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The Perks of Being a Grad Student at SU’s iSchool

 Note: I write this post as a reflection of my ongoing experience as a master’s in IM student. This post is intended to provide some food for thought for prospective students, as well as provide those joining this Fall a taste of what’s to come. While it is written from the perspective of a graduate student, students at any level will be able to find some degree of relevance. The content below is formed out  of my own opinions and experiences and is in no way endorsed by the iSchool or Syracuse University. At the end of the day, you need to do your own research and determine if the program is a good fit for you.

With the spring semester nearly coming to an end and many current students gearing up to graduate, it may not be too early to consider the students who will be joining the school this fall. Decisions have been out for several weeks now, and prospective/future students are fervently searching for answers. Based on the questions I’ve encountered on Facebook and online forums, I’m preparing this post to help those still contemplating their decisions, as well those those who’ve made up their mind to attend SU. Most of the information below is from my own experiences and homework. Your mileage may vary.

Lets cut to the chase. I say you should you enroll in one of the iSchool’s graduate programs, because:

Flexible Curriculum

There are a few core courses that all students must take, but this may be waived off, if you can prove your competence in these areas through prior work experience, college-level coursework, or certifications. Beyond that, the programs offer plenty of flexibility to take in any direction that you want to.

Great Classes from other schools

 Students can take elective courses from other SU schools (for example, the IM program allows 8-11 credits to be taken from other schools). This means that you can take advantage of the university’s academic excellence in other fields and enroll in courses that are more meaningful in the context of your professional goals. For example, Lean Six Sigma is a class at the Whitman School of Management, that is gaining popularity among IM students. You can explore the Course Catalog here.

Various Career Outcomes

 The flexibility that the programs offer means that students go on to work in a multitude of roles. In the IM program, “Business Analyst” and “IT Consultant” are most sought after, but there are also aspiring Security Consultants, Data Analysts, Web Developers, Entrepreneurs, etc. See the official career outlook reports for more information.

CAS Options

 While enjoying the flexible curriculum,  students can also chose to focus their study in one (or two areas). The CAS (Certificate of Advanced Study) offerings are technically standalone programs, but can also be pursued in tandem with the regular master’s degree programs. In some cases, the course requirements overlap quite a bit with those of the master’s programs, so master’s students can additionally enroll themselves in a CAS, and complete both without paying for any additional credits.

Emphasis on Entrepreneurship

One of the places that immersions students visit. Credit: iSchool on fb
One of the places that immersions students visit. Credit: iSchool on facebook

Entrepreneurship is probably the most romanticized concept in today’s tech industry and university students are quite attuned to it. Syracuse University has a record of actively encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in the student body. If you are aspiring entrepreneur, IDEA, a startup accelerator at the university, is your one-stop shop to learn about funding opportunities, meet like-minded people, make connections and be well on your way to a successful venture. This is complemented by the blossoming “startup ecosystem” in Central New York; be on the lookout for local events through or EventBrite.

Another one of the unique aspects of Syracuse University are the Immersion Programs run by the iSchool. Open to any SU student, these programs offer a one-week tour of the entrepreneurship scene in Silicon Valley or New York City and  allow students to learn first-hand from the companies that made it big.

Student Organizations

An iSGO workshop in full swing. Credit: iSGO in fb
An iSGO workshop in full swing.
Credit: iSGO on facebook

Student Organizations are a rich addition to the collaborative environment at the iSchool and come in various shapes and sizes. For instance, we have iSGO (iSchool Graduate Organization), which organizes events ranging from proms & parties to interview workshops. Then there’s WIT (Women in IT) who host networking events, panel discussions, etc. to encourage women in technology. Another notable organization is iConsult, which provides non-profits and veteran organizations pro-bono consulting, and students with hands-on learning as technology consultants.

 The University and City of Syracuse

Crouse College in Winter. Source: Wikipedia
Crouse College in Winter.
Source: Wikipedia

 This post would not be complete without a shout-out to the university and city environment. A friend once aptly remarked, “Syracuse is known for two things – the snow and the basketball team”. Winters are frigid, but as long as you are prepared, they will just fly by. As for the basketball team, they need no introduction. The city of Syracuse and the SU campus are medium-sized and provide just the right setting for student life.  There are beautiful buildings, tons of events to attend, great places to eat… and the list goes on. It isn’t quite New York City or Paris, but life is good.


A Few Closing Words

Everything said, you need to make a conscious decision and determine what’s good for you. Make sure that you use the right criteria in zeroing in on your destination. Don’t hesitate to ask people around and get as many opinions as you can. This is going to be a major decision in your life.

I’d like to take a moment here to warn about rankings. They are possibly the most overrated criterion for students to select a program to attend. The methodology they use is questionable and to a degree rely upon the perception of reputation, which is subjective. Furthermore, it might make a little sense to compare rank #5 and #50, and not so much the difference between #5 and #6.

A lot of students ask about job prospects. The school offers plenty of opportunities for you to better yourself and become more employable – it is up to you to grab and utilize them. On the flip side, there is going to be tremendous competition; be prepared to go the extra mile and expect disappointments. But hey, that’s life.
Finally, money is a big factor in your decision to attend. Each person’s financial situation is unique and must be evaluated by the invidual. The money you spend here will be an investment in your future, but do not take any blind risks, expecting an unrealistic windfall later on.
I hope that this post gave you a good idea on the graduate student experience at the iSchool and that you choose to attend. See you in the Fall!
Are you a current iSchool graduate student, alum, or prospective? What do you like most about studying at the iSchool? Let me know in the comments section below!

Aravind Gopalakrishnan

Aravind is a 2015 master's graduate in Information Management and Data Science. His writing topics include Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Product Management, Data Science and the Grad School Experience.

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