Posted by: Gillian | July 27, 2009

Is it a good university?

Many people on LinkedIn or other social networking sites ask if university X or Y is a ‘good university’.  This question can be rephrased in two parts:

  1. Is it accredited by a recognised educational body?
  2. Do students achieve the kind of results that I, the enquirer,  consider a university should provide?

Checking accreditation

There are myriad badges and ranking systems for universities but, rather than getting lost in arguments about those, the most basic check is whether or not its degrees will be recognised by other universities.  The UNESCO list of universities is the most reliable for this basic information.

You should also search the university’s website or literature for the word ‘accreditation’ and follow up every link.  If a university claims to be accredited only in a country other than the one in which it is based, alarm bells should ring.  However, there are many genuine universities which have accreditation in more than one country (including their base country) and knowing what those accreditations mean can be a nightmare.

First: check for Government/State/Regional accreditation.  If, f0r example, somewhere says it is Middle States accredited, there’s a very simple web look-up.  Similar systems exist across the spectrum.  Do not just accept the label in the university site, go to the website of the accrediting authority and make sure they are listed.

Second: check with your own trade or professional organisation.  Many universities and trades do NOT connect but, if they do, it is really helpful and a good indicator.  (Engineers, for example, may look for ABET or IEEE links.)  Again, check with the professional body and do not just take the university word for it.  It is also worth remembering that courses ‘leading to’ are not the same as ‘courses approved for XYZ professional recognition’.  ‘Leading to’ may be perfectly acceptable and normal – even a very good indicator of quality – but just be sure you know what is really being offered.

Third: check online with friends who have changed jobs recently and find out what  people in your situtation and region have been asked for by way of qualifications.  It’s another rather unscientific measure but it does show which companies accept what ‘now’.

Fourth: do a reality check.  You or your Dad may think you want a ‘top 3’ degree.  They cost.  Can you really expect a decent return on investment? Are you tough enough to battle it out with their idea of the best? Do you have a different view of the world and success?  By all means go for it if you know what you are doing but just ‘being there’ is not an option – you “do” and fit in with their programme, or you might as well put your money in a one-armed-bandit machine.

Fifth: Ignore the multiple accreditations all in the same subject area.  Very many accreditations require money both in membership fees and in preparation.  A single professional accreditation from somewhere that lists lots of well-known universities is not bad. On the other hand, an institution that has lots of money to spend on badges rather than courses and students????  That may not be a bad institution – it may just be a very rich institution – but you might want to do some thinking about their – and your – priorities as, ultimately, you will be paying for it.

Finally, think hard about the second part to the question: is it a good university?  Will the university give you the outcomes that you yourself want to achieve?  It is very easy to say you want to go to Oxford/MIT/INSEAD/wherever.  If what you really want is a great job with strong security in the town up the road, you may just want to think  a bit harder about return on investment and life choices.  There is nothing ‘wrong’ with either route and you can have a wonderful time while not taking full advantage of all the very top, most renowned, universities offer but it is worth thinking about what you are trying to do, what you really want and where your own idea of a sense of achievement really lies.  Where will you be happy, now and when you look back on what you have achieved?


  1. Gillian, this is very sound information, thank you for posting it.

    For those of you lucky enough to read these words, the information here is great. The choice is up to you, but make sure you are asking yourself the right questions about the degree you are seeking and why!

  2. […] Check the course is a ‘real one’ (properly accredited). (See Is it a good university?) […]

  3. […] Standard-age (18-25) students have a wider range of options than many realise.  There is no need, for example, to stay in one’s own country to take a degree.  Why not explore scholarships or internships with education as part of the deal (common in accountancy and engineering, for example)?  Students tempted by the US can look at co-op programs where, after suitable financial guarantees have been signed, they can work and study.  Or highly disciplined and motivated people can take degrees online (with or without the fun of additional face-to-face workshops) while they also work.  Online degrees, of course, can come from any country provided they are properly accredited. […]

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