an alumnus. Someone who has enjoyed the experience will be more than happy to talk about it. And once you choose the programme that is right for you, be sure to stay connected so that you can reap the full value of your degree and the professional connections it provides.