When you’re shopping for a new sweater, you probably want to see a wide selection. You want to compare materials-wool or poly blend? You want to look at the quality and the fit. How about styling-cardigan, pullover, or turtleneck? And you want to know the store’s return policy and, if you’re ordering online, how soon the sweater can be delivered.
You are wise to shop carefully. And now that you have decided to earn your diploma or degree at a career college, doesn’t it make sense to make the same effort and shop around? After all, college education can represent a significant investment of money and time.
But the “shopping-around” process has gotten more complex. Here’s why. In the old days, many students selected a career college based on just two criteria: the program offered and the distance from home. For example, if you wanted to earn your certificate as a medical assistant, you would locate the college nearest your home or workplace that offered a medical assisting program. As long as the college and the program were professional and affordable, your search was over. Once you enrolled, you would find that most of the other students came from a radius of not more than twenty miles from school.
Online Learning Changes Everything
Today, the growth of quality online programs has vastly increased your choices. Distance learning has transformed higher education. If you want to earn your degree in one of many professional areas including legal, health care, or business, you can earn your degree from an online college or university located virtually anywhere. Many other programs, including auto mechanics and computer networking, are hybrid, meaning you can complete part of the program online and part on campus.
Comparing Colleges and Programs
So how do you choose? Here are some guidelines that will help you apply for the college that’s right for you.
To begin, go to a reputable online college directory service such as Education-for-Careers.com. Enter your search-it could be for a program area, a degree offered, or even a geographical area. In seconds you’ll see a variety of results that meet your criteria. Then, contact three or four of your top choices and receive information about these key decision areas.
1. Online or on-campus. If you prefer a traditional on-campus experience, then you’ll want to think about the campus. Is it attractive and does it offer the facilities required to give you what you need to succeed? Are there student organizations or activities that you can participate in? If it’s online, is there opportunity for personal interaction with instructors and peers?
2. Financial aid. Most accredited career schools are eligible for federal Title IV financial aid programs. Many also offer institutional scholarships or grants for students who qualify.
3. Flexibility. Does the school offer flexible class schedules? Especially if you are a working adult, you may need to attend class on weekends or in the evenings. Online programs are generally very flexible and allow you to complete your work within a designated time frame.
4. Career Services. Most people go to college for one reason: to improve their career choices. While no college can guarantee a job to any graduate, most colleges offer job placement or career development services. Make sure that the college you’re interested in offers lifetime access to career services for graduates in good standing. Other services may include student externships, job fairs, interview prep sessions, resume writing workshops, and postings of local or industry-wide job openings.
5. Program Relevance. If you intend to change jobs, look for evidence that your new career program choice has a bright future. Most career colleges are diligent about offering only programs for careers that are currently in demand, even in a recessionary economy.
By comparing several colleges, you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision that can help you to change your life for the better.