Exploring Predictors of Graduate School and Career Success: A Case Study in Sport Management

By LeCrom, Carrie; Rufer, Lisa et al. | College Student Journal, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Exploring Predictors of Graduate School and Career Success: A Case Study in Sport Management


LeCrom, Carrie, Rufer, Lisa, Slavich, Mark, Dwyer, Brendan, Greenhalgh, Gregory, College Student Journal


The following case study attempted to assess what factors contribute to graduate school and early-career success among sport management graduate students. As faculty members charged with admitting the next generation of leaders in the sport industry, how should admissions decisions be made and what factors should be considered? The authors utilized a mixed methodological case study design to determine whether any of the sixteen independent variables (admissions criteria) predict graduate school and early-career success. Graduate school success was measured by GPA and comprehensive exam scores, while early-career success was measured through an aggregate success variable including salary, length of time to find first job, and path to career success. Results indicate that while none of the independent variables significantly predicted either graduate school or early career success, short-term career success was significantly correlated with undergraduate GPA, decision GPA and age.

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As faculty members on admissions committees, we have many difficult decisions to make annually decisions that will impact students' futures and the future of our programs. Charged with admitting the next generation of leaders in the sport industry, and knowing that many who apply will be denied admission, how should those decisions be made? Is it grades and test scores, previous experience, writing samples, recommendations, communication skills, or any host of intangibles that will set a prospective student apart from others?

More importantly, what factors predict success, both within a graduate school program and in one's career? Since a large portion of a sport administration program's reputation lies in the hands of their alumni, akin to college coaches recruiting the best players for their teams, program coordinators are tasked with finding and admitting students who are going to succeed during their time as a student and beyond. This task has become even more critical as, like many industries, the sport job market has become oversaturated in recent years. Despite an ever-growing number of new jobs, the number of qualified candidates seeking to fill these positions is growing at a much greater rate (Tiell & Walton, 2014). While a wide variety of reasons may exist, Tiell and Walton (2014) point to two primary explanations for this disparity in job seekers and jobs available. First, the number of institutions offering sport management degrees has increased at a substantial rate. In the mid-2000s, about 200 schools held sport management undergraduate degree programs. Less than a decade later, that number had more than doubled (Tiell & Walton, 2014). Specifically with regard to graduate programs, the number of sport management programs increased from about 10 to over 25 programs during that same time frame (North American Society for Sport Management, 2015; Belzer, 2014).

Second, college graduates holding a degree in sport management do not necessarily have an advantage over job seekers with degrees in other disciplines (Tiell & Walton, 2014). Sport organizations with departments of sales, marketing, accounting, and communications--among others--often hire graduates with degrees in these specific fields, rather than sport management generally (Tiell & Walton, 2014). This effect can be classified as a product of the youth of the sport management field. Until the sport management sphere grows and graduates attain higher-level positions in sport organizations, this phenomenon will likely persist. Tiell and Walton (2014) also highlight the fact that many sport job seekers now realize that a graduate degree is necessary in order to gain an advantage in this ultra-competitive industry. So, while sport management graduate students seem generally satisfied with their decision to pursue a graduate degree in sport management, as well as with their choice of program (Popp, Weight, Dwyer, Morse, & Baker, 2015), does this ultimately translate into post-school success? …

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