Choosing the right Hotel, Hospitality or Tourism School, the 10 Basics.
By Jitendra Jain
Wednesday, 15th March 2006
A guide for students and parents interested in hotel - hospitality and tourism schools or universities.

Are you planning to study hotel management...or perhaps hospitality, tourism, business or a mix of one or more of these fields? With the myriad of choices out there, it is very easy to get lost or sidetracked into choosing the wrong institution. After all, education is big business these days...and hotel school marketers will go to great lengths to paint a rosy picture of their school and facilities.

When running a search on the internet for hotel and hospitality schools, one is presented with hundreds of options and adverts...breaking through the clutter can be quite difficult. Here are a few tips on some of the basics to look for when choosing a good hotel or tourism school:

1. Is the School recognized by official bodies?

It is vital that the hotel, hospitality or tourism school that you choose is recognized and accredited by the appropriate government bodies. This guarantees better recognition of your qualifications once you graduate. The best way to find out about this, especially in foreign markets is to check with the school directly on federal and local accreditations or run a search for official hotel school associations. A classic example is Switzerland, which is home to many hotel schools, but only a handful really measure up. For statistics on Swiss Hotel Schools, try the Swiss Hotel Schools Association at www.aseh.ch

2. Course Levels and Options

Again, a keystone to your decision…what sort of options do you have for study? Are you interested in a Degree, Diploma, Professional Certification or just specialized, short-term courses? Not all schools have the same strengths when it comes to differing course options, therefore it is important to choose the institution with known prowess in the qualification levels you're interested in. Time is also a crucial factor – degree studies can take from 3 to 4 years, diplomas upto 3 years and certifications from a few months to a year or more. It is important not to choose shorter courses, e.g. a Bachelors of Science in Hotel Management in 2 years, when this is not the standard…unless you've taken a closer look at the course structure and strength.

Speaking from experience, you'd be better off choosing the longer course – it usually pays off by giving you a better, stronger academic base to start with. If you are planning to study abroad, also check if the English language curriculum is well established and is not something that was recently conceived from another language.

3. Recognition by the market and peers

While goodwill may not be a tangible asset, it does add value to the balance sheet…and so will graduating from a well-recognized university or school. You may not have the budget to go to Cornell or the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, but do try and ask around (perhaps a friend or relative who has studied hospitality or works in the hotel / tourism industry) and see what names come up more often than others.

4. Affiliations

The School or University you choose can really help you network, raise your ‘value' and find jobs and options for further studies if they have strong affiliations with other companies in and outside the industry. A classic example is a hotel school partly or fully owned by a tourism company, which also owns hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Your chances of finding a good job placement with this school is definitely enhanced due to the schools strong affiliations.

5. Student Strength and Diversity

Most hotel and hospitality schools proudly advertise the fact that they feature students and alumni from all over the world. Try and find out the exact figures, though. Check how many international students are enrolled on current courses that you're interested in…being in an international crowd will not only make learning fun, but also give you a superb network that will most likely last a lifetime.

The hospitality industry is all about people, and studying with the best from diverse backgrounds will foster your creativity and inter-personal skills. Also important to check is the total number of students in the school or university, and how many students are included in each class / batch. There is a big difference in learning in a class comprised of 20 or 50 students!

6. Staff / Teacher / Educator Strength and Competency

This is probably the hardest thing to check before you enroll on a course or join a school…but can also be one of the most crucial. You need to know the quality of the product you are paying for…after all, good hospitality education doesn't come cheap these days, with costs running to $25,000 per semester (or more) in some schools.

There are important questions to be asked – is the educator strength sufficient for the number of students in the school, are the teachers specialists in their field with relevant industry experience, are the teachers from diverse backgrounds, etc. Being taught by a strong educator with 20 years experience in the industry vs. someone who's just graduated, with absolutely no experience (and it hurts to say this, but was probably hired by the school because he/she represented a cost savings on payroll) is an experience that is poles apart.

While there is no direct, easy way to check on this, the best approaches include visiting the school if possible and attending a class or two, talking to students and alumni and exploring hotel school forums or networks that deal with such discussions.

7. Physical Services & Facilities

A lot of good hotel courses involve staying on campus, so it pays to check beforehand what kind of accommodation, dining, recreation, transportation and other services and facilities are offered by the school. For students traveling abroad on limited budgets, inclusion or lack of small things like free internet access, meals, transport to the city centre, etc can make a huge difference. Most schools offer information and photos on their websites and brochures about the facilities.

For a ‘low-down' on other small, hidden costs, try checking with current students and recent graduates that you may know or online forums that cover the hotel school in question. Another regional issue you may want to check on is the amount of freedom offered to students staying on campus – some hotel schools, especially in more conservative parts of the world can be quite strict when it comes to times that students can leave the campus, dress code, visitor policy, etc.

8. Location and Secondary Costs

Is the location ideal for you? Even in a picture-perfect country like Switzerland, studying in the scenic mountains vs. in a crowded city can offer different experiences and present unique problems. Remember to check on health concerns and secondary expenses like costs of commuting to the nearest city centre or back home, weekend and recreational options, health insurance and part-time job opportunities (of special importance are the local laws, which may or may not allow you to work part-time, especially if you are a foreign resident).

9. Practical Training and Industry Exposure Placements

Most hotel and hospitality courses involve practical training as part of the overall course. Check if the school is proactive about student placements and has a good placement record. Training is not only important for practical development, but also offers a great opportunity to students to earn back some of the money spent on the course. The salaries or stipends offered to trainees vary according to the part of the world you're in, but do check if there are local standards for how much you can typically earn as a trainee. Checking beforehand can save you from getting stuck with an undesirable placement or having to spend more of your money while training.

10. Career help and planning

This may be the final point on the list, but this is where it all begins and ends. Some students have a clear picture of what they want to be when they go into hotel, hospitality or tourism management…others still have trouble figuring out what suits them best even with the diploma in hand. The hotel industry alone offers many options and departments, like Front Office, Housekeeping, Revenue Management, Sales & Marketing, Kitchen, Food & Beverage Service, Finance, General Management, Corporate Support, etc. just to name a few.

While this is a subject for a separate, detailed discussion, it pays to check on all the direct and indirect help the school or university can offer in getting you started with your career. Does the school guarantee job placements? Does it hold career fairs and industry recruitment drives? School alumni may be able to paint a true picture of actual efforts by the school to get your started.

The list above is by no means exhaustive, but my hope is that it will help those interested in hotel, hospitality or tourism management schools (students-to-be and their parents) with the basics involved in making an informed decision. Good luck!

About the author: Jitendra Jain is the creator of The Talent Jungle ( www.thetalentjungle.com ), an informal hotel, hospitality and tourism school alumni network started in 2003. He is a Business Graduate (specialized in Tourism & Hospitality) from HTW Switzerland and also holds Swiss Higher, Indian and American Diplomas in Hotel Management, with specializations in Rooms Division Management, Food & Beverage Management and Human Resources Management. He is currently engaged with a Global Hotel company as an E-Commerce Manager.

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