Picking a School

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The next step in this process is to figure out what school you need to attend. This can be a daunting task but research is your best friend. Also, don’t let a school talk you into enrolling in a program. Before you walk through the door, you need to be armed with the facts. First and foremost, you need to choose a school that has the proper accreditation. Years ago I met a women at my community college who was pursuing a nursing degree. One day she mentioned to me that she had originally started attending a different school for nursing. She had started without doing research and she later found out that while her school was accredited, the nursing program was not. She had only attended 1 semester but once she began talking to other nurses/healthcare professionals, she realized that a degree from that school would only hinder her career.

What school should I attend?

This is dependent on what you want to do. Remember last week when I asked if you needed skills or a degree? Well if you just need skills, you should speak to your HR or supervisor about what those are, and where they can be obtained. Computer skills are easy to develop with so many online options out there (some even free!) you can gain these skills quite easily.

Trade/Career Schools

Some occupations require trade licenses and school, i.e HVAC techs or mechanics. If this is your career path, find out if your local school district has an adult vocational school. In my area, the city offers classes in everything from cosmetology to medical assistant. Their classes tend to be cheaper than career schools. There are sometimes extra steps involved in going this route though. For instance, cosmetology school usually have their own salon where real clients pay reduced rates for services. This provides students with hands on training that is required to sit for the state exam. This is not the case with the vo-tech here and many cosmetology students have to get an apprenticeship in order to get the hours required to take the exam. This apprenticeship they actually have to find on their own. Still, it is about 10K cheaper to go the vo-tech route.

There are career schools that specialize in a certain vocation. These schools can be pretty pricey but if that is the only option available, you need to be very careful about the school you choose. It goes back to accreditation. If they are not accredited, don’t waste your time! Also, ask them if they provide any sort of job placement. Find reviews online or try reaching out to people in that field for guidance.

Community College

Most community colleges have a combination of trade programs and academic programs. You will get an associate’s degree or career certificate here. Accreditation still needs to be verified – both the school and the program/major. Community college is also a good option if you have plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s is basically the equivalent of your freshman and sophomore year at a traditional four year college/university. You cam save a lot of money going this route. A 3 credit English class at my community college was about $400. A three credit class at my University is about $1400. Huge difference! Most community colleges also have guaranteed transfer programs with four year schools. I didn’t bother to apply to multiple universities when I graduated from community college because my school has a guaranteed admissions program with my university. I knew I was automatically accepted to my university’s business school based on the fact that I had completed my associates with a certain GPA.

College/University

If a bachelor’s degree or higher is needed, this is the route you will have to go. Colleges and Universities are probably the most expensive route. We can break this category down to for profit schools vs non-profit schools. I talked about the dangers of for profit schools here.  so I won’t got into that. I will say, not all for profit schools are created equal so do your research! Whichever college you choose, it should be accredited. Read more about accreditation here.  The big accreditation for colleges and universities is regional accreditation, but as mentioned above, some programs may still need to have additional based on industry standards. Again, research is your friend!

Next Week: Paying for school

What is your goal?

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With the emphasis that is placed on higher education these days, it makes sense that people would want to go back to school. However, going back to school is a sacrifice of your time, energy, creativity, and money. Before jumping in you need to make sure it is right for you. That starts with asking yourself what you hope to get out of it. Do you want to change careers? Make more money? Move up within your current industry/company? Is a degree a lifetime goal? Before you begin shopping for schools, these questions need to be answered or you may find yourself in a program that won’t help you achieve your goals.

For The Money or Career Change

Statistically, college graduates make more than high school graduates, but if you have dreams of making it into the 1% you might want to avoid certain Art degrees. According to Forbes list of the 10 worst majors, some art majors have a starting salaries of 30K. You really have to ask yourself how much money do you want to make, and if the degree you are seeking will provide it. The ultimate goal would be that your passion can provide the lifestyle you imagine but what if it doesn’t? Are you more interested in pursuing your passion or a hefty paycheck? Before committing to any program or school, you need to make sure you answer this question.

I would also point out that there are some careers that don’t even require bachelor degrees.  If pursuing a four year degree is just not feasible, take a look at this list of jobs that may not require a college degree.

The promotion

You are in your dream industry or company and there is a position or title that you want to achieve but something is holding you back from that position. Is a degree required or are there certain skills that you lack? Some skills can be attained without a degree so it is important to find this out. If you lack skills, find out what those skills are and how they can be obtained. Do you lack computer skills? Can you shadow someone in that position? You already have a foot in the door so start by talking to your supervisor, HR, or someone who already holds that position. If a degree is still needed, talk to HR about any sort of tuition reimbursement that might be available to you. As always, consider the debt that you may incur as a result of attaining that degree.

It’s a lifelong dream

For some people it’s not just about money or position. They value education and have always wanted to achieve a degree. There’s nothing wrong with that but you still need to consider what you will get out of the degree.

Why am I stressing examining your reasons for going back to school? Well the fact is that examining your reasons will help you focus on choosing the best school or major. It might even help with finding financial assistance. I have had several pitfall along the way and most of them stem from not having a plan of action.  Figure out what you want and follow that up with research!

Next step: Which school do I choose?