Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at Isenberg

 

Research Your Sport Management Options

A career in sports can be a great way to marry sports passion and career aspirations. In a thriving $200 billion sports industry there are a wide variety of positions available for talented business professionals. The obstacle is an extremely competitive market for positions industry-wide. This imbalance between jobs supplied and positions demanded, places a premium on practical business skills and industry experience.

When choosing a program, it is imperative to look at a program's track record of placing graduates in high quality sports jobs, situational fit with your individual goals and curriculum learning objectives. Together these factors will help you differentiate yourself in a competitive job market.

The following tips are intended to provide you with a framework for evaluating your sport management education options.

What should your studies prepare you to do?
A rich program experience should provide you with an understanding of sports business history and knowledge of the inner-workings of different industry segments. It should give you the analytical business tools to not only explore current issues and trends, but also provide effective solutions to a wide array of organizations. Different sport organization segments included in many curriculums include: professional, amateur & college, event & facilities, sports marketing & management agencies, sports media and sporting goods.

Friends, family and other contacts within the sport industry can be invaluable in helping you gather outside opinions on programs. They themselves might have studied at a sport management program, or they could know someone who did. It might also be useful to find people doing jobs similar to the one you envision yourself doing someday. Ask if they have any insight on different program's strengths and weaknesses.

How will you learn?
Curriculum, teaching philosophy and student-to-teacher ratios are common ways of looking at the classroom experience a program provides. In addition, think about looking at...

 

      • Current student profiles (experience, goals, past education) 
      • Examples of real-world learning brought into the classroom (class work, practicum projects, assistantships, internships, consulting)
      • Instructors teaching subjects of particular interest to you (industry experience in area, involvement in topic associations, research and publishing, accolades)

 

Talking with current students is a good way to narrow your search as the quality of the student body will have a direct effect on the quality of the experience and the alumni network. Therefore it is important to make sure the learning culture is a good fit for you. A visit, if possible, is really the best way to experience the classroom first hand. Ask to be put in touch with a current student. Learn about scheduled open houses and other opportunities to visit while classes are in session.

Who will be teaching you?
There are many different ways to evaluate a program's faculty. Experience in the industry is of key importance in sports. For additional ways to look at different faculties consider...

      • Faculty size (number, full-time vs. part-time, subject specialization) -- An indication of faculty expertise and involvement in student learning
      • Non-academic experience (past careers, associations, consulting activities) -- Makes for powerful connections between theory and real-world environment 
      • Teaching tenure -- A sign of teaching excellence as tenure is earned over time through reviews by administrators and fellow faculty
      • Publishing history (research, papers, books) -- Gives insight into areas of interest and standing in the sports community
      • Accolades (from institutions and industry organizations) -- Denotes special achievement in an area of study or service
      • Areas of interest and study -- Are faculty on the forefront of industry trends and challenges?
      • Current course materials (syllabus, course websites, past student projects) -- Sheds light on individual course/class structure, learning opportunities and expectations

To get a sense of the educational environment fostered by faculty, don't hesitate to ask: Does the curriculum incorporate general business management studies and does it have opportunities to focus on specific concentrations? Also, are the classes the program offers suitable for my goals?

How will the program help you get a job?
The community connected to a program is a powerful resource for sport management students. The sports industry is often about who you know, so a large, active alumni network greatly expands your contact options. This comes into play not only when prospecting for permanent positions, but also when working on class projects, developing mentor relationships and landing internships. To begin evaluating a program's alumni power, consider...

      •  The years a program has been in existence
      • Number of alumni and their positions within different areas of the sports industry (are they decision-makers?)
      • Active alumni participation in current student's learning
      • The proximity of the university to major sports regions
      • Geographic distribution of alumni
      • Department programs for facilitating student contact with alumni


Internships, mentorship programs, professional seminars, guest speaker series and professional development days are additional networking activities offered. Explore how alumni and these other resources and activities play into a school's overall career development strategy.

Other application strategies and resources:

Who offers sport management degrees?
There are over 200 schools in the United States offering some form of sport industry training. The Sport Management Program Review Council (SMPRC). SMPRC approves a program's curriculum by comparing that curriculum to a pre-determined set of curricular goals. The North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) maintains a list of American universities offering sport management programs and their various degree options which include bachelors, masters and doctoral-level studies.

Preparation Resources Test
As part of applying to graduate programs, you will need to take the GMAT or GRE. There are many GMAT and GRE test preparation resources you may want to review (GMAC, which administers the GMAT, is itself has a wealth of resources on its website: www.mba.com; ETS.org is the home for the GRE). Many test preparation companies serve as good resources in terms of understanding the management school marketplace and therefore have developed their own resources that advise their students. Two of the better known test prep companies are Kaplan and Princeton Review. It can be helpful to purchase test preparation guides and/or take test preparation courses.

Applying to Multiple Schools
Once your school research is completed, it is time consider how many schools to which you will apply. Think about applying to between one and six programs. Applying to one program can prove risky, since you may not be admitted. This may be fine if you have decided that the program of choice is more important to you than beginning your studies in a given year. Another application strategy is to apply to a couple of schools you consider to be a good fit, a couple of schools that you consider a reach, and a couple of schools that you consider safe. This strategy works for those who would like to begin their studies as soon as possible. It also may be risky to apply to your first choice early and then wait for the decision before applying to other choices. Often, by the time you receive your first decision, you are late for other applications. You will also notice that you develop a better sense for writing your essays as you work on different applications, so be aware of the fact that sometimes your first application may not be your best.

Also important to the composition of application essays is your specific career goals. Think about what drives you and what you hope to gain from your sport management education. How have your experiences to this point helped you in advancing these goals? Explain how your individual qualities and skill sets will be an asset to the program's learning community. This is your chance to present strengths and experiences in the context of personal goals and program opportunities. Lastly, be sure to carefully answer the question(s) asked. Avoid being redundant and take every opportunity to make your statements stand out.

Recommendations are an additional requirement of most applications. When choosing recommenders, it is best to find people who know you well and can provide true insight into your strengths and experiences. You can help your recommenders help you by sharing goals, credentials and application themes.

Admission Materials
School websites are usually very useful information gathering tools. Programs also have printed catalogues. These media products often focus on the programs each school offers, the types of students within each of the programs, and the resources each program possesses.

Rankings
There are no regularly published rankings of sport management programs. This makes a thorough analysis of program offerings especially important.