December 2004 | How-To | Ten Tips

Choosing an SCM Graduate Program

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An increasing number of companies now expect their top executives to understand supply chain management. To feed this need, many universities have added supply chain education programs to their curriculums.

For some executives, a professional certification program is all they need, but for many, a full-fledged graduate degree program is appropriate. And executives now have numerous programs to choose from.

Terri Herod, managing director for Georgia Tech's Executive Master's in International Logistics, offers these 10 tips—based on input from supply chain professionals—for selecting a graduate program.

1. Decide what you want. If you are new to logistics, or are taking on new responsibilities, a quick, two- to five-day program, or a short-term professional certification may be all you need. These programs offer in- depth coverage of a specific supply chain topic. For professionals who seek 18- to 24-month programs in logistics, a good variety offering traditional Master's of Science degrees are available.

2. Make sure the program format fits your schedule. Working full-time and pursuing a graduate degree can be challenging. Be sure to find a program that accommodates your busy schedule. Some programs let you take classes on weekends, or within intensive, week-long residence sessions. Don't let geography limit your options. By including a combination of classroom, distance learning, and group projects, a master's degree program can help you mitigate any interruptions to your work and home life.

3. Determine how an executive masters degree will advance your career. Your executive education should directly benefit your career, for example, garnering an increase in salary, or a move into management upon graduation. If you have your sights set on a particular career path, be sure this degree will help you achieve your objectives. Check with your company's human resources department to determine how a master's degree will impact your internal career opportunities. Invest your time in a program that will be a business and personal differentiator.

4. Choose a top-ranked school with a good reputation. Many executive education programs are available today. Learn from the best. What gets noticed on your resume is a top-ranked university with a good reputation in the field. Check out the quality of the school and its program stakeholders—instructors, presenters, and curriculum advisory board. These team members will greatly shape your experience.

5. Review the curriculum. Look for a well-rounded curriculum that fits your long-term career objectives. The curriculum should target the executive level, and provide you with the knowledge and tools for better decision-making. Choose a program that allows you to master a globally extended supply chain, and translate it into a financial and/or business context.

6. Ensure relevance to the real world and your job. Make sure the program extends beyond the discussion of theories, and requires the application of strategies and principles that can quickly impact real-life organizations. Your executive master's program should combine classroom and real-world corporate interaction that will help make business decisions. Beyond the rigors of analytical solutions, the program should give you exposure to executives at other companies, have ample group projects, utilize case studies, and allow you to bring real-world problems from the marketplace into the classroom.

7. Examine the class makeup. Networking and learning from your peers is an often overlooked but valuable component of your executive education experience. Look for a program whose participants have at least five years of experience, and are preferably higher-level executives. The program participants should come from different industries and countries, and have a variety of supply chain knowledge, giving you the advantage of different perspectives.

8. Interview alumni. The program's alumni are the best source for finding out what your executive experience will be like. Not only will this give you firsthand information, it will also offer additional insight into the class participants. Ask the program director if you can talk to a few alumni members. Speak with someone who comes from your industry, and someone in an unrelated industry. This provides the best opportunity to ask the tough questions and get unbiased answers.

9. See if other opportunities to collaborate with the university exist. Universities can be a great resource for you and your company. Not only can you recruit interns and employees, but you can also sponsor faculty guest lecturers at your company, and participate in research projects and executive level forums. Do you come across business strategies or issues that need in-depth analysis? You can often utilize university students to build models and employ analytical tools to solve these problems. Find out how the university you will attend collaborates with its business partners.

10. Examine the strength of the alumni network. After you graduate, the alumni network enables you to stay connected to other ambitious, resourceful, industry professionals. As new business challenges arise in your career, you don't have to reinvent the wheel; you can call on these resources for input and insights to help you out. Be sure the university has a strong program that allows you to continue learning from your alumni network.

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